Subject: IHT: Ramos-Horta: East Timor Is Worthy of Your Help

International Herald Tribune Thursday, June 14, 2001


East Timor Is Worthy of Your Help

José Ramos-Horta International Herald Tribune

DILI, East Timor East Timor is entering the final phase of its long struggle for independence, first from Portugal and more recently from Indonesia. On Aug. 30, East Timorese will go to the polls to vote for a constituent assembly. It will draft the constitutional basis for an independent state. . We are ready. When I returned in late 1999, after representing the independence movement abroad during the Indonesian occupation, I was shocked by the destruction, and part of me believed that the country would never recover. But since then the East Timorese have shown their extraordinary resilience. Dili now has more economic activity than before the UN-organized referendum in August 1999 in which the overwhelming majority voted for independence. In the rural areas, although people still live in desperate poverty, they have planted and harvested crops. With the support of the international community and the UN transitional administration, they have elected local councils and managed hundreds of local reconstruction projects. . Reconstruction is not yet complete, but roads have been cleared, schools have been rebuilt and water, electricity and irrigation systems have been repaired. Children are getting books to read, and a national health service is being set up. . The political parties have debated peacefully together and agreed on a legal framework and timetable for elections. The task of recruiting an entire administration from scratch is almost complete, and the public servants are taking power and responsibility into their own hands. . The reconstruction may not seem impressive to visitors seeing the country for the first time, but they should realize that 18 months ago East Timor was little but scorched earth. . We have made mistakes but have learned from them. East Timor benefited from the experience of other countries that have achieved independence. We realized early on that we would have to manage within our own resources. . We have tried to create a capable public administration with strong financial management that will make the best use of international aid and our own taxpayers' funds. . Recognizing the dangers of corruption in new and fragile institutions, we have put in place mechanisms that provide for transparent decision-making and effective financial controls. To avoid an approach that is too top-down and centralized, we have favored reconstruction programs which involve communities in setting priorities, and use local skills and labor. East Timor has natural resources on which sustainable economic growth can be based. In addition to our traditional farm production, including premium grade coffee for export, revenue from oil and natural gas projects in the Timor Sea along with increased domestic revenues should, by around 2005, eliminate our dependence on international support to fund the core operations of government. . We want to avoid too much dependence on oil and gas revenues, however. For this reason, we greatly appreciate international assistance to help diversify our economy, improve farm productivity, and strengthen small enterprises in manufacturing and tourism. Economic self-reliance is the cornerstone of true independence. . In addition to the support of foreign governments, the United Nations and international financial institutions, thousands of individuals around the world have offered assistance and financial support to help East Timor recover from the violence that followed our vote for freedom. We will continue to need such help to make freedom a reality, and to combine political progress with economic and social progress.

The writer, a Nobel peace laureate, is the cabinet member for foreign affairs in the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor. He attends a meeting in Canberra this Thursday and Friday of governments and organizations providing aid. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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