A perennial problem


Torrential rains crippled much of Jakarta last week. Many people on their way home from work had to spend hours on the trip as most of the capital's roads were severely congested.

For City Hall officials, the occurrence, which obviously has a huge impact on the city's economy, may be considered more or less normal -- an annoyance, true, but one which they have not been able to deal with for decades. Or even an issue to spice up their daily conversation. When things go wrong, odd statements often emanate from the officials in charge. 

The Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure, Sunarno, for example, merely said the flooding was mostly caused by a clogged drainage system. By stating the obvious, Sunarno only made it look as if he was trying to put the blame on Jakarta's citizenry without bothering to explain what the public works office, which lies under his jurisdiction, had done to clear the system. 

Another weird statement came from the deputy head of the Jakarta Public Works office, Wisnu Subagio, who described last week's flood as an "extreme phenomenon". 

Sunarno's and Wisnu's statements clearly run against the claim by another government official that the capital city was well-prepared to anticipate the rainy season. This particular official said in December, during the height of the monsoon rains, that as many as 40,874 personnel were standing to in case of flooding. Two hundred and forty-four dump trucks, 256 rubber dinghies, four helicopters, 94 water tank trucks, 210 tons of rice and 4,000 boxes of instant noodles would also be made available to flood victims, he said. 

Unfortunately, the official's promises and claims have simply gone with the wind and the public easily forgets official statements. 

Since December last year, no big floods have hit Jakarta. But only last Wednesday large floods did engulf parts of the capital, forcing thousands of families to leave their homes to seek safer places. There was no reports the families received any rice or instant noodles from the administration. So what has become of the promised 210 tons of rice and 4,000 boxes of instant noodles? Do they really exist or are they merely official rhetoric? 

Did any of the 40,874 officers who the officials claimed would be ready in case of flooding do something to help the flood victims last Wednesday? Hours after water inundated whole areas, the Jakarta Flood Task Force team was still uninformed of the deluge in the city. The officials in charge only started to collect data when reporters came to their office, asking for the latest information about the flood. Reports that Governor Sutiyoso had to take an ojek (motorcycle taxi) from the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) to the City Hall on Wednesday, should not be an excuse for this latest bureaucratic fiasco. 

Four days later on Sunday, the Sunter and Krukut rivers overflowed, causing floods in several areas in North Jakarta. It's hard to believe, but reporters found the Jakarta's Flood Task Force office closed. Not a single person was on duty. Under such circumstances can we even dream about asking for helicopters to come to our help when such standard procedures are shamelessly ignored? 

It is obvious the administration has shirked its responsibilities in protecting citizens from such annual misfortunes that obviously can be anticipated. The problem is, the administration prefers to invoke theories and resort to rhetoric rather than make concrete moves to help the population. 

In a rather grand gesture to the public, the Jakarta city administration recently published a book titled Rencana Operasi Penanggulangan Banjir 03/04 (Operational Plan to Anticipate Flooding in 2003-2004). The work contains a chart of the officials in charge and on-paper procedures in case of flooding. But in practice, contrary moves are made. The destruction of mangrove forests, the reclamation project along Jakarta Bay and the deforestation of the capital could be cited as "good" examples of actions that in fact contribute to flooding. 

Class action against the administration seems a possible answer to the people's frustration over the administration's failure to keep its promises. But history teaches us the courts have never favored the public in class actions against the city. 

Therefore, continuous pressure is needed. The public, non-governmental organizations and the press should join hands and step up their pressure on the administration.

The Jakarta Post

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A perennial problem

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