Subject: Radio Australia: East Timor In Good Economic Shape, Says Minister

Radio Australia

March 2, 2009

East Timor In Good Economic Shape, Says Minister

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved East Timor's request to keep its peace keeping force there for another year.

The UN says peace and security have improved since the assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos Horta by rebel forces a year ago but the situation remains fragile.

And in a report also this week, the US State Department says human rights problems remain because of an inadequately trained police force and judiciary.

It also has concerns over the level of domestic violence and child abuse.

East Timor's Finance Minister Emilia Pires says the country has a long way to go but is optimistic ten years after the dark days of the Indonesian occupation.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon

Speaker: Emilia Pires, Finance Minister, East Timor

PIRES: Two-thousand-and-eight has been a good year for us. We are not suffering as the rest of the world. In fact, given that we are an importing country, we will benefit from the bad news that has happened around the world, in the sense that our import bill should be much lower, we should be able to buy more with the same amount of money.

SNOWDON: And East Timor has been lucky in the past year or so to experience double digit GDP growth. Are you expecting the same this year?

PIRES: We are working towards that. It all depends. At a minimum, it should be eight per cent at the minimum.

SNOWDON: And last year, as far as the budget goes, you had great difficulty in securing extra funding through what I would call a supplementary budget, given that in the middle of last year, import prices for rice and materials were quite high. Given that difficulty to respond to circumstances, are you thinking of reviewing the laws that cover the budget or the petroleum fund in future?

PIRES: Yes, indeed we are, because and this is not just because of the difficulties that we faced last year, but right at the beginning, we knew that the law itself may not be appropriate for the current stage of development in the country. So we have our working group working on this and hopefully, within the first part of this year we should be able to get some recommendation for the working group, not only on the petroleum fund law, but also on the type of investment strategy that we should be looking into and should we be using the money to actually create or establish the basic infrastructure in the country that will then work as their requirement for private sector to take off. You can already see a lot of activity, people are coming in to do their bit.

SNOWDON: Foreign investment, what sort of increase can you point to say in the last year?

PIRES: All I can see, like in Dili, for example, construction is happening everywhere. There has been an increase about 44 per cent in number of taxpayers. Most of them are companies outside.

SNOWDON: Turning to security issues in the country, the UN Security Council has agreed to another year's extension to the UN mandate in the country. What does this say about security that it's not yet quite good enough or that East Timor zone forces of law and order are not quite good enough to take over?

PIRES: No, security has improved immensely, I mean otherwise all these things would not have happened in Timor. The economy is in a way you could say thriving in that sense that things are starting to move, simply because we have now security and stability. I believe the last report of the UN showed that the crime rate of Timorese was even lesser than that of Australia and you know Australia's crime rate is quite low.

SNOWDON: If there's any particular problem it's domestic violence and child abuse, isn't it, in Timor remain quite big problems?

PIRES: I am not sure about that, but these whole thing needs a lot of change of mentality. Now in terms of the police force and the armed forces, the whole public service in Timor also faces the same thing. It's to do with human resources, skills and knowledge and that will take some time. For example, the teachers. We have 12,000 teachers and 80 per cent are in need of formal qualification and this government is very much focusing on this.

Meanwhile, while we are increasing the capacity and educating our people, somebody has to do the job, so that services continue to be provided to the people and that applies to the police, it applies to the forces, it applies to the public service, teachers, you name it, doctors, you name it.


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