|Subject: Tempo: E Timor: The Disparity
Between UNTAET and E.Timorese
also: Timor's Floating Hotels
Tempo Magazine October 30-November 5, 2001
Dollars Flowing from Passports
Disparity between the lifestyles of UNTAET personnel and the people of Timor Loro Sa'e is sowing the seeds of social envy.
The brothers Soares, 32-year-old Abe Barreto and Mica Barreto, 29, are staff members of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET)'s press office. They have the same daily tasks: to interact with journalists and provide them with the necessary information needed for publication. They were both educated in Java: the older brother is a dropout from Gajah Mada University's Faculty of Letters, while Mica completed his graduate studies at the Soegiyopranoto University's Faculty of Psychology in Semarang.
Mica may be better educated, but when it comes to salaries, the dropout Abe is way ahead with a monthly paycheck of US$4,000, while Mica gets only US$340 a month, just a little more than the US$200 paid to house servants caring for UNTAET personnel. What differentiates the incomes of these Soares brothers is neither intelligence nor achievement, but simply their passports. Abe is lucky he held on to his Portuguese passport when Timor Loro Sa'e came under UNTAET's administration. Mica, on the other hand, kept his Timor Loro Sa'e passport. So their paychecks are determined by the classification set out by UNTAET--those of local and international staff.
The contrasting incomes and lifestyles between the expatriates and nationals in Timor Loro Sa', particularly in Dili, has caused deep envy and anger among the local population. That's why rock attacks still happen occasionally, even if the war has ended. Those rocks are being thrown at UNTAET cars during night time, smashing window screens. This outpouring of anger is triggered by the flagrant display of wealth amidst the widespread poverty around the local people.
In the past two years, the international staff of UNTAET have become Timor Loro Sa'e's elite society. Almost every night they can be found partying in Dili. One of the most diligent partygoers is no other than UNTAET head Sergio Vieira de Mello. This flamboyant father of three is an ever-present feature at diplomatic functions and parties hosted by NGOs. "I do attend a lot of parties, but only in my capacity as a UNTAET representative," De Mello told TEMPO.
He also hosts his own parties. Located by Dili's scenic beach, De Mello's official residence is the best house in town, a 600-square meter building on land three times that size. The UNTAET chief is a generous host. His favorite red wine often flows until three in the morning to keep guests entertained. After all, security is guaranteed by fully armed UN troops keeping round-the-clock vigil around the residence. As a result, he curious and potential intruders are kept at a distance.
These lavish parties teeming with wine and food wouldn't make a dent in De Mello's salary. As UNTAET' number one man, he is listed as receiving US$15,000 a month, which can buy him anything in Dili. If he wants additional security around his home, it won't cost him much. The monthly salary of each of Dili's 150 local policemen is only US$100. What if needs transportation? A Toyota Land Cruiser with special number plates "UNTAET 1" is always fuelled up and ready to take him anywhere in Timor Loro Sa'e whenever duty calls. If he tires of driving around, a helicopter stands ready to fly him and two bodyguards, anytime.
De Mello admitted to TEMPO he is aware of the serious social envy caused by the disparity of incomes between the local and international staff. "We cannot do it for the local staff," he said, adding that one of factor in the disparity was the difference in capabilities. If so, how does he explain the case of the Soares brothers? "That's a special case," he replied. De Mello says he tries to keep the peace between the international and local staff on this issue of salaries. But he says he cannot do anything about the rising crime rate arising out of such social jealousies. "We are unlikely to change overnight such a serious situation," he said.
The social envy De Mello refers to has cut deep in all corners of Dili since the UN took over in 1999. Stonings of UNTAET cars are now common occurrences. "This is an expression of anger towards the inequalities they are experiencing. No Timorese owns cars, let alone drive them," says Abe Soares. Although he's a native son of Timor Loro Sa'e, Abe's economic status got a boost because of his Portuguese passport. But he does hide the fact he earns the equivalent of Rp40 million a month. More than once, he's had to bear people sneering at him, "Hey, colonizing your own people, are you?" Abe says, imitating the taunts of local acquaintances.
With an average monthly salary of US$7,800 (see table Foreign Pie in a Local Kitchen) UNTAET personnel can easily pay their domestic staff Rp2 million a month, what with the rupiah continuing to weaken against the greenback. For their daily needs, they just need to spend US$500 to US$1,000 a month. The rest goes straight to savings accounts or is spent for pleasure. It's become a public secret that some 200 UNTAET personnel fly out to Bali from Dili on the Merpati weekly flights. Those who stay party at home or at the floating hotels and restaurants off the Dili coast. Other forms of entertainment are scarce. There is not one decent cinema in the entire country.
