Vol. 7, No. 2
Will East Timor See Justice?
Community Empowerment in Theory and Practice
by Charles Scheiner
One of the largest projects in East Timor is the Community Empowerment and Local Governance Project (CEP), administered by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. CEP is spending $22.5 million from the Trust Fund (aid to East Timor from bilateral and multilateral donors) over 30 months, primarily in block grants for local community development and reconstruction projects. (For a more detailed description and analysis of the project, see La'o Hamutuk Bulletin Vol. 1, No. 4) One of CEP's stated objectives is to empower rural East Timorese by creating village and subdistrict councils to decide what to fund in each village. I attended a CEP Concelho do Posto (subdistrict council) in January in Uatolari, a town on the south coast in Viqueque District. At this meeting, unpaid representatives (one man and one woman) from each Conselho do Suco (village council) presented proposals for the second round of CEP funding. The posto had $75,000 to allocate, and will fund about half of the 2-4 projects proposed by each suco.
One of CEP's goals is to involve women and men equally, which is difficult in traditional Timorese society. At the meeting I attended, the two CEP staff who facilitated the meeting were East Timorese wome\n, as were half of those attending. But the facilitators failed to empower the council members - as they collected and summarized each proposal, the facilitators did almost all the talking. They then announced the members of the committee would evaluate each proposal and report to the next Concelho do Posto meeting. Although these names had been nominated from each suco, the staff announced the all-male committee, and some on the Concelho objected to some of the nominees.
When suco representatives spoke, the men dominated. Many participants appeared not to understand the CEP's many-step decision-making process, although they had already gone through one round of proposals and funding. The whole local governance structure seemed fragile; it probably won't last after this cycle, since CEP will no longer pay facilitators or fund projects.
Toward the end of the meeting, there was a vehement discussion about foreign currency exchange rates. It emerged that a few of the Concelho do Posto members had profited from the first round of projects. Proposals had been approved in rupiah (the unstable Indonesian currency), but The World Bank provided funding in U.S. dollars, calculated at 7,600 rupiah to the dollar. East Timor's economy still runs in rupiah, so the Concelho members converted the dollars using the freelance money changers omnipresent on Dili sidewalks between UNTAET HQ and the elite "Hello Mister" supermarket. They got a better rate (about 9,200) than that offered by the Portuguese bank, but no receipts. Concelho members pocketed the 20% surplus, explaining it was "interest" or compensation for their otherwise unpaid work. Dili-based CEP staff were troubled by this "corruption", as were many Concelho do Posto members.
Two decades of mixing of public and personal funds during the Indonesian occupation is a hard pattern to erase, further complicated by a three-currency economy and a new, partially-successful local governance system. East Timor still faces challenges on many fronts.
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