News focus - Audit needed to end rice import polemic By Andi Abdussalam

News focus - Audit needed to end rice import polemic       By Andi Abdussalam

Workers download imported rice from a ship at Indah Kiat Port in Merak, Cilegon, Banten, on July 31, 2018). (ANTARA Foto /Asep Fathulrahman)

Jakarta, (ANTARA News) - The polemic on whether Indonesia needs to import rice once again surfaces in public discourses, prompting the Ombudsman to call on the government to carry out auditing on rice stock and logistics warehouse capacity.

Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita has permits for the importation of two million tons of rice this year, saying imports is needed to guarantee adequate stock in anticipation of shortfall in domestic supply.

However, Head of the State Logistics Board (Bulog) Budi Waseso and Agriculture Minister Andi Amran were against the rice imports.

Indonesia will not need to import rice, as it has adequate supply of the staple commodity to meet demand until June 2019, Budi Waseso stated.

Waseso told the press in Jakarta on Wednesday (Sept 19) that he had formed a team involving the Agriculture Ministry, Bulog, and independent experts to analyze the national rice demand and supply.

"The team has recommended that we do not need to import until June 2019. Moreover, Bulog might also not have to release its imported rice stock. We have to maintain it. We should not rely on imports," Waseso, popularly known as Buwas, revealed.

The controversy, first triggered by split of opinions between government officials over the need for imports, was fanned into public debate by politicians and government critics.

Critics said the government imported rice when the surplus was abundant resulting in the farmer in difficulty to dispose of their surplus.

Hence, Indonesian Ombudsman Commissioner Ahmad Alamsyah Saragih advised the government to audit the rice stock and the capacity of all warehouses of the State Logistics Board to obtain data on the actual conditions.

"The government must audit the stock of the logistics board, including its warehouse capacity to find out what the situation is actually like. Is the stock abundant, is it enough or not?" Ahmad Alamsyah Saragih said in Jakarta on Saturday.

According to Buwas, Bulog`s rice stock currently reached 2.4 million tons, and with imports in October, the total rice stocks had reached 2.8 million tons.

Of the total stock, some 100 thousand tons will be utilized for the distribution of rice for the poor (Rastra), that will bring the staple food supply in Bulog`s warehouses to 2.7 million tons by the end of December.

The agency has forecast that the rice end-stock could reach three million tons, with additional four thousand tons of daily unhusked rice production during the dry season.

"I do not want to continue the polemic on whether we will import (rice) since according to the analysis, we do not need to import. Supply until June 2019 is safe," Buwas pointed out.

He also questioned the authenticity of data on rice consumption need in Indonesia that has reached 2.4 to 2.7 million tons per month, which meant rice consumption per capita had reached 130 kilograms per year.

The data according to Buwas became ambiguous and resulted in the assumption that the need for rice was more than it should be. After all, the validity of data is important to assure whether import is needed or not.

A couple of years ago, a joint assessment, conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) and the Ministry of Trade, found that Indonesia`s per capita consumption of rice was 114 kilograms per annum, not 130 kilogram.

Under the basis of the estimated population of 262 million in 2017, with a per capita rice consumption of 114 kilograms per annum, the domestic needs for rice reaches only about 30 million tons per annum.

Lawmaker Hamdhani who is a member of the Commission V of the House of Representatives said the decision on rice import, which has triggered controversy, was based on detailed analysis and study by the government.

"The decision to import rice was made not without a study," he said.

Hamdhani said the decision was made not by the Trade Minister alone but it was a decision at a coordination meeting under the Coordinating Minister for Economy Darmin Nasution. It was also signed by the Bulog chief and the Agriculture Minister.

The import decision was to maintain rice stock in order to keep inflation under control especially as the Agriculture Minister had said that food crop farms were shrinking in size.

Minister Darmin Nasution claimed to have scrutinized the rice production forecast by the Agriculture Ministry which was often missing the target. "It is the Agriculture Ministry that has the authority to issue the (rice production) data. However, it misses the target every year. We have asked for a revision, but it still carries the same data," he stated.

Nasution scrutinized the rice production forecast of 13.7 million tons in the first quarter of this year, consisting of 2.5 million tons in January, 4.7 million tons in February, and 6.8 million tons in March.

However, when he held a coordination meeting on March 19, 2018, he disclosed that the medium-and premium-class rice stocks stood at only 590 thousand tons, falling short of the stocks of 903 thousand tons as of Jan 15, 2018.

The rice stocks are not too large as average monthly rice consumption stands at 2.4 million tons. He held another coordination meeting on March 28, 2018 as the harvest time would end soon. At the meeting, the government decided to import one million tons of rice, bringing the total rice imports to 2 million tons for the entire year.

Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita said earlier the ministry issued the permit to import another 1 million tons of rice three months ago and the permit will be valid until August 2018

Darmin Nasution had said he would invite the Trade Minister and the Bulog chief and the Agriculture Minister to a meeting in a bid to end the polemic on rice import.

Editing by Bustanudin