Subject: JP: Unemployment a major problem plaguing East Timor

The Jakarta Post March 28, 2002

Unemployment a major concern in East Timor

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Dili

Life is hard in East Timor despite three years after it voted to break away from Indonesia, unemployment remains a serious problem plaguing the country's former province, currently under the UN administration.

Most of the local workforce are jobless due to the limited vacancies and lack of business capital on their part.

Victor Diaz Quintas, head of Fuiloro-Lospalos in Lautem regency, said that East Timor seceded from Indonesia in 1999, social problems began to confront local residents with unemployment and economic problems becoming firm.

"All jobs are controlled by Untaet (the United Nations Administration for East Timor). Here, job opportunities are hard to find, while people have to work hard to fulfill their daily needs," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

Victor hopes local authorities will manage to tackle the unemployment problem after the definitive government is formed in the next few months. East Timor will be declared a full independent state on May 20.

A similar grievance was expressed by head of Bahu village Francisco da Costa in Baucau regency. He said unemployment tops the social problem in the territory.

Though public activities are carried out normally, local people struggle to survive.

Ironically, many residents in the districts of Baucau, Viqueque and Lautem are forced to barter goods because dollars are hard to find, which is the official currency in East Timor.

"Frankly speaking, we have difficulties in finding dollars. Some of our community members have to exchange chickens with rice or vise versa because there is no money. Others barter goats with pigs," Francisco said.

"It's not hard to obtain food because we have plots of farm land," he added.

He admitted that many of the workforce in his region cannot find employment in government agencies due to their inadequate skills which are required for the jobs.

"Most of our youths are jobless. There are no employment opportunities, as almost all the local government agencies are manned with foreign staff. Maybe, our youths do not have adequate skills to apply for the jobs," Francisco said.

Secretary General of the Timor Socialist Party Avelino M.C. da Silva has been alarmed by the current situation, in which social problems remain a headache in the newly-independent country.

Citing no official data on the number of jobless in the 800,000-populated country, he predicted that at least 30 percent of the population are unemployed.

He urged the upcoming definitive administration to prioritize the handling of unemployment and economic problems.

"To maintain security and prevent unforeseen social upheavals, the government should be able to provide protection and job opportunities for its people. So, the state economy will grow normally," said Avelino, a former political prisoner.

Pro-independence leader Alexander "Xanana" Gusmao, the strongest presidential candidate for East Timor, pledged on Monday to improve the people's welfare, should he win the election.

"We have to start development from the low level. Hopefully, between 15 and 20 years the people will be able to have their own houses. There will be no jobless and our economy will be better," he said.

Baucau Regent Marito Reis, meanwhile, said the presence of Untaet in East Timor was aimed only at stabilizing the situation and protecting the local people.

"The Untaet comes here not to carry out development activities. They just want to protect people who faced terror following the 1999 independence ballot, and to prepare East Timor to be a democratic state that highly respects justice and truth," he said in his campaign speech in Lautem.

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