Subject: NGO’s Appeal to Donors for Aid to Development of East Timor 

NGO’s Appeal to Donors for Aid to Development of East Timor

By Setyo Budi

MELBOURNE -- Non-Government Organisations in East Timor are awaiting a reply from donor countries to their appeal for aid to allow the Dili government to push ahead with development plans to tackle the long-term causes of poverty and conflict in that country, according to reports reaching here.

The NGO’s request was made last month at a meeting of donors in Dili, which included representatives from Australia, The European Union, New Zealand and the United States.

“We urge donors to continue to support the development of Timor-Leste (East Timor) and implement the principles of the Paris declaration that it should be given without conditions - and that it should be provided and evaluated transparently,” the NGO statement said.

The issue of transparency is a thorny problem for the East Timorese government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, which came to power in 2007 vowing to eradicate corruption and nepotism.

Gusmao has been under fire from Fretilin, the main opposition party, over his handling of the rice subsidy in East Timor. Fretlin accused Gusmao of providing a contract to Germano da Silva, a personal friend and a member of Gusmao’s Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP). The opposition also alleged government appointees in the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry had falsified documents to divert rice destined for the people of East Timor.

Fretilin alleged in a media release that 35 kg bags of rice were on sale in Atambua, in Indonesian-ruled West Timor, still branded MTCI .

Critics have also attacked the government’s handling of the budget, accusing it of spending US$471 million last year which is more than Fretilin spent in five years of power.

This year, parliament has approved budget expenditure of US$681 million mostly derived from East Timor’s Petroleum Fund. According to the budget report, the AMP government will use part of the expenditure to improve the country’s infrastructure, including increased electricity supplies and boosting the salaries of public servants.

Critics suggested such expenditure would have long-term repercussions - particuly in the event of a drop in oil prices.

A note from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, leaked in Dili, warned that “increased spending is likely to exacerbate constraints (a tiny private sector, limited port facilities and a lack of skilled labor), increasing the rate of inflation and raising the real exchange rate.” This could create a cost structure that would destroy the competitiveness of East Timor’s non-oil economy, the note added.

NGO’s also are concerned. Dili-based Lao Hamautuk, an NGO monitoring East Timor’s principal international institution in East Timor, cautioned parliament to “avoid being infected with the unrealistic optimism which characterizes the government’s description of future petroleum revenues. ‘Optimism’ may seem an odd description for a projected 50 percent decline in East Timor’s oil revenues between 2008 and 2009 - but the actual drop could be much more.”

Veriato Seac, a spokesman for Lao Hamutuk who attended the April donors’ meeting, said the NGO’s appeal appeared to surprise delegates and it was still too early to judge whether to be successful and it was now up to FONGTIL (the East Timor NGO umbrella organization) to set up a monitoring mechanism to make sure the point about the Paris Declaration was followed up and implemented by donors and the government of East Timor.

The Declaration constitiutes a mechanism by which donors and recipients of aid are held mutually accountable to each other and compliance in meeting these commitments will be publicly monitored. At the country level, the Paris Declaration “encourages donors and partners to jointly assess mutual progress in implementing agreed commitments on aid effectiveness by making best user of local mechanisms.”

The implementation of such a mechanism is still lacking in east Timor and critics argue that the international presence has remained silent on the lack of progress.

“The United Nations and a few international agencies are aware of the disaster this government is creating on the development issue but they say nothing…” said Mari Alkatiri, the former Prime Minister of East Timor who is Fretilin’s Secretary-General.

Apart from the development question, NGO’s are also critical of international agencies for their silence over Dili’s handling of the conflict in 2006 when 100,000 Timorese fled their homes and sought refuge in public parks, churches and hospital following clashes between rival groups from Eastern and Western parts of East Timor.

The government handed out cash payments to riot victims but made no move against the perpetrators of violence.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group declared “the financial compensation provided to returnees is serving to exacerbate social jealousy in some communities with, in the worst cases, reports of neighbours demanding a share of the package.

Returning IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) may also seek to regain their roles in the local economy, for example in markets from which they have been absent since 2006, which might exacerbate communal tensions.”

And still looming behind this current spate of problems for East Timor is the sense of injustice, held by most of the population, on events of 10 years ago when hundreds of people died at the hands of Indonesian militia units -- backed by the Indonesian army and police.

In spite of this overall gloomy outlook, some see light at the end of the tunnel. Joao Pequinino, a coordinator of the NGO Forum Tau Matan, which focuses on children’s rights, remains optimistic about the future of East Timor.

Pequinino, recently awarded the Sergio Viera de Mello Prize for Human Rights, says: “We can solve our problems…there is friction within the older generation (in East Timor) but there are channels to put their differences.”

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