High fuel price drives Indonesian fishermen to more debts

Supardi’s face was furious when he talked to Maritime Fairtrade about the Indonesian government’s plan to increase the price of subsidized fuel. Supardi, a fisherman who had just returned from the sea and failed to catch anything that day, said the government is making him and other fishermen throughout Indonesia poorer by increasing the price of subsidized fuel.

“We are already poor, our daily life is difficult. Does the government want to increase the price of subsidized fuel? How else can we live? My debt is everywhere. Finding fish these days is also difficult because there are very few fish left in our traditional fishing grounds,” said Supardi, who has four children.

Supardi returns from fishing trip.

The Indonesian government is currently finalizing a plan to increase subsidized fuel prices. For subsidized diesel fuel used by fishermen like Supardi, the price increase is expected to increase by IDR 2,000 (US$0.13), to IDR 7,000 (US$0.47) per liter.  For Supardi and others like him, this is a lot of money.

Supardi needs 30 liters of fuel for a fishing trip every day and with the expected fuel increase, he will need an additional IDR 60,000 (US$4) per day to go out to the sea.  “Life is already difficult, why must the government make it more difficult for us?  Even now, I do not have enough money to buy extra food for my family.  We can only afford to eat rice with sweet soy sauce every day.  And my debt will only go up in the future, he said.

Fishermen’s village at the coast of Sidoarjo.

Unlike Supardi, Jarwo, who is also a fisherman in the coastal area of Sidoarjo, agrees with the Indonesian government’s plan to increase the price of subsidized fuel. However, Jarwo said the government must fulfil certain conditions first, including making sure the subsidized fuel is freely available to fishermen.

“Nowadays, it is very hard to find subsidized fuel.  Often, I have to ride a motorbike 10 km away to buy subsidized fuel.  Even then, sometimes after going so far, there is no more fuel at the petrol kiosk.  If the government cannot guarantee a steady supply of subsidized fuel, then do not increase the price, otherwise we will protest and hold demonstrations,” Jarwo said. 

A petrol kiosk.

Jarwo said that the expected price increase will add an extra financial burden on his family but he will work harder to feed his family.  He will increase his hours of work and cut down on his rest hours.  He plans to work a second job when he is not out at sea.  Usually, he goes on a fishing trip at 10 pm and returns to shore at noon the next day.

“After all, the only one who can help us is ourselves.  I have given up hope that the government and the politicians are going to help us.  The politicians, who are supposed to help the poor like us, have forgotten that we are also the ones who voted for them,” he added.

“Well, what can I do if I don’t work harder?  What will my family eat?  It does not matter if I don’t have enough rest, the important thing is to put food on the table for my family.  And we have bills to pay too.”

Small fishing boats.

Gogi Kurniawan, an economist of YAPAN College of Economics (STIE), understood that if the price of subsidized fuel is not increased, it will be a heavy burden on the country.  However, he cautioned that the government must address the plight of the impoverished fishermen.

“If the price is not increased, the finance minister said the country’s debt will increase to IDR 195 trillion (US$13 billion) by 2023.  On the other hand, if fuel price is increased as expected, the prices of basic necessities will increase as well and the poor will get poorer.  Therefore, it is the job of the government to come up with a balanced policy to address all issues, said Gogi.

Gogi said the government has to take into account the high inflation inflicting the Indonesian economy now and the impact on the people.  He said for example, in 2005, inflation reached 17.11 percent when the price of subsidized diesel fuel was increased by 27.3 percent and gasoline was increased by 32.6 percent. Based on that experience, the government must have learned some lessons and there should now be some forms of coping mechanism to help the poor.

Long queues at petrol station.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on various occasions in the last few days has issued statements regarding plans to increase subsidized fuel prices in early September. The Cabinet also revealed the cost of existing fuel subsidies is impacting the State Revenue and Expenditure Budget (APBN). 

Top photo credit: iStock/ Wen Solli. Paotere harbor, Makassar, Indonesia, April 04, 2022. Fishermen refueling boats.

All photos credit: Ibnu Wibowo

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