SOLO, INDONESIA - The government of Indonesia's Central Java province has begun distributing free staple foods and opening bargain markets in an effort to prevent price hikes and protect citizens during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Whitono, head of the Food Security Agency in Central Java, said subsidized bargain markets were being held in several areas of the province to stabilize food prices during Ramadan and Eid.
“Yesterday in Ungaran, today in Solo, tomorrow in Semarang and Magelang," he said. “Usually before Eid, staple food prices are high. We also hope, by having subsidized markets, food products with expired dates, fake rice, fake pepper, et cetera, won’t be circulated in the markets."
Whitono told VOA the markets are intended for low-income people so that they can afford to buy safe staple food at bargain prices.
On Tuesday, more than 1,000 people stood in line at tents in Lawean town in Solo, awaiting free staples such as rice, oil and sugar. An announcement from a loudspeaker reminded them to be aware of expired or fake food items.
"Just the other day, there was uproar on the issues of plastic rice, fake pepper, and the latest one about vegetables and fruits injected with certain substances to make them look fresh," the annoucer said.
Shoppers say they spend approximately 30 percent less at the government-subsidized markets than they would in grocery stores.
“With just [$3.50], I bought rice, sugar, cooking oil and instant noodles," one shopper said. "In traditional markets or grocery stores, it would cost me more. Prices here are much, much cheaper.”
Another shopper said she had received some staple products for free, thanks to coupons from her village chief.
Meanwhile, the governor of Jakarta has warned Islamic groups not to attack entertainment venues that may violate Ramadan rules issued by the government.
Basuki Tjahaya Purnama, who is widely known as Ahok, said only police have the authority to deal with those who violate the law. Ahok, who is Christian, also urged non-Muslims to respect Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan.
In past years, some Islamic groups have attacked and destroyed businesses that sell alcohol or provide entertainment during Ramadan.
Andy Lala contributed to this report from Jakarta. This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Indonesian service.