Subject: FEER Editorial: UN Didn't Prepare E Timor For Freedom

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Far Eastern Economic Review issue cover-dated May 30, 2002


UN Didn't Prepare E Timor For Freedom

ON MONDAY, East Timor became the world's newest nation. As things settle after a splashy celebration, Timorese will be trying to figure out what to do next. They have much to ponder. And in some respects, no thanks to the United Nations.

After centuries of Portuguese rule, 24 years under Jakarta and two and a half years being nannied by the UN, East Timor may be insufficiently prepared for the journey on which it has been launched. With most of the country's professionals having emigrated long ago, it is now left to untested administrators to pull the country out of its economic malaise.

Although in 2001 East Timor could claim a per-capita GDP of nearly $500, that figure is grossly inflated on account of UN workers spending expatriate pay packets locally. One estimate is that nearly half its people actually live on about 50 cents a day. Indeed, economic growth is expected to be flat this year as the expatriate spigot tightens when most foreign workers leave. Donors already have had to offer $440 million to help bankroll the first three years of the country's existence.

Much of the country's initial hope for self-sufficiency is being pinned on the easy out. On its first day of business, Dili signed an energy-project agreement with Australia. This could earn East Timor $6 billion in the next 20 years. Further negotiations with Canberra will centre on a large natural-gas field that may yield even more revenue. That is all fine, but should not the greater urgency have been to build an economy based on work for Timorese themselves, rather than accustoming citizens to entitlements from natural-resource royalties?

Here, little so far has been been accomplished. Only now is an investment and commercial code being finalized, when this should have been an early priority under UN stewardship. Roads and other infrastructure in the interior are wanting, so who will come and invest?

As East Timor deservedly begins life as a new nation, it has foreigners to curse for its old plight and to thank for salvation. But that was the past; now comes the hard part, taking care of itself. The pity is that the UN didn't better prepare it for this.

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