Subject: XG: Speech at German Society for Foreign Policy

Speech by His Excellency KAY RALA XANANA GUSMÃO President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Delivered at the German Society for Foreign Policy

Berlin, 21st October, 2004

BUILDING A NATION FROM ASHES: Challenges and opportunities to make visions work

Excellencies Distinguished Guests Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed a great honour to be here among you, representing my small and the world’s newest independent country on this first official visit to Germany - the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and of Goethe, Kant and Brecht.

Timor-Leste is located at the crossroads of South Asia and the Pacific, with little more than 19,000 km and a population of 924,000. After a prolonged period of violence and repression, and where out of the fiery ashes of the destruction of September 1999 our hard fought freedom was won, Timor-Leste is now in a new phase of its history. On 20th May, 2002, the reigns of sovereignty were transferred into the hands of the Timorese people, and on that day we stood equal with the international community as a People and a Nation in our own right!

More than two years have now gone by since that historical day in May. Although great strides have been made in establishing democratic institutions and in laying the foundations of a State based on the Rule of Law, our path ahead is still fraught with many challenges, including a pressing need to consolidate these State institutions, which are still in their embryonic and fragile stages.

As the newest independent country of the third millennium with its entire infrastructure practically destroyed, Timor-Leste faces many of the most challenging problems of an underdeveloped post-conflict country.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a people who have also experienced the devastation of war, separation and the daunting efforts of re-building a nation from almost total destruction, I know that you can empathize and have a clear notion of the difficulties that we are experiencing.

However, the reconstruction of Timor-Leste differs from that of Germany in many aspects. We are a people re-building a nation with little or virtually no experience in governing and administration; re-building a country with no previous systems to fall back on. We literally have to build our country from scratch, and therefore the reality in Timor-Leste suggests that we adopt a different approach to that of previous reconstruction efforts in other countries such as Germany, Japan and Korea.

Our reconstruction efforts are not just physical. From the very beginning, we were fully aware that we would never reach a common perception on the future of our country, if we were to keep on living in the past, in an atmosphere of hatred and revenge. We realized that to move forward, Timor-Leste had to leave behind the previous social and political systems and invent its own future.

We cannot, of course, forget the past as it will help us to avoid making the same mistakes, but we owe it to the sacrifices of our people, to the dead and living, to reconcile with our past, with ourselves and with our former adversaries and betrayers.

It was in this context, that the Timorese leadership made a conscious decision to afford maximum attention to the need for reconciliation between Timorese, a process in which we have been engaged since the end of 1999 until today.

Over the last five years, the policy of reconciliation and of understanding among the Timorese people has gained more ground. A Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation was established to bring forth and address the festering problems of past wrongs committed, not only during the occupation but also dating back to the pre-occupation period in 1975. With this process, we began to realise that debate and dialogue are more appropriate mechanisms to reduce tensions and resolve problems, and subsequently, more conducive and productive for our reconstruction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our People have expressed their aspirations and conveyed their expectations on the benefits that independence should bring. And these aspirations are transcribed in what we call the Vision for the Year 2020. This Vision can be summarized in the eradication of illiteracy, in the improvement of education and vocational training, in accessible medical assistance to remote villages, in the need for good roads to access rural areas, in the need to eradicate hunger, in the vital need for good and transparent governance, in the combat against corruption, in the promotion of gender and in the development of a democratic society, based on the Rule of Law. This Vision was achieved through a process of consultation with the population.

Making this vision work is an enormous challenge, when taking into consideration the actual disparity between the economies of the rich and poor countries. It is indeed a source of concern for the future of this small nation, which is in search of opportunities for its own economic survival.

In addition, maintaining internal security and stability, a total dependency on foreign aid for, at least, these first trying years of our independence, changing past mentalities and a shortage of human resources are some of the most pressing problems to be tackled.

Ensuring internal security and stability is one of the crucial challenges for the Government of Timor-Leste. After decades of violence and living in constant fear, the Timorese people are fully aware of what it takes to maintain peace at all costs. Without security and stability, the space for reconstruction and development in all aspects becomes narrow.

Although there was an urgent need for foreign assistance following the destruction of 1999, in terms of emergency humanitarian relief, and then for further technical assistance during our development phase, there is the risk that to some extent, total dependency on foreign donors during these first trying years could paralyze the ability of the Timorese Government to take decisive measures in resolving some of the nation’s pressing problems.

The dependency on foreign aid poses serious challenges to Timor-Leste’s capacity to raise its own sustainable revenue and thus, could lead to the possibility of Timor-Leste becoming a failed state and consequently, a threat to the security of the region.

The need to eradicate the culture of violence, inherited from years of oppressive Indonesian occupation, and to promote reconciliation is imperative to create favorable conditions for real everlasting peace and harmony among the Timorese people.

We are hampered in our efforts by overwhelming poverty coupled with a shortage of human resources. Therefore, the great challenge before us is how to conciliate this existing severe poverty and the lack of qualified human resources. However this should not in any way dampen our enthusiasm and our determination to overcome these obstacles.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are the poorest country in Southeast Asia and one of the ten poorest in the world. With almost half of our population living below the poverty line, and with more than 80% living in the rural areas where poverty is high, our growing concern is that poverty can indeed become a serious source of instability.

It became common to refer to poverty as a social factor that generates conflicts and promotes wars in under-developed or developing societies. And poverty is no more than the unjust or unequal distribution of wealth in the country or between countries.

