Fri, 03 Jan 2003

Utilities price rise confuses the people

Bambang Nurbianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The increase in the price of fuel, as well as in telephone and electricity tariffs, only hours after New Year trumpets blared has confused many people, particularly low-income families who have to scramble for a living.

Sumiran, 41, a bicycle taxi (ojek sepeda) driver is an example. Earning only an average Rp 15,000 a day, he was already facing difficulty in feeding his family of five even before the price hike.

"Don't ask me how I will be able to manage our daily expenses. Until now, I have been addled by our daily problems. My wife always complains about the small amount of money I give to her," he said.

Sumiran, who offers transportation services on his old bicycle along Jl. Toko Tiga in Glodok, West Jakarta, leaves his house in a slum area close to Sunda Kelapa port in Penjaringan subdistrict, North Jakarta, around 7 a.m. and returns home at 6 p.m.

He says he is lucky if he could earn Rp 25,000 per day, but such days are rare. On a bad day, however, his intake is less than Rp 10,000.

On Wednesday, the government announced the increase of fuel prices by 22 percent, effective Thursday. This price hike coincides with an increase in electricity tariffs by an average of 6 percent, in telephone rates by 15 percent, and in economy- class train fares by 17 percent.

Last month, the government also announced an increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from Rp 28,800 to Rp 32,400 per tank.

For Sumiran, who only pays Rp 5,000 a month for electricity, of more concern is a possible increase in staple food prices as a result of these various price hikes.

The Jakarta Economic Affairs Office has predicted that the prices of staple foods in the city would increase by at least 5 percent following the fuel price hike.

Amran, a resident of the Sukabumi Selatan subdistrict in West Jakarta, blamed the government, saying that their policies always sacrificed the interests of the poor people.

"I do not understand the problems faced by the government, but all people know that such increases in various tariffs would only add to the burden of low-income people like me. Does the government know this?" asked Amran, who makes a living by taking up odd jobs in the neighborhood.

Company employees are also grumbling, especially because their salaries have been increased only slightly, or have not been increased at all in the past few years to reflect such hikes.

"I have not received a raise for several years now, while the prices and tariffs keep rising," said Gunawan Wibisono, who works for a foundation.

Following the government's announcement, people have begun to look for ways to economize their electricity and telephone usage.

Gunawan said that he had put his home telephone under lock and key since Wednesday in an effort to control the number of calls made by his two children.

Meanwhile, Zita Meirina, whose office is located on Jl. Agus Salim, Central Jakarta, said that he would not use electricity- powered cooking appliances to keep his electricity bill down.

On the other hand, Ida Sianipar, a resident of Tandjung Duren, West Jakarta, whose husband owns a shop at ITC Mangga Dua, said that she has told all members of her family to keep telephone usage to a minimum and to turn off all lamps when they are not in use.

"With all these efforts, I hope there won't be a significant increase in the electricity and telephone bills," she said.