Sympathy is now a crime

Sympathy is now a crime

Soeryo Winoto, Jakarta

Once a friend of mine said that a man from his ethnic group would never become a beggar. "For us begging is a very disgraceful act. Street criminals are more respected."

He could be laughing now upon hearing the Jakarta administration’s new bylaw that bans, among others, beggars. The ordinance, which will replace the existing 19-year-old ruling, also prohibits people from donating money to beggars.

What about street singers and street children? If the new ordinance is properly and consistently enforced, there will be no place for buskers to sing for money in public places. Street children are no exception. Worse, unemployed people who manage traffic for money from motorists, locally called Pak Ogah, will also be cleared from the streets once the new bylaw is enacted.

Punishments for the offenders vary, with people giving money to beggars to be fined between Rp 100,000 and Rp 20 million or sentenced to two months in jail.

There are still more than 100 activities that will be prohibited by the new bylaw for disrupting public order.

The reason to issue the new ruling is cleaning up the city. The administration could claim the new ordinance as an achievement, but it will only provide blatant proof of its failings. The bylaw was endorsed despite the fact that the administration has failed to review enforcement of city regulations and make improvements.

As always, the administration will leave the enactment of the new bylaw in the hands of law and order officers, who are known for their use of violence and acts of thuggery. For street vendors, illegal squatters, beggars, street singers and children, the law enforcers are no less than merciless punishers, although many times they can show their extorter’s face.

There are many regulations and city ordinances that have been flawed due to the officers’ poor performance, not to mention the administration’s inconsistency. Given the generally poor state of law enforcement, it will be fair for the administration to take action against the law and order officers.

Experience has shown that law enforcement, including the enforcers, become the problem itself. Now through the new bylaw the city administration seems to be zeroing in on the objects of regulation, but ignoring the enforcement side.

In the absence of traffic police, private traffic regulators, or Pak Ogah, have contributed a lot to motorists. Only for Rp 500 Pak Ogah clear the way for motorists and ease their mental stress after being trapped in traffic congestion.

Are traffic police officers and law and order officers aware of this situation? When the new bylaw takes effect, can people sue the administration once they are caught in traffic congestion just because there are no traffic policemen or law and order officers?

As tax payers, people have the right to enjoy smooth traffic. But in chaotic traffic like Jakarta, the people are forced to tolerate and endure the congestion, which occurs even on a small lane. Where are the traffic police? As most Jakarta people are aware, the police love to stand by at "lucrative" corners where traffic violations frequently take place.

Nobody wants to become beggars, Pak Ogah or street singers. Their presence on the streets is a clear picture of the very real problems facing the country. These people only reveal the pressing problems of poverty and unemployment which the state has been unable to address.

Article 34 of the Constitution stipulates that destitute people and neglected children are to be taken care of by the state. Then, legally, unemployed and destitute people, including beggars and street children, can claim their constitutional right.

In this sense, the bylaw appears as the Jakarta administration’s infamous effort to divert attention from the real problem: its failure to provide enough jobs. The poor once again fall victim in the blame game. The true problem is poverty, not city cleanliness!

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso needs to explain to the public what was really behind the bylaw. Otherwise he will only leave a time bomb for his successor Fauzi Bowo, who will take over next month.

Unemployment is a national issue and Jakarta has become the land of hope for job and fortune seekers. It’s the job of the Jakarta governor to address unemployment by boosting investment and other job creation initiatives. That’s the way to clean beggars, buskers or Pak Ogah from the streets, not by criminalizing them.

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