Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Fuel hike delay a blessing in disguise

JAKARTA (JP): While the central government announced on Friday afternoon a postponement of the fuel price hike, the city administration stated earlier in the morning that it was not ready to carry out the fuel subsidy scheme due to lack of written instruction.

"We haven't received information from the central government on how to carry out the subsidy," city spokesman Muhayat told reporters at his office.

Similar comments were also voiced by other officials.

Deputy governor on Administrative affairs Abdul Kahfi said the subsidy matter had been taken care of by the central government, not the Jakarta administration.

Separately, deputy governor for economics and financial affairs Fauzie Alvi Yassin insisted that the city administration had yet to receive a manual on how to carry out the scheme.

National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) recently decided to replace the initial coupon system with a direct cash system. The board has allocated more than Rp 2.133 billion (US$ 284,000) for 213,358 poor families in the city for kerosene.

The government planned to hike the price of kerosene from Rp 280 to Rp 350 per liter, diesel from Rp 550 to Rp 600, and premium from Rp 1,000 to Rp 1,150.

Each poor family is entitled to receive Rp 10,000 during a nine-month period from April to December. Bappenas calculated a family consumes 15 liters of kerosene each month.

The plan, however, was heavily opposed for residents already have to buy kerosene at higher prices, between Rp 400 to Rp 500 per liter from traders -- although the current price is still set at Rp 280. The Rp 70 subsidy, they said, is regarded as insignificant.

According to the new subsidy scheme, the government will transfer the money to poor residents through post offices. Residents are required to have certain identification cards provided by local authorities.

However, most local authorities contacted on Friday said that they didn't have any idea on how to provide such identification cards to residents.

Most of them admitted they never received instruction on how to implement the system.

A similar scheme has been designed for owners of public land transportation vehicles.

The government's plan to announce its final decision on the planned fuel price hike on Friday had apparently been noted by motorists in the capital.

Since Thursday there have been no long lines of cars at fuel stations in the capital.

Owner of a fuel station on Jl. Gajah Mada and Jl. Hayam Wuruk in West Jakarta, Suryadi, said that the customer demand on Friday was no different than that of the past few days.

"I still sell the fuel at the same volume of 21 kiloliters per day," he said.

Similar conditions were also found at fuel stations on Jl. Diponegoro in Central Jakarta, Jl. Daan Mogot in West Jakarta and Jl. Pramuka in East Jakarta.

Edo, a supervisor at a fuel station of Jl. Diponegoro, said he had filled the station's fuel tanks to their full capacity -- 30 kiloliters of premium, high octane Premix and unleaded Super TT gasoline.

"It is just a way of preparing for any possible increase in demand," he said.

Several city residents who had stockpiled fuel now regretted doing so, however.

Food stall owner at Pesing area in West Jakarta, Hamidah, said that she bought 15 liters of kerosene on Friday morning, which was five liters more than she uses per day.

"I should of course spend money for other purposes," she said, adding that she was anxious about the possible price increase.

Bajaj taxi driver Muhendar also said that he had bought extra diesel fuel for the same reason.

"I hope the government won't carry through with the plan," he said.

Meanwhile, Bogor police's detective unit was investigating kerosene distribution following reports of disappearing fuel.

Bogor Regional Police chief Col. Edi Darnadi said on Friday there was speculation that kerosene agents had stockpiled fuel.

"If this is true we will question and arrest the persons because they have caused unrest," he said.

He also added that those guilty could be punished under the 1955 Law No. 5 on Economic Crime, which carries a maximum penalty of a four-year jail term. (21/ind/nvn)