Millions of Poor Get Free Gas Stoves

JAKARTA ~ The government will distribute gas stoves to more than four million poor households this year in an attempt to soften the blow of a planned cut in the kerosene subsidy, state media said.

The government has announced it will cut the subsidy, costing Rp40 trillion (US$4.4 billion) annually, in 2008 to reduce its enormous fuel subsidy bill amid recent record global oil prices, the Antara news agency said.

The resulting price jump is expected to impact on millions of impoverished Indonesians who use kerosene for cooking, and could trigger protests.

State oil and gas company Pertamina has commissioned the production of 4.5 million small stoves, each with a filled bottle of gas, to be rolled out to households in stages this year, Antara said.

“In the initial step, we will distribute 380,000 units to households in Jakarta and surrounding areas on May 8,” Pertamina director Ari Sumarno said.

Another one million households in Central and East Java will receive, later this month, the same package.

At six dollars each, the packages are expected to cost the government $27 million.

Late last year, a government study found 39.05 million people out of a population of 220 million live below the poverty line. Many of those use wood as fuel for cooking.

Increases in the price of fuel are politically sensitive in Indonesia.

The government triggered nationwide protests in 2005 when it implemented an average 29-percent increase in the price of fuel to relieve some of the pressure caused by crippling state subsidies after then high global oil prices.

The government distributed cash of Rp100,000 to millions of poor households to help compensate them for the increase.

The International Monetary Fund has backed a cut in Indonesia’s fuel subsidies to help balance the national budget.

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