‘Hoard, and we’ll come after you’

Indonesian armed forces chief warns speculators.

Regional Economic CRUNCH

INDONESIAN armed forces (Abri) chief General Feisal Tanjung has warned that the military will crack down on food distributors hoarding goods and selling them at a higher price later.

He said that hoarding any of nine basic food items, including rice, sugar, salt and cooking oil was against the law.

“We will strike at any speculators who try to hoard their stocks,” the armed forces chief told reporters.

His comments followed panic buying late last week in the capital when thousands of Indonesians flocked to markets and stores after the rupiah traded at 10,000 against the US dollar.

The buying frenzy came amid fears that the rupiah’s free fall would send prices of basic commodities sky high and producers would stop selling their goods.

The relative stability of the rupiah now and a government announcement that it would distribute food and other basic supplies to supermarkets, retail stores and traditional markets appeared to have calmed those fears.

But there are still many reported shortages of staple items.

Gen Tanjung’s warning is believed to be a response to reports that some traders had not opened their stores and were keeping food stocks to profit from higher prices at a later date.

Police chief Dibyo Widodo has also warned that food hoarders could be charged with subversion, which under Indonesian law carries the death penalty.

News reports yesterday quoted him as saying: “If people intentionally stockpile staples, they can be charged with subversion.”

He said that police had assigned detectives to investigate suspected hoarders.

Similar warnings were issued outside Jakarta.

The Antara national news agency reported that police in the East Java capital of Surabaya had warned that they would take “stiff measures” against traders engaged in such activities.

East Java police investigator Lieutenant-Colonel Soetrisno said: “We will not hesitate punishing traders stockpiling basic food commodities they intend to sell at higher prices.”

He said that police issued the warning after the people complained about the scarcity of rice, cooking oil and sugar at several shopping centres in Surabaya.

Some senior military figures, however, maintained that the scarcity of staple items was more the result of panic buying than because of traders stockpiling foodstuff.

Gen Widodo said: “It was the people who thronged the markets for food supplies. I can guarantee that the supplies are there and people should not panic and buy the entire stock.”

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso last week criticised well-to-do Indonesians for being “greedy” and sparking the panic-buying spree.

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