Subject: Anger over lack of jobs turns violent in East Timor

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, December 6, 1999

Jobs anger turns to violence


Growing frustration over poor employment opportunities in devastated East Timor has boiled over into violence in at least one town, where armed peacekeepers were deployed last week and a Portuguese aid agency threatened to withdraw its services.

The return from squalid militia-controlled camps in West Timor of tens of thousands of East Timorese has led to unrealistic expectations of jobs arising from the United Nations relief operation.

Serious security problems last week at the hospital in Los Palos, an impoverished town in the new nation's east, has broad implications across the territory.

When Indonesian administration effectively stopped in East Timor last October, the staff of Los Palos hospital agreed to continue working, despite having received no salary since August.

A Portuguese charity, Medicos do Mundo (MDMP), stepped in to help. It offered to pay staff an incentive of 20 days to be paid in rice and 10 days in rupiah. This amounted to 50 kilograms of rice per staff member and between 200-300,000 rupiah for 10 days' work.

The offer was met with overwhelming support. The hospital, which in October had employed only 20 local staff, nurses and one doctor, suddenly found it was employing 73 local staff in a hospital with only 47 beds.

Describing the situation as ''a completely unsustainable and inefficient level of staff'', MDMP said the hospital's director and sub-director had ''no authority over their staff''.

Discipline was also a problem and hospital management non-existent, the agency said.

The agency called a meeting last week and issued an ultimatum - either reduce staffing to a reasonable level for people to receive the recommended UN salary scale, or divide the budget among existing staff and supplement the difference with food aid from the UN.

''The director and sub-director of the hospital did not feel they had the authority to make such a decision, as there are a number of young students who did not work at the hospital prior to the recent (militia) violence and who are intimidating the remainder of the staff,'' MDMP said in an urgent report dated December 1.

At another meeting on November 30, former staff members rejected the offer and said reduced salary scales were unacceptable. The student group demanded to be paid by the Portuguese at a level comparable with their medical colleagues in Dili - a demand MDMP rejected as unaffordable.

According to the agency the students then intimidated regular staff into refusing to accept the cash incentive for 10 days' work undertaken in November.

Matters came to a head last Wednesday when stones were thrown at the hospital director's house and a student entered the hospital and threatened nursing staff with a machete.

The attacker was taken into custody and the hospital given an Interfet guard, according to the MDMP co-ordinator, Ms Emma Warwick. ''However, if the current situation is not resolved MDMP cannot continue to work under a security threat,'' she said.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is yet to devise an effective strategy for creating jobs, and East Timorese are learning the hard way that independence brings with it an end to Indonesian-style job subsidies.

The prospect of a job in the Public Service is regarded as providing secure employment.

But an ambitious World Bank-funded plan aims for the establishment of a leaner state sector that will employ about 12,000 people compared to 28,000 during Indonesian rule.

Other ominous signs of potential unrest among East Timorese were seen last Wednesday at a meeting of the Dili Civil Committee convened to register names for a skills database.

Many East Timorese mistakenly believed the meeting was a direct employment offer and more than 100 showed up expecting work.

One UN official admitted that a more effective food and shelter distribution by UN and aid agencies could in the short-term alleviate concerns.

Closer co-operation with East Timor's biggest political party, the National Council of Timorese Resistance, was also essential.

''We have to make sure that people are getting fed and are getting adequate shelter. At least then their immediate needs are being taken care of,'' the UN official added.

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