Subject: AFR: Timor struggles to build freedom

From The Australian Financial Review, 14 Dec 2000, p29 Timor struggles to build freedom 14/12/00

Timor still faces many obstacles to true independence, writes KATE MARSHALL

Having survived 400 years of Portuguese colonisation and 25 years of Indonesian occupation, East Timor may yet fall victim to the Third World three-card trick - an inability to create capital. With property records in dispute or in tatters, deciding who owns what - and to whom to pay rent - is becoming a major obstacle to investment and good community relations. More than 15 months after Indonesian-backed militias rampaged through East Timor, the capital, Dili, has returned to a semblance of normality.

But the situation is fragile. Unemployment is the norm for all but the lucky few locals who work for the swarm of non-government organisations or who can scrape a living collecting wood or selling their produce at a market stall. The United Nations estimates that 500,000 East Timorese were displaced by the violent events of September 1999. Despite an appeal to raise $199 million for the relief effort and the distribution of about 35,000 shelters through the UN High Commission for Refugees, tens of thousands of refugees remain in West Timor and the number returning east has been reduced to a trickle.

A rebuilding program has gone some way to restoring houses in Dili and surrounding villages, but many burnt-out homes have been left with wires dangling from ceilings and weeds growing through cracks. Public schools in towns and villages are devoid of window glass, books, blackboards, furniture and basic play equipment. Even the toilets and basins have been vandalised, posing a serious health problem for teachers and pupils. The University of East Timor, in a street lined with decaying buildings, managed to open its doors only a few days late for the beginning of the academic year, but it is desperate for donations of up-to-date textbooks in English, library books and laboratory equipment.

Uma Mutuk (the Burnt House), a local restaurant popular with expatriate aid workers, has been left standing by its owners, two young Timorese sisters, as a stark reminder of what happens when people are allowed to run amok. The militias made sure that Dili's inhabitants would lose any chance they had for indulging in recreation and sport. The once impressive Indonesian-built municipal swimming pool and its associated facilities were gutted, down to the shower fittings and taps.

Just a few lonely beach umbrellas are left beside the pool. The surrounds are overgrown with weeds and strands of camel melon. Frank Fowlie, the acting UN district administrator for Dili, has mobilised teams of volunteers from the United States to help control the rampant vegetation, but admits he faces an uphill battle trying to persuade donors to commit the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to restore the pool, sports centre and boxing arena.

On the other hand, the Australian Mission building, on the main road to the airport, is in impressively good nick. Newly whitewashed with a landscaped lawn and flowerbeds outside the high walls, it allegedly belongs to an Indonesian superannuation fund, Astek, that has links to the military establishment. The fund has been trying, unsuccessfully, to establish its rights to ownership and to charge rent.

It is clear that a lot more needs to be done, but the UN Transitional Administration's total budget of $US59 million ($109 million) imposes severe restrictions on what can be achieved in the time available. In a recent BBC interview, the head of the World Bank's mission to East Timor, Sarah Cliffe, agreed that one of the most difficult problems for UNTAET was how to ensure that the endemic official corruption that flourished under Indonesian rule was not replicated in an independent Timor. She also said donor countries were well aware of the need to do more to "Timorise" the administration and its functionaries as an essential precursor to independence, which was likely to be put back to allow more time for reconstruction.

The economy is in dire shape, too, because it is artificially fed by aid agencies and their staff. The World Bank estimates that UN spending accounts for 20 per cent of GDP and says the best solution is an economic strategy based on agriculture (75 per cent of Timorese are subsistence farmers). Even East Timor's Foreign Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, conceded last week that it might be necessary to reschedule the elections planned for August, saying "no-one is going to get impatient" if independent status is delayed by a few months.

But progress has been frustratingly slow. Timorese are starting to resent what they see as their exclusion from decision-making and the undeniable gap that exists between the haves and have-nots. This is especially evident in remote villages that aid workers have had difficulty reaching, usually because of landslides or unsafe road conditions.

Four Timorese members of the transitional government have already threatened to resign over the snail's pace of "Timorisation" and their inability to exercise any real authority. They met with Xanana Gusmao, president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, last weekend and set UNTAET a deadline of December 15 to agree to their demands.

Local journalists claim the resignation threats were orchestrated by outspoken Infrastructure Minister Joao Carrascalao, who told Radio UNTAET recently he would quit if responsibility for the key land and property unit, now under the Justice portfolio, was not transferred to his own portfolio. He said the UN should be doing more to acknowledge the traditional owners of land and he claimed that Indonesians in West Timor still owned property in Dili that rightfully belonged to East Timorese.

The Carrascalao name evokes strong reactions. Joao comes from a powerful extended family that amassed considerable land and property holdings under the Portuguese and Indonesian administrations. This happened after Joao's father, Manuel, was exiled from Portugal in 1927 by the former Portuguese dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

Manuel became mayor of Dili in the 1970s, before the Portuguese departure, while Joao's elder brother, Mario, was governor of East Timor for a decade under the Indonesians and is now a CNRT vice-president and head of a fledgling political party.

Land and property unit staff worry that if Joao takes over conflicts of interest are bound to arise because of the Carrascalaos' property and business dealings, which put them among the largest land owners in the country.

Just last year, Joao's other brother, Manuel, was embroiled in a row over an illegal hotel lease he had arranged with a group of prominent Darwin businessmen that included former Northern Territory chief minister Shane Stone.

Younger East Timorese especially are unhappy with what they see as attempts by Joao Carrascalao to feather his own nest. At the very least they are uneasy at the prospect of a member of the Carrascalao clan being in charge of the land and property unit, saying it would enable the family to wield undue influence over the settlement of disputes. They are also uneasy about family links to other CNRT members: Joao's sister Rosa is married to Ramos Horta, who has been untainted by scandal so far.

Although he has considerable influence in East Timor, Joao Carrascalao, a long-time resident in Australia, is also viewed with suspicion by sections of the Timorese community over here for his alleged involvement in a financial fraud case, which was dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions last November for lack of evidence, allegedly after witnesses decided not to testify.


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