Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Wardah upset by absence of mechanisms for cheap rice

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Over one week after the government started the distribution of subsidized rice for the needy in Jakarta it has yet to design a clear mechanism and control system, leaving many residents confused as to whether or not they qualify for it.

Urban Poor Consortium (UPC) chairwoman Wardah Hafidz even alleged that the cheap rice scheme had not been well prepared and was liable to abuse because the government did not yet know the exact amount of rice or the number of recipients either.

"I believe the scheme is mere window-dressing. The initial distribution in the city on Jan. 10 was only a token gesture with no follow-up because as of today, no state institution can provide details of this year's scheme," she told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

She stated that she had sought data from the program's architects, the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) and the Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare, but to no avail.

The cheap rice scheme, which was organized last year, is partly funded from the government's compensation funds derived from the fuel subsidy reduction. Other programs include tuition support and scholarships for poor students and free health services for the poor.

Many residents claimed not to know about the scheme, which allows them to buy a maximum of 20 kilograms of rice each at a price of only Rp 20,000 (around US$2.27), much cheaper than the market price of Rp 2,600 to Rp 3,500 per kilogram.

Others stated they could not purchase the 20 kilograms without providing a satisfactory explanation to subdistrict chiefs, who are in charge of distributing the rice to poor residents.

Last year, Jakarta received Rp 172.5 billion from the total Rp 2.85 trillion in compensation funds nationwide. Of the Rp 172.5 billion more than Rp 6.2 billion was allocated to additional cheap rice schemes in two municipalities of East Jakarta and North Jakarta.

The scheme for the poor, known as raskin (Beras untuk orang miskin), at three other municipalities last year was financed only from the state budget's routine expenditure for the State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

However, due to the increasing number of poor people in the capital, more than 180,000 registered families, this year the scheme was broadened to include Central Jakarta and West Jakarta municipalities.

Bulog official Anton Wuryanto, who is secretary of Bulog's team for raskin and the government's program to compensate for the fuel subsidy reduction (PKPS-BBM), said there was a plan to reduce the number of cheap rice recipients this year.

"The price of rice increased from Rp 2,800 last year to Rp 3,400 this year so we have to reduce the amount of subsidized rice in a bid to balance the expenditure. Moreover, the government has prioritized several provinces that are now recovering following conflicts or tragedies, such as Aceh, Maluku, Central Sulawesi and Bali."

"As a consequence, we can only provide 75 percent of last year's amount of subsidized rice to the capital this year. Last year, we earmarked 3,131 tons of rice but only one quarter of it was needed. This year, although the number of the recipients has increased we can only give 2,500 tons to 114,129 families," he told the Post on Tuesday.

The limitation, he said, had forced subdistrict administrations to either reduce the maximum amount of cheap rice the residents could purchase or further limit the residents entitled to receive it.