Without a doubt, there is a widening gap between expatriates and locals. Mica Soares says, with his salary, he can't keep up with the high living costs in Dili. Although with his monthly Rp3.4 million paycheck, Mica is clearly a lot better off than many of his fellow Timorese. Still, he can't afford the food at Singaporean and Portuguese restaurants currently mushrooming in Dili. Even the ordinary nasi bungkus (rice with mixed meats and vegetables to go) in Padang diners, which in Jakarta costs Rp10,000, can cost him up to US$7 or about Rp70,000 in Dili.
Apart from the high cost of living, the Timorese are also suffering from high unemployment. No definite figures are currently available, however about 18,000 former Falintil guerillas are jobless. "They have no other skills except fighting," says Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak, a commander in Timor Loro Sa'e's military (FDTL). It seems the new government prefers smaller, more manageable and professional military units. So it's no wonder there's explosive resentment against the dollar-rich international staff of UNTAET. Life in Dili is so profitably enjoyable that many UN officials in Geneva have opted to move to Dili, where salaries are high, taxes are low and cost of living is cheap.
A number of foreign and local companies have already started to invest in Dili and other regions of Timor Loro Sa'e. However, they remain small-scale investments. There are presently only three local companies operating with capital flows larger than Rp200 million. So the livelihood of the 800,000 people of Timor Loro Sa'e still depends on the incomes of UNTAET staff and various international and local NGOs operating there. There are, nevertheless, residents with education who are hopeful of working off their own land.
After all, for hundreds of years the people of Timor Loro Sa'e made a living from farming and fishing hauls from the sea. So the leaders of Timor Loro Sa'e and UNTAET officials don't have to be too concerned with and waste time on the differences between salaries and social class. A much more important task facing them is to ensure that the pattern of village economy that has sustained the people for hundreds of years will not be undermined by dollars flowing out of foreign passports in Dili.
Raihul Fadjri (Yogyakarta), Setiyardi (Timor Loro Sa'e).
Foreign Pie in a Local Kitchen (UNTAET's Budget for 2000)
Item Amount Salaries of military personnel US$220 millon
Salaries of civilian personnel US$199 million
Salaries of international staff US$112 million (monthly average of US$7,800 per head)
Dental care for military personnel US$7 million
Laundry cost of military personnel US$2.1 million
Drinking water for military personnel US$3.65 million
Salaries of local staff US$5.5 million (monthly average of US$240 per head)
Total Budget 2000 US$549.15 million
Tempo Magazine October 30-November 5, 2001
Floating hotels are a symbol of high living, an irony in stark contrast to widespread poverty in Timor Loro Sa'e.
My Way, echoing through the spacious Cafe Oceana, brought back the memory of the legendary Frank Sinatra as dozens of neatly-dressed guests of the floating hotel Central Maritime sat back and relaxed on clean, white linen-covered seats that night in August. The sun had just set on the horizon, leaving a stream of red light in the skies above the Gulf of Ombai, off the coast of Dili. Darkness slowly descended on the dimly-lit city largely destroyed in the aftermath of the referendum for independence two years before. The sight contrasted sharply with the brightly-lit hotel berthed close to the beach.
Out in the water, Central Maritime is a dream world awash in lights. A transport ship turned floating hotel, Central Maritime is the most luxurious spot in the whole of Timor Loro Sa'e, the first reference for well-off visitors to Dili. Hundreds of employees of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) earning a monthly salary of US$7,000--equivalent to Rp70 million--stay at the hotel or make it a place of rendezvous.
Security is tight around the clock. Five heavily-set men, hired from Chubb Security, check every visitor at the hotel entrance. You will be allowed in if you can produce an identity card or a guest ticket. A 150-meter floating corridor links the entrance to a reception desk waited on by a beautiful Thai-looking girl.
Central Maritime boasts 133 air-conditioned rooms, each measuring 4 x 3 meters, with a 17-inch Sharp television, a dressing table, a refrigerator filled with beverages, and hot and cold showers to wash away the dirt after you've gone around the dusty areas of Timor Loro Sa'e.
