Mon, 11 Jun 2001

Low income earners regret fuel price hike

JAKARTA (JP): Many Jakartans, especially from the low income bracket, regret the government's decision to raise fuel prices starting next Friday, saying that the decision has been made too hastily.

Public transportation drivers told The Jakarta Post on Saturday and Sunday that any increase in fuel prices would increase the burden on their already hard lives, and they called on the government to find ways to reduce their burden.

They said they would not stage protests of their own or resort to violence in responding to the government's decision to raise fuel prices.

Nevertheless, the Indonesian Consumer Foundation expressed its worry on Sunday that social unrest would most likely follow the fuel price hike.

Dahuri, a Kosti Jaya taxi driver, said that he was very surprised by the decision.

"I mean, in less than a year, the government has raised fuel prices twice. It's crazy," he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

"Electricity rates are also going to rise. And I bet other prices will follow. This country's really going down the drain," Dahuri said.

Dani, driver of an M09 public minivan plying the Kebon Jeruk- Tanah Abang route, voiced a similar reaction to Dahuri's.

"Prices have already increased. The government said they don't have the money. Well, why don't they take it from corruptors?" he said.

He added that the government might increase fuel prices and other charges, but it should also find ways to reduce the burden on low-income people.

"Aren't there other ways for the government to help reduce our burden, rather than add to it?" he asked, cynically.

The House of Representatives approved last Friday the government's proposal to increase fuel prices by an average of 30 percent.

Based on that decision, the price of gasoline will increase to Rp 1,450 (US$0.14) per liter (currently Rp 1,150). Diesel fuel will increase to Rp 900 (Rp 600), while the price of kerosene will be Rp 400 (Rp 350).

The last fuel price hike occurred in October last year. The price of gasoline before then was Rp 1,000, diesel fuel cost Rp 550, and kerosene was Rp 280.

An ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver from Jl. Bendungan Hilir, Central Jakarta named Udin, claimed that public transportation drivers like himself, would suffer most from the hike.

And among the public transportation drivers, ojek drivers would be the ones who suffer the most.

"Unlike buses and minivans which have official charges, we set our own. Therefore, we cannot just increase our charges, because if we do, people won't hire us," he said.

But Udin, Dahuri and Dani all said that they did not know what to do to respond to the planned fuel price increase, noting that they had no other choice but to accept it.

They also said that they were not sure if they would join anti-government rallies to oppose the fuel price increases.

Nevertheless, Ciptadi, a civil servant, said he was worried that a major protest, or even a riot could occur, following the fuel price hike.

"It's very possible that a riot could occur. I'm very worried and really regret the hike. It's really a burden," he said at Pejompongan gas station, Central Jakarta.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Agus Pambagyo, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Consumers' Foundation (YLKI) said that social unrest would most likely follow the fuel price hike.

"I understand that this is a tough situation. If the government doesn't raise fuel prices, it faces a widening budget deficit. But if it does raise the price, there will likely be social unrest," he told the Post on Sunday.

Agus said that YLKI agreed with the fuel price hike but regretted the lack of debate from the government and the House of Representatives.

"They should have discussed first the form of subsidy, monitoring, evaluation, and the impact if other prices also rose. Once those matters had been properly addressed, then they could have raised fuel prices," he said.

"It has always been like this. Every decision is made without adequate discussion beforehand," he added. (hdn)