Subject: IHT/Xanana Gusmão: The Way Forward fo r East Timor

International Herald Tribune Monday, December 20, 1999


The Way Forward for East Timor

By Xanana Gusmão International Herald Tribune

TOKYO - After the storm that East Timor faced this year, what is its political vision for the future? We wish to create an inclusive society. All East Timorese, regardless of their political background, have a role to play in the reconstruction of the country. We have supported the UN Transitional Administration for East Timor, in establishing a National Consultative Council which is inclusive of all East Timorese groups that are committed to a peaceful, democratic way forward.

But inclusiveness does not mean impunity. The question of how justice will be administered in East Timor, and whether it will be punitive or restorative in nature, is vital to our future and to the confidence that the people will have in their governing institutions and leaders.

While we go about debating this delicate and highly complex issue among ourselves, we commend the separate initiatives of the United Nations and the Indonesian government in holding inquiries into human rights abuses in our country. I hope that these investigations result in an opportunity for the many victims of violence to tell their story, and also help to boost the confidence of East Timorese in the universality of the values of justice, human rights and democracy.

Over the next year or two, as our people start to recover from the abuses they have faced, we will see political parties emerge. But we need time, for our people to see political parties as a healthy competition between different democratic visions, not as vehicles for waging terror or for patronage and corruption.

In implementing the reconstruction program, we seek a real partnership with the international community. Now is the time when East Timorese must start preparing to take over the reins of government at the end of the transitional administration. This preparation will only be successful if we have an equal seat at the table now, during the transition. The international community should give maximum priority to training Timorese at all levels.

What is East Timor's economic vision? First, we believe that economic recovery must be led by the agricultural sector. This is very important in the short term, to eliminate the present total reliance on humanitarian aid, and to encourage people to return to the rural areas.

In the medium term, the farm sector is also key to poverty reduction, since the poorest in our society are dependent on agriculture for their income. East Timor needs rapid assistance from the international community in supplying seeds and tools for farmers so that maximum planting is done before the heavy rains come at the end of the month.

East Timor wants a sustainable and efficient public sector, with the smallest possible bureaucratic machine. We are a small country, and communities can be empowered at local levels to run many of their own affairs. We do not need the arms of the state to reach into every village and hamlet.

I endorse the recommendations of the recent Joint Assessment Mission to East Timor led by the World Bank to recruit only 12,000 civil servants over the next three years, down from 28,000 under Indonesian rule. More than 80 percent of these will work in the health and education sectors, reflecting our commitment to focus on public investment in human development. We must rebuild and improve the health and education systems, and expand water, sanitation and other basic services.

The decrease in the size of the civil service should allow us to increase wages from the extremely low levels before the ballot, so that we can attract qualified staff and reduce the incentives for corruption.

I fully support initiatives to increase financial controls and guard against corruption. For a small country, we are receiving a huge amount of international aid. We need to see that all such assistance is well spent.

To this end, we seek to establish a body composed of UN and East Timorese representatives to oversee the delivery of foreign aid. Just as the international community quite correctly expects transparency and accountability from us, we ask that nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies be answerable and accountable to the East Timorese public in whose name they are soliciting funds.

Finally, East Timor is an Asia-Pacific nation. We need to build closer relations, including trade and investment relations, with our neighbors in the region. I recently returned from a visit to Indonesia, where President Abdurrahman Wahid and I affirmed our desire for close ties on many levels in the future.

The writer is president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance. This comment has been adapted by the International Herald Tribune from an address on Friday to delegates from more than 50 countries and international agencies in Tokyo shortly before they pledged some $520 million in nonrepayable aid to East Timor over the next three years.

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