Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Endless Fuel Debate: Government vs. The People

This is a post that I wrote for our Campus magazine, POINT. The issue is a bit outdated (by a year, lol, and the edition was published very late because of a few technical difficulties), but I want to share it anyway, since I got a lot of the info from my friend Seagate, and he inspired me to write about it. Here goes, Pal! Thanks for your help!


Currently, there is a debate on whether or not the price of fuel should rise. In essence, there are two equally strong teams, voicing out their opinions about it. It might remind you of an Austral-style debate setting, where there are two teams: Affirmative and Negative. The motion for the debate is: “This house believes that the price of fuel should be raised”.

The affirmative team is the government team. The supporters are most of the representatives, the high officials and the civil servants, seated rather uncomfortably in the audience. They base their opinions on the fact that the international price of the refined fuel oil has skyrocketed, leaving them no choice but to lift the subsidy in proportion to the consumer price resulting from the crisis. “We can’t take the subsidy anymore” they say. “We need to use it for the other sectors.” “It is more than our budget can take.”

The negative team, which comprises the majority of the society, responds to this argument by emphasizing all the detriments that may come from this proposal. “Extreme inflation”, “significant decrease of purchasing power”, and “poverty” are (and has always been) their major headlines.

Meanwhile, we can hear a joyous shout of “hear, hear” in approval of the negative team. We question whether or not this is an objective opinion or just a vain attempt to gain the people’s sympathy. It is indeed suspicious since the owner of that voice is sitting among the members of the party obviously striving to gain a place on the government “hot seats”.

The blitz from the camera’s light up the room. Journalists are scribbling on their notepads, no doubt in the process of creating yet another sensational article about their favorite black sheep: the government.

On the next day, the news is filled with the accounts of the last debate, in a slightly twisted narration. Yes, certain well-known media are very creative with their words. There is immediate uproar. The people are out on the streets, pioneered by an army of students, claiming to be academia but strangely acting like Neanderthals. They parade the streets proudly while stopping at the nearest McDonalds to cause mayhem. “Look! We are on TV,” they say. Then they prance to the headquarters of the House of Representatives. “Let’s break this fence while we’re at it!” And so they did.

April 1st was supposed to be the dreaded apocalypse. The fuel price would rise to Rp6000, an extra Rp1500 from what they had to previously pay. However, the day passed without mayhem. The implementation of the policy was pended until next month. The people could finally sigh in relief.

Little did they know, the government did not cancel the motion to amend themselves in response to the society’s demonstrations (or so the society thought). In regards to article 7 paragraph 6 letter A of the Revised State Budget (APBN-P) 2012, if the average of the Indonesian Crude Price (ICP) during the last 6 months increases or decreases 15% relative to the International Crude Oil Price that was assumed in the Revised State Budget of the year 2012, the government is permitted to adjust the fuel prices and make the supporting policies related to it. In fact, the average of the fuel prices in the running period prior to April (October 2011 – March 2012) was $116.52 per barrel. The assumed international crude oil price for the running period was $108 per barrel thus a 15% increase would equal to $120.25 per barrel (information derived from the Ministry of Energy and Human Resources online database). We were still under the limit. This is the legal and rather economical reason behind the cancellation of the fuel price hike.

However, this logical reason is either neglected or unknown by the society. Possibly to enjoy their satisfaction derived from the assumption that it was them indeed that had the government on their hands and knees, thus revoking their policy for the current period. And why shouldn’t they enjoy it?

It is a small treat compared to the disappointment they have to feel day after day, after receiving news about the latest government corruption case, proudly presented by the media as if it were the latest fashion. The majority of the audience isn’t any better. They’d swallow the information whole, like a hungry little bird that has never stepped out of its nest. Meanwhile, the opposite parties couldn’t be happier as opportunities to gain power become more evident.

The fact is: fuel is not renewable. The stock is scarce. Experts predict that the stock may last for only 30 years. So, whether we like it or not, the international fuel price shall rise. In the meantime, alternative solutions are always sought for.

Currently, the latest development is about the government trying to implement fuel usage restrictions in the society. “You have to have a specific type of vehicle to use premium,” they say. Of course, the people start to mutter incoherent protests, maybe devising another animal attack on the government premises. However, did they consider the other restrictions? “All government owned vehicles are not allowed to use premium fuel.” “Government offices will serve as a pioneer to conserve electricity in offices and houses.” “There will be a conversion of fuel to gas.” It doesn’t sound so bad, no?


There’s always something positive about the government. Not all of them are corruptive criminals. Sure, sometimes their regulations seem to be imprudent or poorly prepared. Sometimes they make mistakes. That is why the society is given a right to protest and sound out their aspirations. However, there is question to whether or not they can do so as a “civil society”. Current wisdom suggests that blindly diving into a demonstration, conducting vandalism, and practicing ignorance is not the answer. We are blessed with the freedom and right to educate ourselves, but it is easier to listen to the negative whispers of provocation rather than reasonably assess the situation from different perspectives (anonymous quote).

The politics will never die and the battle may never end. We have to learn how to survive. One way is to remember that it doesn’t have to be a debate where only one side can win. It should be a discussion that ends in a fair agreement. This way, both sides can be winners. Sure it sounds rather utopic but it wouldn’t hurt to try our best, right?