Sat, 25 Mar 2000

Public asked to help control fuel cash aid

JAKARTA (JP): The government has invited the public to participate in monitoring the distribution of cash to the poor and public transportation owners in order to prevent irregularities.

"We invite the people to jointly watch over the implementation of the cash aid system," Minister of Mines and Energy Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday.

He said the government would approach various societal groups, including nongovernment organizations, to participate in the joint monitoring program.

Bambang declined to elaborate on the monitoring mechanism, saying the Ministry of Mines and Energy and Transportation would do the monitoring under the coordination of the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas).

The government had initially planned to implement a coupon system to protect the poor from the fuel price increases but it decided on Thursday to replace it with cash aid on the grounds that the former was unfeasible.

Under the new cash system, all members of the public, including the poor and public bus owners, will buy fuel at new prices starting next month.

But the government will provide them with cash aid to enable them to buy the commodity.

The government announced that starting from April 1 it would increase the price of Premium gasoline to Rp 1,150 (15 US cents) from Rp 1,000 per liter, automotive diesel oil to Rp 600 from Rp 550 per liter, kerosene to Rp 350 from Rp 280 and bunker oil to Rp 400 from Rp 350 per liter.

Under the cash system, the government will provide Rp 10,000 for poor families to buy kerosene throughout the nine month April-December 2000 fiscal year.

In total, the government plans to provide a total of Rp 320 billion in cash aid for poor families and public bus owners throughout the country through the April-December 2000 fiscal year.

Analysts have expressed their fear that most of the cash would disappear due to corruption.

But Bambang said the government would do its utmost to prevent misuse of the aid, citing that it had learned lessons from its past mistakes when distributing the social safety net fund to the poor.

Trillions of rupiah in social safety net funds provided by World Bank reportedly disappeared in 1999 due to lack of supervision.

Bambang said the Association of Land Transportation Owners (Organda) was likely to increase bus fares in the future, but he said the rise in fares was not because of the increase in fuel prices.

Organda earlier said the cash aid to be distributed by the government to bus owners was only enough to cover nine percent of their soaring operational costs.

Despite the fuel cash aid, public bus owners would have to raise fares by 60 percent in the near future due to soaring prices of spare parts, Organda said.

Oil analyst Ramses Hutapea supported the government's decision to axe the coupon system for a cash system.

He said the cash system would better ensure the government's fuel subsidies were directly received by those in need.

"I have always suggested the government directly target eligible people when distributing fuel subsidies," Ramses told The Jakarta Post.

He said under the current system the government subsidizes fuel prices for all members of the public. As such, people who are not eligible for subsidy also benefit from cheap fuel.

Ramses also supported the government's plans to ask nongovernmental organizations to participate in the joint monitoring of the distribution of the cash aid. (bkm)