Mon, 06 Mar 2000

Government told to delay toll increases

JAKARTA (JP): City councilors suggested on Saturday the central government postpone its plan to raise toll road tariffs until next year, in the hope that by then the country's economy would have improved.

Interviewed separately, the councilors also accessed toll road operators of having hidden agendas.

They reminded both the operators and the government not to use toll roads purely to seek profit for their own interests and in the process neglect residents' rights.

Councilor Tjuk Sudono of the National Mandate Party (PAN) strongly suggested the government delay its plan.

"Let's wait until next year. I hope the economy will grow next year," he said over the phone.

He said that, in the meantime, people are already burdened by real economic hardships.

Moreover, the government has recently decided to hike fuel prices and electricity tariffs, Tjuk added.

He said the proposed hike would be acceptable only in extreme circumstances.

He therefore suggested that toll road operators only raise tariffs for vehicles carrying certain commercial goods, such as cigarettes.

"But it would be much better if the operators could first improve their performances before asking for tariff hikes," he said.

"Have the operators paid enough attention to motorists using the toll roads?" he asked.

Councilor Posman Siahaan of the Justice and Unity Party (PKP) supported Tjuk's statements.

"We understand the operators need funds for maintenance works. But the problem is whether they have allocated their profits to the right place or not," he said.

"What have the operators done to improve the convenience, safety and security of toll road users?" he asked.

He also pointed to the growing number of armed robberies on toll roads.

The State Ministry of Public Works announced on Feb. 16 a planned 25 percent increase in toll road tariffs on seven toll roads across the country due to increases in maintenance costs.

It said tariffs on these seven roads had not been increased for eight years. The proposal is still waiting for the approval of legislators.

The increases are set to take effect on the Jagorawi, Jakarta- Cikampek and Jakarta-Tangerang toll road; West Java's Tangerang- Merak and Padalarang-Cileunyi toll roads; East Java's Surabaya- Gempol toll road; and the Belawan-Medan-Tanjung Morawa toll road in North Sumatra.

The first four toll roads mentioned above are used by large numbers of Jakartans each day.

The councilors said the proposal might be a trick to cheat regional administrations prior to the full enactment of two laws on regional autonomy: Law No. 22/1999 on regional autonomy and Law No. 25/1999 on intergovernmental financial balance.

"All this time, toll road operators have had to discuss hikes with one party only: the central government. But if the laws on regional autonomy are fully enacted, they will have to discuss them with regional administrations too," Tjuk said.

Posman said under the regional autonomy laws, central government would no longer be able to decide such important issues without the consent of regional administrations.

"At the very least, the central government will have to listen to the regional administrations, who know the conditions in their regions much better," he said. (nvn)