Tag Archives: East Timor

Arduous economic recovery in post-conflict East Timor

Next generation takes the reins of development to move troubled tropical paradise away from its bloody past.

Published by Al Jazeera English, June 23, 2015

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – Following his first 100 days in office, the new prime minister of East Timor marvelled at how the peaceful transition of power from his predecessor stood in stark contrast to the young nation’s turbulent past.

“Since independence, East Timor has come a long way,” said Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo in a speech at the 2015 East Timor Development Partners Meeting.

“We have moved from a fragile country overcoming the ghosts of our traumatic past, to a nation that is consolidating the foundations of our state,” the prime minister said. Continue reading …

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Can East Timor dodge the ‘resource curse’?

Despite oil and gas riches, signs of wealth remain scarce in the impoverished country.

Photo: Wong Pei Ting

Photo: Wong Pei Ting

Published by Al Jazeera English, Nov. 1, 2013.

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – The 2014 budget unveiled last week by tiny East Timor is a $1.5bn spending plan funded almost exclusively – 95 percent – by lucrative oil and gas revenues. One of the fastest-growing budgets in the world in recent years, it ballooned from $64m in 2004 to $604m in 2009.

That the budget depends on a single, finite resource that could be depleted in a generation has some worrying the country may fall victim to the same “resource curse” that has seen other developing countries lose their wealth to inexperience, mismanagement and corruption.

“Given how much money has poured through the country, and given how much money the government has access to, it’s fairly depressing,” said Anna Powles, an academic researcher who worked in East Timor for eight years as an adviser to the government and several non-government organisations.

East Timor is one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. The country’s non-oil industries, such as organic coffee and tourism, generate a fraction of the amount as the oil does. Continue reading …

‘Resource curse’ haunts Timor-Leste

Op-ed published in Today, Oct. 25, 2013

In Timor-Leste’s capital of Dili, young men walk the streets aimlessly; youth unemployment is over 50 per cent in a country where more than 60 per cent are under 25. Photo: Wong Pei Ting

In Timor-Leste’s capital of Dili, young men walk the streets aimlessly; youth unemployment is over 50 per cent in a country where more than 60 per cent are under 25. Photo: Wong Pei Ting

By Tom Benner

There is a free health clinic in Dili, the capital of Asia’s newest and poorest country, Timor-Leste, that treats some 400 people a day. The doctor who runs it was telling me about the kinds of cases he generally treats — tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, typhoid, malnutrition, stunting, poor growth, pregnancy complications.

Dr Dan Murphy is actually happy about this. Back before Timor-Leste became a country in 2002, he treated gunshot wounds, machete wounds, victims of torture and hand grenade victims.

What passes for progress in Timor-Leste is a lot like that. The war zone days are over, but the patient at the door has new problems with endemic causes. Now that United Nations (UN) peacekeepers are gone and the civil unrest has quieted, the challenges of governing a very poor country and inexperienced democracy seem far greater than anticipated in the hopefulness of its first sovereign days. Continue reading …

Mismanagement highlighted in East Timor

Contracts with a Chinese company lead critics to blast government for alleged poor procurement policies.

Published by Al Jazeera English, Oct. 19, 2013

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – East Timor’s government has come under renewed public criticism after granting a contract to a Chinese state-owned company to supply furniture to Timorese schools.

The contract of just over $1m is relatively small for a country with oil and gas wealth, but its significance is larger. In 2008 the prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, granted the same company a $300m contract – the largest in the nation’s history at the time – to build East Timor’s power plants and national electricity grid.

The company, Chinese Nuclear Industry Construction Company No. 22 (CNI22), was widely criticised for its failure to fulfill the terms of the contract, and a big portion of the work had to be reassigned to a different company, increasing the cost by hundreds of millions of dollars and delaying the project for several years.

“We hope that they will never receive another contract from East Timor,” a government watchdog group, La’o Hamutuk (Walking Together), wrote in an October 8 letter to the chairman of the National Procurement Commission. Continue reading …

East Timor leaders eye media curbs

Draft law would restrict who can be a journalist and punish ethical transgressions

Published by Al Jazeera English, Oct. 17, 2013

Rosa Garcia of the Timor Post. Photo by Wong Pei Ting

Rosa Garcia of the Timor Post. Photo by Wong Pei Ting

By Tom Benner

Dili, East Timor – Media in this young democracy in Southeast Asia suffer from a lack of professionalism, accuracy, and ethics, argue proponents of new legislation that would punish journalistic transgressions.

But critics worry that such a law, expected to be taken up by East Timor’s parliament, could impose onerous restrictions, such as spelling out who may work as a journalist, and how breaches of journalistic ethics should be addressed.

Politicians such as former prime minister Mari Alkatiri are advocates of such a system, alarming free speech advocates in the country.

“Media is a power. Every power has to have some limits,” Alkatiri said in an interview at his office in Dili, the nation’s capital.

“If the politician made a mistake, he has to respond to his mistake. If a company makes a mistake, they have to respond to the mistake. But the journalist, no. They are free to have mistakes, because they are journalists.” Continue reading …