It has two major markets especially offering imported products to local businessmen who distribute them to other markets in other cities in the provinces.
Many local people have left their daily jobs as fishermen and coconut farmers to become suppliers and middlemen for imported used clothing and fabrics. They bring in the imported commodity from Malaysian and Singaporean suppliers via the Malacca Straits.
Maman, 45, a trader in Tembilahan, conceded that the business was quite lucrative because he could sell between five and ten bales of second-hand clothes every day.
"We buy the used clothes at the price between Rp 500,000 and Rp 1.5 million per bale. We can gain a profit of between Rp 1 million and Rp 2 million per bale after all other expenses because a bale contains around 200 pieces with the prices between Rp 15,000 and Rp 35,000 per piece depending on their quality and condition," he said.
Maman, also a civil servant at the Indragiri Hilir administration, cited that around 1,000 bales of used clothing entered through the town every day.
Despite the government ban, the second-hand textiles imported from Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea through the two neighboring countries, continue flooding Sumatra and Java.
Many markets and shopping centers in Medan, Tebing Tinggi and Pematang Siantar in North Sumatra offer second-hand clothes which are brought in through Tanjungbalai seaport.
"It is easy to find cheap used clothes in Pasar Baru and Senen shopping areas in Jakarta. The used clothes have entered the Indonesian capital through Tanjungpriok seaport," Brig. Gen. Deddy S. Komaruddin, chief of the Riau Provincial Police, said here recently.
He acknowledged that the police had "difficulties" in eradicating the lucrative smuggling of used clothes because of the large coastal areas in the province and the increasing demand for the commodity.
"Apart from the violations of law, we should be realistic that the increased flow of clothes had a lot to do with increasing demand at home. The crisis has hit the purchasing power of a majority of the people so that they are unable to purchase new products locally in malls.
"Everyone wants to wear a new set of clothes especially to celebrate Idul Fitri but most people would be financially incapable of doing that if it were not for these lower priced clothes," he said.
Acin, a Chinese trader, conceded that the entrance of used clothes has affected the local products but said he could do nothing because the smuggling could not be stopped by local relevant authorities.
Indragiri Hilir Regent Rusli Zainal said the illegal entrance of the used clothes was really a dilemma for the local authorities because Indonesia, including the province, has been a dump site for second-hand goods from foreign countries but at same time, the demand for the used clothes was still on the rise at home.
"We must be extra alert in handling the problem. We have not imposed taxes on traders or importers because we have not completed publicizing Ministerial Decree No. 22/1997 banning imports of used commodities, including textiles and cars."
Some 80 used cars granted by the Singaporean Police to state universities in the provinces have been seized by the local tax and excise office because of the government ban.
The coordinator of the Forum for Indonesian Youths (FIM) in Medan, North Sumatra, Fadli Nurzal, criticized the government ban that has affected 200,000 traders and thousands of workers in the seaport in Tanjung Balai who have been earning their livelihood from the used imports.
"More than 200,000 used clothing traders have to seek new jobs after the local authorities banned imports. To be consistent, the government should also take actions against the import of used cars from Singapore and Japan," he said.
Rijal Sirait, a member of the North Sumatra provincial legislative council, concurred and said the government should control the rising price of domestic products and improve the people's purchasing power.
"The government should not be manipulative in making controversial rules but make policy and regulations benefiting a majority of the people," he said.
November 25, 2002