Sunday, August 8, 2010

Citizens plan suit against Pertamina over gas fires

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sat, 08/07/2010 11:42 AM | National

State-owned oil and gas company Pertamina will soon face a civil suit to ensure that it compensates victims of exploding gas canisters.

The suit would be the first filed by citizens after almost 200 people have been injured or killed in recent months.

FX Arief Poyuono, the head of the standing committee for the United Union Federation of State-Owned Enterprises (FSP BUMN), said Friday that the FSP BUMN, acting on behalf of citizens, would notify Pertamina on Aug. 8 about its responsibility to pay compensation, as well as to publicize safety guidelines in the media to prevent further accidents.

"Should they fail to comply, we will file a lawsuit at the Central Jakarta District Court on Monday, Aug. 16," Arief said, adding that Pertamina was in violation of the 1999 Consumer Protection Law, which required producers to disseminate information on gas canister safety measures, including usage, repair and maintenance.

The country is facing an unprecedented challenge of ensuring gas canister safety and quality for low-income citizens, many of whom use government-subsidized 3-kilogram LPG canisters for cooking.

The Center for Public Interest Studies recorded that, as of July 8, 189 people had been either injured or killed in gas canister explosions and fires. The Jakarta Police also reported 32 cases of gas explosions in the capital alone as of July.

Arief said Pertamina had washed it hands of the safety issue, especially with regard to regulations on the installation and maintenance of gas canisters inside people's homes.

"Pertamina cites *problems with gas canister accessories, such as hoses and regulators' as a pretext for the recent spate of gas explosions in the country," he said.

When Pertamina was pressed, he said, the company sought to blame the problem on the public, saying that people's understanding of maintenance and safety was low.

Arief added that the FSP BUMN had legal standing to file a lawsuit against Pertamina because its statutes stipulated that one of the FSP BUMN's purposes was to improve the well-being of Indonesians.

The lawsuit will seek to have Pertamina pay Rp 100 million (US$11,200) to the beneficiaries of dead victims, Rp 150 million to permanently disabled victims and Rp 20 million to the injured.

In June, Pertamina started a compensation program for victims of the 3-kilogram canister explosions. Those who suffered permanent injury or the beneficiaries of dead victims received Rp 25 million.

Arief said the FSP BUMN would also file a suit against the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) for not protecting consumer rights. "We do not see any concrete efforts by the YLKI when it comes to protecting those affected by the gas explosions," he said.

Tulus Abadi of the YLKI rejected Arief's claim, saying that efforts to help victims of gas explosions were underway.

He clarified that the YLKI had held discussions with other NGOs, such as the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation, to consider possible legal action against Pertamina.

The YLKI, Tulus continued, opted for a lawsuit rather than a class action because the judicial process was simpler and less expensive.

Commenting on the FSP BUMN's plan to sue the YLKI, Soedaryatmo of the YLKI said the FSP BUMN should direct the legal action against the National Consumer Protection Agency. (tsy)

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