The amenities and entertainment at Central Maritime is equal to any hotel of the same class in any big city. Four restaurants and bars serving a variety of international menus cater to the needs of up to a hundred guests at one time. Of course, everything is paid in dollars. An order of steak and fried potatoes costs US$25, a plate of spaghetti, US$20, and a glass of orange juice, US$7. If you have the money, why not try the red wine, which costs only US$50 a bottle. Michael Dorant, a Filipino bartender, proudly told TEMPO that the hotel kept a large stock of 1940-vintage French red wine.
Central Maritime also boasts a swimming pool, a sauna complete with steam bath and shiatsu-style massage--amenities that make the ship a "truly floating palace." At night, the colorful lights from the floating hotel makes for a beautiful sight to residents of Dili. From onshore, Central Maritime resembles a "massive structure" floating on the water. The lights reflected on the water present a sharp contrast to the darkness in most parts of Dili, just a few hundred meters away from the shore, where hourly brown-outs are the order of the day.
Electricity for Dili, a city of 150,000, is provided by a 20,000-KV generator, courtesy of UNTAET, in comparison with a 15,000 KV generator operated by Central Maritime, which ensures that every room stays constantly bright. This floating heaven also provides girls to cater to the pleasure of the guests. "They aren't expensive. An all-in night fling with one girl costs only US$200," muses one hotel attendant.
Central Maritime is an interesting example of the social gap that exist among this newly-formed urban community trying to recover from years of bloodshed and political conflicts.
On a pavement by the pier where Central Maritime is berthed, a piece of Dili's battered face is reflected in the person of Olu Lobato. A vagrant, Lobato sleeps on a piece of plywood when darkness sets in.
Skinny and unwashed, Lobato told TEMPO he had been separated from his wife and two children since August 1999, when post-referendum violence disrupted families. Lobato said his house in Bobonaro was destroyed by fire, leaving him virtually penniless. "This pavement is now my home," he said in Tetum, the language of the Timorese.
Lobato is one of thousands of Timorese who have suffered such misfortune. Without shelter, money and jobs, they face a bleak future. Archbishop Filipe Ximenes Belo, a 1995 Nobel Peace laureate became agitated asked about the latest situation in Dili. "The leaders are only concerned with getting positions in the government, forgetting the poor and the gap that exists in society today," he told TEMPO.
Belo was not exaggerating. From the windows of his palace which is only a stone's throw away from the beach, the Archbishop could see a display of extravagance--yet another floating hotel. The Amos, like Central Maritime, is another ship turned hotel. Outwardly looking more like neatly-arranged containers, Amos offers facilities common in a hotel, including television, air-conditioned rooms, and hot an cold showers. Amos, which charges a room rate of US$90 a night, offers a discount of up to US$15 during quiet times.
Amos and Central Maritime are not the first floating hotels operating in Timor Loro Sa'e. In late 1999 when the first groups of UNAET personnel arrived in what used to be Indonesia's 27th province, Hotel Olympia was the only place to stay for most of the expatriates. With no competition, Olympia charged an exorbitant US$200 for a 3 x 2 meter room a night. The floating hotel, owned by an Australian, had been in operation prior to the rioting in the wake of the 1999 referendum and escaped the fire which destroyed most government buildings and hotels in the city.
In its one year of operation under contract with UNTAET, Olympia is believed to have made at least US$40 million in profits--eight times the amount UNTAET spent in salaries to its local employees during the same period.
Central Maritime and Amos which arrived in Dili with the departure of Olympia, saw small-budget hotels proliferate all over the city. Most of these non-star hotels were built by Singaporean businessmen charging a room rate of US$50 a night--a low rate by expatriates' standard, but still inaccessible to the locals. A Timorese polisia with a monthly salary of US$100 would go bankrupt if he stayed for just two nights in such a small hotel. "Sleeping in a hotel is a dream. My salary is just enough to pay for food," says Alfredo Tilman, a polisia and former member of the Indonesian police in Dili.
Having won independence, the Timorese are awakening to a new reality. The sight of Lobato sleeping on the pavement of a pot-holed road and old rickety buildings lining the beach stands in stark contrast to the Central Maritime display of good living--a reminder to the Timorese that they still have to face another enemy in their midst--poverty.
The song My Way ended, to the applause of guests. A beautiful waitress came around, offering an a la carte menu, a serving of which costs more than the monthly salary of polisia Alfredo Tilman.
Setiyardi (Timor Loro Sa'e)
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