Jakarta Street Vendors: The Means to Hold On, as appeared in the Jakarta Globe. Read the full story.
It is more than just textbook learning that informal sector was the saviour of Indonesian economy during 1998 financial crisis, where it became the hardest hit country among other Asian neighbors as it sustained a much longer period of monetary difficulties at the time when others had gradually recovered. In those period time of difficulty, the unemployed population struggled to make a living. Some opted an easy way out: begging. There was a time when beggars, either exploiting self-pity looks or the desperation that justify violent behavior, crowded busy intersections across Jakarta, living beneath elevated roads, taking economic refuge in every bit of space in the city. Many other chose to pull themselves together by struggling to sell goods on the streets. Fifteen years later, they still endured. On papers, the year-to-year numbers indicating the achieved economic growth has set the claim that the country has gone past the crisis and is currently at a better condition even compared to the pre-crisis era. But these people who carried the weight of pain since the past decade, or even long before the crisis, feels the same way about the way they carry on with lives.
A few meters away from the entrance of Jatinegara train station, East Jakarta, at the time when the yellowish color of the dusk showered the surface of the paved road and the sidewalks, a group of street vendors skilfully set up stalls, occupying and soon transforming a stretch of public space into a night market. This is treated for a long time as an occupation. Not only race with time, around twenty stall owners that formed an in-line formation of stalls side by side has to battle the rushing vehicles in the notably chaotic traffic flow near the train station. Their unruly act of occupying two square meter space for each makeshift stall has clogged the already congested three-lane Bekasi Barat Raya street. This made them subject to occasional crackdown by the city’s public order officers. The local economic model that had saved the country from the brink of social collapse at the worst of time has shown detrimental effect to the country’s long-term economic potential. This informal sector activity, unregulated by law, undermines the infrastructure for economic growth.