Wed, 12 Sep 2001

Government fuel hike plan meets with opposition

JAKARTA (JP): The government's plan to increase domestic fuel prices next year has been frowned upon by the public, who have called the current fuel prices "burdensome".

"Prices are high due to the previous fuel price hike. If Megawati's administration raises them again, people like me will find it harder to support our families," Budi Prihandoko, a sales clerk at Kinokuniya book store in Plaza Indonesia, Central Jakarta, said.

Budi, whose monthly salary is Rp 430,000 (US$36.90), said that the government's plan would put a further strain on the public if it was not followed by a pay rise.

Horas Mangunsong, the owner of Medan Ria restaurant in Senayan, South Jakarta, said the fuel price hike would certainly jack up the cost of other basic needs.

"I've raised all the prices here due to last year's fuel hike. If I have to do it again, I'm afraid I'll lose customers," he said from his restaurant.

Horas suggested that the government find another way to tackle the budget problem instead of burdening the public.

"There are many competent people in the government, surely they can come up with other alternatives rather than cutting fuel subsidies," he added.

Ishak, a bajaj driver, said the fuel price hike might not have an impact on his passengers, as he was certain they would understand if he asked for more money.

"What else can I do? If there's another fuel price hike, I'll be forced to up my fare," he said.

Tukul Sumarsono, a taxi driver, regretted the government's decision, but he said he understood the dilemma facing the government.

"The current government has to deal with the foreign debts incurred by the previous government that reigned this country for more than 32 years. I'm sure it's a dilemma. Who else is going to pay the debts if not the people of this country?" Tukul said.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri announced during the presentation of the 2002 budget draft before the House of Representatives on Friday that fuel subsidies must be reduced to Rp 32.29 trillion in 2002 from Rp 53.77 trillion last year to reduce the budget deficit.

The reduction of subsidies means the government intends to raise fuel prices, which were increased twice--from Rp 1,000 to Rp 1,100 last October and to Rp 1,450 in June this year--during the administration of former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid.

The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) questioned the policy, saying the government had yet to form and announce a thorough development plan.

"They haven't even evaluated last year's subsidy cut which they said would be allocated to those in need. We don't know where all that money goes to," said Retno Widiastuti, the executive secretary of YLKI.

Although the foundation agreed that the subsidies were a strain on the state budget, they insisted that the government be transparent with its policies.

"The price increase for basic needs alone is very oppressive for the people. Can the government provide a guarantee that they will be able to control the prices following the fuel price hike?" Retno said.

The fuel price hike has been a sensitive issue, which has lead to social unrest in the past. Former president Soeharto's fall in May 1998 was partly caused by his decision to raise the fuel prices. (06)