Feb 20, 2007

Queue… please!

Very recently, we saw some queue drama. People get in line for having cheap rice from market operations (MOs) held by BULOG. The rice price climbed to more than Rp 5000 after flooding inundated Jabotabek area several weeks ago. This is not the end of the story, hundred hectares of new planted paddy field area were also flooded hence the farmers need to replant with a new seed, another costs for the farmers.

Then rice was suddenly missing from the market, some said that the stock was channeled to Jakarta as a first priority. Well, it happens many times where Jakarta is prevented from instability especially from economic shocks. Hence the government undertakes MOs to stabilize the price. What happened with the price?

The rice price is reluctant to fall even though MOs have been held regularly in many places. The rice is always sold out although many people stand in line, and some of them end up with an empty hand. Is the rice not enough? Or those who need rice are many?

Maybe there are numerous rice-eaters need to be fed and they can’t afford it at current price, so they are trying to get one-two sacks of rice at cheaper price. The rice probably is not enough since MOs are miss-targeted. Instead of bought by beneficiaries (poor people), the rice has been channeled back to rice traders through some middlemen (calo/joki). Of course they will sell it again at higher price, another profit for the traders.

Is there something wrong with the MOs? Nothing! This is part of government’s job to let the price is not only driven by the market. Besides, price of goods should be affordable for poor people. The mistake was it is not designed carefully in order to prevent rent seeker like some traders above. Everyone can get rice as long as they are in line regardless they are traders or all of them are family members. Also no regulation of how many kgs can someone buy rice from MOs. Not surprisingly, one person could carry 20 kgs but in other places one person got small sack of 5 kgs. The worst was the same people got back again to the line expecting another run to accumulate the rice. Another miss targeted?

Another drama also took place last Saturday and Sunday due to Chinese New Year (Imlek) in Vihara and around Chinese residents. Poor people were queuing expecting for ang pao (money) as part of essential ceremony during the festival. Interestingly, some wealthy people made a system to reduce rent seeking behavior. Those who have got the ang pao were marked by a kind of ink.

I remember in the last general election (2004) that KPU used permanent ink which last almost for 3 days after somebody gave their vote. So why don’t government use the same system for improving MOs?