Jakarta. Indonesia plans to regulate prices of non-subsidized vehicle fuels as part of efforts to control inflation and boost people's purchasing power, Deputy Energy Minister Arcandra Tahar said.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo won international praise and sovereign bond rating upgrades for Southeast Asia's largest economy after cutting government fuel spending by more than 90 percent and shifting the burden of petroleum subsidies to Pertamina shortly after taking office in 2014.
But Indonesia still subsidizes some fuels and the government said in March that it plans to keep some fuel and electricity prices unchanged until the end of 2019, an election year.
Non-subsidized fuel prices are currently set by retailers.
However, a new regulation will allow the government to decide on whether or not to allow retailers to change any fuel price, Arcandra told reporters on Monday (09/04).
"The government is very concerned with the rate of inflation," he added, referring to adjustments to fuel prices by all retailers, excluding aviation fuel and industrial fuels.
"The direction from the president was that [fuel] price increases must take into account inflation going forward," Arcandra said, referring to retail fuels.
The government plans to meet retailers and issue a regulation on the matter "as quickly as possible" that will become effective immediately, he said.
Indonesia's fuel retailers include Shell, Total, AKR Corporindo and state-owned energy company Pertamina.
A second regulation would soon be issued to improve distribution of "Premium" (RON 88) gasoline after shortages emerged in some areas, Arcandra said.
Susyanto, secretary of Indonesia's Oil and Gas Directorate, said the move was in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling that stipulated that the government "must know exactly" about fuel price changes.
"The regulation will make changes so that every time there's an increase it will be obligatory to obtain prior government approval," he said.
A spokesman for Pertamina said the company had not received information about the move. A Jakarta-based spokesman for Shell did not respond to a written request for comment on the matter.
The government's concern is that household consumption growth remains below 5 percent, below average for Indonesia, Bank Permata economist Joshua Pardede said, referring to recent central government data.
"The hope is that by managing administered prices it can boost private consumption," Joshua told Reuters.
Widodo has been grappling with an economy that has refused to respond to conventional policies to kick-start growth. That could dent his re-election chances in 2019, especially with a budget that won't stretch to lavish government spending.
Net oil importer Indonesia's fuel subsidies have been blamed for creating a false economy, widespread smuggling and corruption.
Pricing controls have dented the finances of Pertamina and state-owned utility company Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), and reduced their spending capacity.