The causes of poverty are many and diverse ranging from illiteracy to less favorable potentials in some countries: from less democratic political systems to practices of corruption by those in power, and from financial inability to manage the country to lack of capacity to compete in the international market.

On the one hand, the existing world economic order dictated the rules of the game to which the under or developing countries must abide, in order to simply survive as a nation dependent on continued assistance.

We see big countries struggling with difficulties to manage the development of their nations and we see, on the other hand, small countries trying to breathe the hope of opportunities, which are becoming competitively, less and less.

Here we put forward another question on the sustainability of a process of economic development. Sustainability means the act of generating continuation itself, or in another assertion, of guaranteeing the capacity of ongoing self-sufficiency.

We are trying to understand ‘sustainable development’ by such standards that in some countries, the social and political aspects make it highly unsustainable. Inadequate and/or prolonged wide programs of economic development make as though ‘poverty reduction’ is seen more as a long lasting spectrum rather than a tangible act of the process of reduction of poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Poverty is a contributing factor to why our State still lacks the ability to address other growing social concerns, such as the issue of the Veterans, possibly another potential source of instability.

Under my mandate, two Commissions were established to oversee the process of registration and verification of all the people involved in the armed struggle. They have just concluded their mandate and their recommendations for alternative policies and approaches to address the veteran’s needs were submitted to the National Parliament for consideration.

Recently, a similar Commission to address the issue of Civilian Cadres of the Clandestine Resistance was set up. This arm of the Resistance was vital in supporting the guerrillas in the mountains during the struggle for independence. It would have therefore been incomplete not to address their needs as well.

These Commissions were a necessity but when I asked donors for financial assistance to set them up, some were reluctant as they did not perceive the Veterans’ issues to be of utmost importance. Sometimes insignificant measures such as these can solve giant problems. However, for some donor countries and international organizations, it is hard at times to understand the real needs and priorities of the Timorese people for stability and security, which are a ‘sine quo non’ condition for the development of Timor-Leste.

In referring to security and stability, we cannot forget to make mention of our police and judiciary system, which also need to be strengthened. These two institutions are indispensable for the development of democracy and for securing the supremacy of law in our new independent country.

The courts are an essential part of the Rule of Law which we are building. The judges, prosecutors and public defenders are making enormous efforts to build their capacities to exercise their functions with quality, impartiality and competence which the people of Timor-Leste demand and deserve, after so many years of suffering and oppression.

The legal framework has been approved to create conditions for adequate preparation and training of our magistrates, public defenders and the other remaining judicial operators who ensure the functioning of the district courts and the Court of Appeal, which at present, is the highest judicial instance in the country.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Establishing a system of governance that promotes, supports and sustains human development remains a great challenge.

We understand that there exists the pressing need for change in attitudes on the part of the politicians and those in power. This is extremely crucial to the democratization of societies. If on the one hand, we agree that the perpetuation of poverty results from the lack of educational level of the population, on the other hand, we believe that the democratic conscience of the people does not result from the absolute fact of knowing how to read and write.

Only the democratization of people can allow for societies to behave according to universal values of freedom, tolerance and democracy. When we ask for conscious and active participation of the people in their communities, we speak in terms of democratic perspective and not in an intellectual one, even though it may be important.

In building democracy in our nascent nation, we are encouraging both the representative and participatory systems. As an indispensable complement to the representative system, we keep on encouraging participatory democracy and promoting positive engagement of the civil society and the population itself, as an answer to the grassroots. Within this line, preparations are currently under way for the election of community leaders.

The construction of a democratic local government, satisfying the constitutional imperative for administrative decentralization is an indispensable instrument of identification, mobilization and engagement of all citizens in the common challenges of development and solidarity. The Government of Timor-Leste has revealed its intention to study and hold public debates on local government. Ladies and Gentlemen,

We need to rebuild infrastructures, which are indispensable for the economic development of our country and to make our vision work. Infrastructure has broad-based implications for any development process as it enables the delivery of basic services that address areas affecting people’s vulnerability to poverty such as health, sanitation, education, logistics and agricultural productivity.

There is a pressing need to develop the private sector, to establish and to guide a new group of entrepreneurs, free from any influence of the culture of corruption practiced during 24 years of Indonesian occupation and which alas, has been rooted in the Timorese soil.

There is still much to be done. We have no experience in doing business or being businessmen. We need to adapt our mentality to the new realities. We inherited from Indonesia the mentality where the youth exclusively looked at the public service as the only means of employment and as a way to improve their quality of life. We need to change this mentality and help them to look at private sectors as an alternative career path.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agriculture is still the key sector of Timor-Leste’s development in the medium-term. It was badly affected by the violence of 1999 and marketing channels and agricultural support systems were either dismantled or destroyed. Now we import almost everything. We even import rice from Singapore, which ironically imports this product from Vietnam!

We continue to need assistance in all aspects, ranging from training of our youth to reinforcing agricultural production. A more concerted development agro-industry policy to encourage production needs to be formulated. There is a pressing need to enable the poorest communities, particularly in upland areas, to build food security and alleviate poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

To sum up, every Timorese is indispensable in this new phase of our development to make their vision work or, in other words, to eradicate the misery and backwardness that has characterized the whole population.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, we do have a good process that can be a reference point for other nations to believe in democracy, in human rights, in justice and in tolerance. We ourselves will be participating in changing the world slowly in our own little way.

Thank you very much.


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