Jakarta clothes market cleans up its act
AFTER years of being overrun by a racketeering mafia, drug addicts and prostitutes, South-east Asia's biggest textile market is cleaning up its act in an effort to win back droves of shoppers.
Spread across several blocks in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Tanah Abang market is a colourful whirl of activity that has attracted shoppers from across the region for centuries.
While glittering skyscrapers have shot up around the city-centre trading hub, the market itself, which was founded in 1735 by a Dutch businessman, is a series of modest buildings in an area of traditional, red-tiled houses.
Traders looking for wholesale bargains and shoppers looking for smaller items haggle at myriad stalls on several floors in the market buildings, looking for everything from raw cloth to branded goods.
Malaysian shopper Mariam Ahmad, who makes an annual trip to the market to buy clothing, said: "There is so much variety under one roof and they're 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than those in Kuala Lumpur. Fashionable, too."
But the market's increasingly seedy atmosphere and traffic gridlock in the area caused by illegal street stalls were putting shoppers off. Vendors estimated customer numbers had fallen around 10 per cent in recent years.
Bag seller Desmawita - who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name - said that crime had been "getting out of hand".
"Two prostitutes pounced on one of my customers from Brunei while he was praying and he had to give them money before they let him go. He bought 29,000 bags from me but cancelled a five-year business deal."
Popular Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo, who took power around a year ago, decided to tackle the issue.
In August, he pushed through a plan to relocate around 1,000 vendors who had been hawking goods illegally in the streets and were blamed for many of the market's problems.
They were moved to a refurbished building in the area, joining another 15,000 vendors working legally inside the market's original blocks.
The number of public-order officers, who help police in keeping the peace but come under the authority of the local government, has also been increased dramatically.
With the vendors off the streets, the mafia-like gangs that demanded cash payments to rent out illegal lots have largely gone.
And the increased security has succeeded in frightening off many of the sex workers and drug addicts, vendors said.
"A Philippine customer was shocked when she came yesterday to see how orderly everything was. She said she would definitely return - that's good news for me," said headscarf seller Rinaldi.