Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Fuel subsidy yet to reach the poor

Bambang Nurbianto,The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Most of the Rp 84.61 billion (US$10 million) subsidy aimed to help the poor, who have been affected severely by the increase in fuel prices, has not reached them because of bureaucratic problems, a report by the City Development Planning Board (Bappeda) says.

The Bappeda report, a copy of which was made available on Saturday to The Jakarta Post, showed that only small part of the fund provided by the central government had been distributed to the poor so far.

The report, for example, showed that no part of the Rp 32.49 billion of the fund allocated for educational programs, has been distributed.

The same condition was also seen in the funding for health, social welfare and job creation programs in the city.

The report said the fund had not been distributed because many city offices had not prepared data on the targeted recipients.

The Rp 84.61 billion fund was part of a larger Rp 4.4 trillion fund allocated to provinces to compensate for the fuel price increase of up to 22 percent on Jan. 1 this year.

The announcement of the fuel price hike coincided with an average six percent increase in electricity tariffs and an average 15 percent rise in telephone rates, causing massive nationwide demonstrations. The government backed down on the utility hikes as a result, but maintained the fuel price increase.

The fuel subsidy was a response to critics, who said that the fuel hike had mostly burdened the poor, who were still suffering from the impacts of the 1997 economic crisis.

According to the Bappeda report, 40 percent of the 8.3 million-strong population of Jakarta are poor, and should be targeted by the subsidy.

City administration officials, however, made conflicting statements about the fund. Many were also reluctant to speak of the matter, saying that it was not their responsibility.

"I do not know how the money was used, as it is not part of our responsibility," said head of the City Community Empowerment Board (BPM) Rohana Manggala, the official most responsible for the poverty eradication program.

A number of other city officials, whose names were forwarded as those able to explain the issue -- including those with Bappeda and the city logistics and distribution office -- also gave the same answer.

A staff at Bappeda stressed that the fuel subsidy was being coordinated by the BPM.

"As far as I know, the matter is being handled by BPM," said a Bappeda staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, but refused to elaborate further.

Spokeswoman of the City Health Agency Evy Zelfino, however, said the subsidy had been integrated with another from the city budget.

"The subsidy was used for health programs for the poor," Evy said on Saturday, without mentioning the amount of the fund or other details.

The Bappeda report says that the fuel subsidy is to be used for a number of programs including those for food/rice, health, social welfare, education, job creation, clean water facilities, small businesses and cooperatives, and empowerment of coastal communities.

The report shows that only a few of the programs have been initiated, including the food program (24.57 percent), clean water facilities (North Jakarta and East Jakarta only), and empowerment of coastal communities (4.85 percent).

Allocation of fuel subsidy for city programs (in Rp)

1. Food/rice 7.11 billion 2. Health 24.88 billion 3. Social welfare 7.65 billion 4. Education 32.49 billion 5. Job creation 2.70 billion 6. Clean water facility 5.71 billion 7. Aid for small business

and cooperatives 3.07 billion 8. Empowerment of coastal

community 0.97 billion -----------------------------------------------

Total 84.61 billion (sic)

Source: Bappeda Evaluation of Application of Fuel Subsidy Compensation Program