26 January 2007

The poor as actors

Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (3)

EITHER in Jakarta or in Bangkok, the poor dwell in marginal spaces such as in river banks, in the nearby of railways, on the sidewalks as street vendors or hawkers, and absentee plots of land owned by the government, private owners or by corporations. In both cities, in fact the access of the poor to city spaces and lands is very limitted. Both governments, meanwhile, target at having clean cities. Such policy of building clean cities so far tends to place the poor as the source of problems. It is because poverty is perceived as equal to dirty slump areas. To build a clean city, therefore, means to fight against such areas. So far actually there is no difference between Jakarta and Bangkok. Both fight against slump areas. The only difference is the ways in implementing such policy.

The ways of the fighting against slump areas of both cities relies on a very different paradigm. Jakarta fights it with evicting the poor through diverse ways like letting just them be, to conduct forced evictions, deliberate fires or arsons, up to people’s ID sweeping activities. In Jakarta, the poor are more seen of not having any contribution for the city development. Moreover, the poor are perceived as the city’s burden. This perception can be seen from the attitude and the actions taken by the Jakarta city authorities who tend not to have any concern when talking about the poor.

You may read to this quot as Jakarta governor as saying: “As the governor I feel embarassed to foreigners who visit Jakarta. After leaving of the airport [to the city], they are offered with the views of slump areas at the flood canal areas. The Jakarta administration itself performs the mandate to create an organized, safe, comfortable, clean and good-lookng capital city, so that Jakarta could represent [such as] a capital. The Jakarta administration, however, faces impediments of urbanization that can not be stopped and of the many people who have problems of social welfare [litterally to say ‘the poor’] who break the provincial law no. 11/1988. For this reason, the administration takes the option of law enforcement.” The governor delivered the statement at the hearing on February 7, 2002, with the Commission II of the national level legislators for the sub-commission of law and human rights in which he talked about the eviction incidents against the city poor.

The head of the North Jakarta district office for security and order Toni Budiono also said: ‘Arsons or scorch earth actions (bumi hangus) was one of the tactics in the operation of putting illegal constructions into order such as those at river banks. In a pitted situation, arsons against building are taken to easier conduct the evictions.’ (Kompas daily, November 21, 2001)

The central Jakarta vice district head Abdul Kahfi said something related: ‘The renovation program for slump areas into apartments, office and business districts, has successfully reduced the Jakarta population in the last six years.’ (Kompas daily, April 29, 1996)

In Bangkok, the poor have different experiences. The Bangkok administration sees the poor communities as actors who have considerable contributions for the city development. If there were no the city poor —who so far supply cheap labor forces and costless foods, the life cost in the city will certainly be very expensive. The Bangkok government elites and most city civil society retain this kind of understanding and awareness. They rather consider the existence of slump areas as a result of the lack of public infrastructural facilities, lack of services and social security in city’s marginal spaces in which the poor communities live. With such understanding, to solve the city slump areas is not by considering the poor as ‘the source of the city problems’ or ‘waste’ that can thereby be dumped just like that, but they are regarded as integral part of city development. Apart, the efforts to solve city poverty are also tightly coined with their efforts in solving the rural poverty problems. This is the least way the Thai government mitigates the flow of rural migration to the cities.*

Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (2)
Millions of miles away between Jakarta and Bangkok (1)

See Indonesian version.

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