Subject: IT: Too much weaponry not enough school desks

The Irish Times Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Too much weaponry not enough school desks

By Conor O'Clery

East Timor: The electricity power station in Los Palos, a remote town on the eastern plains of East Timor, survived the devastation wrought on the former Portuguese colony by pro-Indonesian forces in September. All it lacked was diesel fuel.

Officers from Interfet, the Australian-led international force, offered to airlift an oil container by MI 13 helicopter to get electricity going again. All Interfet needed was a signature on a docket to cover the cost of the fuel. But no one from the UN Transitional Authority (UNTAET) could be found to take responsibility.

The story, recounted by a senior Interfet officer, illustrates how bureaucracy has caused major delays in getting services restored and reconstruction under way in East Timor, where more than 80 per cent of buildings were destroyed after the pro-independence vote on August 31st.

Twelve weeks after the UN Security Council established UNTAET, the only significant reconstruction has been to official buildings. In rain-soaked Dili, where up to 100,000 people are making do in blackened roofless houses, there is a surplus of military and UN equipment and vehicles, but not a cement mixer or a hardware store to be seen.

Significant amounts of building materials will not arrive before March, and unloading them will be seriously delayed by the changeover of 5,000 military personnel connected with Interfet's transformation into a blue-beret UN force at the end of February.

Some NGOs, such as GOAL, have shared responsibility for reconstruction in specific areas. Under team leader Ken Ryan, GOAL has been transporting timber bought in Indonesia by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to remote villages in the Aileu district south of Dili. But it is a drop in the ocean.

Part of the problem is that UNTAET was created late last autumn and a month was lost when senior officials took long end-of-year holidays or did not start until well into January. "The UN is looking like it cannot get off its backside," said the Interfet officer. "And they're coming with 9,500 troops to fight a war that's finished. What we need are roads for heavy machinery, but where are the bridging materials?"

The heart of the problem is money. There has been a serious delay in allocating budgets to the 13 UN district administrators - which may explain the Los Palos debacle. One district officer in the mountains told me: "At every meeting local people say `Give us school desks and seats, or the means', and I've no good answer."

Money will not materialise from donor countries until they see a reconstruction plan, said the UNTAET leader, Dr Sergio Vieira de Mello from Brazil. A plan was finalised on Friday and will be put to the World Bank in Washington on January 21st22nd. It was passed unanimously by the National Consultative Council, a 15-member advisory body set up by UNTAET on December 2nd, on which seven seats are held by the Timorese national Resistance Council (CNRT) led by Xanana Gusmao.

"Before contributions are made into the Reconstruction Trust Fund, donors want a clear indication of the priorities in the first semester, February to July 2000," Mr de Mello said. Now they had it, and also an embryo Ministry of Finance, and approval this week is now "not a matter of urgency but a matter of emergency".

At a donor conference in Tokyo in December, 26 countries plus the EU, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank made pledges to pay a total of $522.45 million (including $2.47 million from Ireland) over three years, with $373 million going to reconstruction.

Much of it will be well-meaning aid in kind rather than cash. One country offered a batch of 350,000 yellow fever vaccines, although there is no yellow fever in East Timor, according to a participant.

The IMF advised the donor conference that local salaries to East Timor civil servants should initially be paid at the old Indonesian rate. This failed to take into account raging inflation in Dili due to the overwhelming presence of UNTAET's "paternalistic machine", as a CNRT source described it, with its own budget of $700 million.

With social tensions already evident, Mr de Mello said a cost of living survey was now being launched "to agree on what a new and fair salary scale should be".

Meanwhile, UNTAET is setting up a civil administration. A civil service commission including local political groupings will start this month hiring government workers one by one, said Mr Jean-Christian Cady, the UNTAET official in charge of governance and public administration.

"We have already appointed 10 magistrates, eight judges and two prosecutors, all East Timorese, and we have a programme to train 25 more judges before the end of the year," Mr Cady told me in the former governor's mansion where embryo ministries are being created. ("That's the ministry of agriculture over there," said a UN official laughing, pointing to a man and a woman looking for somewhere to sit.)

Two of the East Timor judges are senior lawyers from Mozambique. Awaiting trial are 26 imprisoned militia leaders. The creation of the new government had a downside for CNRT as "the UN is sucking up a lot of good people", a CNRT official said. Most government workers above semi-skilled level in East Timor were Indonesians and will not be coming back, including all high school teachers.

With no legal system, UNTAET is using Indonesian law where it is compatible with internationally recognised human rights standards "and we shall make new laws of our own", Mr Cady said. "The need for training is very acute," said Mr John Ryan, the UN administrator of Dili.

A police academy under Canadian direction would take in recruits soon, he said. Some schools have reopened but Dili University will not admit students until the autumn. It has no books; they were all destroyed in what East Timorese now refer to as the "war" of last September.


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