Wed, 22 Nov 2000

Government hesitates on plan to ban leaded fuel

JAKARTA (JP): Despite growing concern that the country should ban leaded fuel, the government insisted on Tuesday that the move was unlikely in the near future as there were more pressing demands on its limited resources.

Assistant to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy Dipo Alam said the government supported efforts made by non- governmental organizations (NGOs) to arrange a presidential decree ruling that Greater Jakarta be free of leaded fuel by June next year.

"But the government has its priorities, which, among other things, is promoting social safety net programs," Dipo said during a one-day environmental workshop titled "Leaded Gasoline Phase-out in Indonesia and Realistic Fuel Pricing Policy" here on Tuesday.

He said given the current situation, the government lacked sufficient resources to allocate to the program.

"Our funds are limited, therefore we distribute those funds in line with our priorities.

"Unfortunately, we have yet to hear from investors interested in joining the plan," he said, adding that the program would go ahead should conditions become more feasible.

Besides Dipo, speakers during the seminar included an executive from state-owned oil company PT Pertamina, Maskurun, The Jakarta Post's managing editor Endy M. Bayuni and National Development Planning Board advisor Chandra Prakash.

During an environmental workshop held in February, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources agreed that the Greater Jakarta area should ban leaded gasoline by June next year, with the ultimate goal of making the whole country free of leaded gasoline by January 2003.

Under the plan, sponsored by several NGOs, an estimated US$190 to $230 million will be needed to finance the conversion from leaded to unleaded fuel.

Currently, unleaded fuel, such as Petro 2TT "blue gasoline" and Super TT, comprise less than 1.5 percent of the gasoline sold in the country.

A shortage of investors in the project was also confirmed by Maskurun.

"At least 10 investors have come to our office to discuss the plan. But as time goes by, none have agreed to follow up on the plan. Perhaps they realized that the plan was economically challenging," said Maskurun, an executive in the planning division of the oil company.

Meanwhile, Achmad Syafrudin, chairman of the Jakarta chapter's Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi), urged the government to take immediate steps to somehow begin implementing the plan.

"The first step is to raise funds to finance investment in the plan, and that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance," he said in his address.

He warned that air pollution in Greater Jakarta had reached alarming levels.

"Air pollution levels in the capital have reached 0.2 to 1.8 micrograms per cubic meter, while the World Health Organization sets the limit at 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter," Achmad said.

Another speaker, Chandra Prakash, also pointed out the serious health consequences of high air pollution levels.

"As it (lead) is emitted as very fine particles, it is inhaled, easily entering the human body. It can have a serious impact on human health, such as causing brain damage in children," he said, adding that the health cost of lead emissions in Indonesia was estimated at $62.4 million per year.(asa)