Subject: Tempo: No-Go NGO

Tempo Magazine October 30-November 5, 2001

Interlude No-Go NGO

Hundreds of NGOs have sprouted in Timor Loro Sa'e. Most are neither properly nor professionally managed.

MARIA Federer now shies away from meeting journalists. Apparently, this director of Timor Aid has become sort of allergic to publicity. This is understandable in the light of negative stories coming out about the NGO that operates in the areas of education, health and empowerment of the poor, in Timor Loro Sa'e. A recent audit has unraveled corruption at the NGO amounting to US$50,000 (Rp500 million), funds that were supposed to be used for building fishing boats. This 'discrepancy' was uncovered last August and since then the Timor Aid office in Bidar Lecedere, Dili, has been out of bounds for the press.

The negative development undermining Timor Aid is only a minor illustration of the bleak story of NGOs established in Timor Loro Sa'e. Since its secession from Indonesia following the 1992 referendum, the former Portuguese colony has witnessed the presence of hundreds of local and international NGOs. According to data from the NGO Forum, 177 local and 116 international NGOs now operate throughout the country, whereas they were few and far between when East Timor was part of Indonesia. "Now there are many NGOs, but the quality is poor," says Selma Widhi Hayati, head of the NGO Forum's Capacity Building division, an umbrella organization for NGOs established in Timor Loro Sa'e.

The current state of affairs as described by Selma can be attributed to the poor economic condition of Timor Loro Sa'e, one that has spurred people to try almost anything in order to survive. At present, 80,000 people classified in the productive age group are totally jobless. Confronted by the extremely limited economic opportunities available, job seekers have sought an alternative way of earning an income, namely setting up an NGO. Consequently, NGOs began to sprout up all over Timor Loro Sa'e, coming and going like mushrooms after the rain.

The trend has actually been encouraged by the fact that no difficult terms and conditions are laid down for the setting up of an NGO. Practically speaking, what is needed is just a proposal and a signboard. Next step? Register the NGO with the NGO Forum. Then the founder just needs to sit back and wait for the funds allotted to NGOs to roll in. Among committed NGO activists in Timor Loro Sa'e, such 'non-governmental organizations' are aptly described as "three-month NGOs" as they usually survive no more than three months. But it's not all doom and gloom, as a small number of local NGOs are indeed run in a very professional manner.

One of them is Yayasan Hak, a legal aid foundation promoting legal advocacy and human rights. Driven by the clear principle of honest, hard work, Yayasan Hak first provided legal counsel to dozens of political detainees during the New Order regime of deposed President Suharto. Yayasan Hak is one of the few NGOs that often had to turn down offers of funding. "We had to do this because of our limited human resources," explained Yayasan Hak's chairman, Aniceto Guterres Lopes, speaking in Dili.

Setiyardi, Ign. Haryanto

Survival of the Fittest

International NGOs:

NGO Area of Operation Remarks

The Asia Foundation

Providing support to Yayasan Hak and the Jurist's Association, legal advocacy and human rights, mass media and women's participation.

In the recent election for a Constitutional Council, the foundation actively conducted counseling for voters in all districts of Timor Loro Sa'e. Apart from providing financial aid to the mass media, it also sponsored the visit of Indonesian press figure Goenawan Mohamad who conducted workshops for the press.

CARE International

Food aid, sanitation, and agricultural development.

As an international NGO with strong financial backup, CARE Intl began to operate in Timor Loro Sa'e in December 1999. It now has a network in all districts of Timor Loro Sa'e.

HOPE International

English-language training, computer and office management.

HOPE International conducts free training courses for the public in all districts of Timor Loro Sa'e.

Local NGOs: NGO Area of Operation Remarks

Yayasan Hak

Legal advocacy and human rights

Established 23 March 1997 in Dili, Yayasan Hak initially provided legal counseling to political detainees during the Suharto era. With the support of 60 activists, the NGO now has branches in Dili, Maliana, Baucau, and Maubisse.


Advocacy and empowerment of women

Established in the early '90s, Fokupers has branches in Dili, Liquica, Maliana, and Suai. It focuses its activities on the advancement of the nation's women. Of the 88 members of the newly established Constitutional Council, only 13 (around 15%) are women.

Bia Hula Foundation

Sanitation and community development

The hot, arid environment and lack of water pose a major problem to the majority of the population. Bia Hula Foundation (founded 1978) has built sanitation networks in Dili, Baucau, and Suai, and is now building similar facilities in other districts.

Source: NGO Forum

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