Subject: JP: Changes needed alongside UN extension in East Timor


February 1, 2001

Changes needed alongside UN extension in East Timor

East Timor will formally become a new nation when the temporary administration under the United Nations ends. But problems in meeting the initial deadline of the Jan. 31, 2001 mandate of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) led UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to suggest its extension to December 2001. This article follows a two-week visit to East Timor, to where The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti was invited to the first congress of the Association of Journalists of Timor Loro Sae in Dili.

DILI (JP): Until mid January, one got varying answers when asking locals and officials in East Timor about the deadline of the transition period to Timor's independence. Elections were earlier scheduled for June, after which an elected government would rule the new nation.

Some expected the deadline to be December, given that the constitution is not in place, neither has a decision on the electoral system been reached.

Then on Jan. 17 the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was reported to have recommended the extension of the UNTAET mandate to December 2001. UNTAET chief Sergio de Mello was quoted as saying that he had "no doubts" about the extension until December "because our work is not finished yet."

Elections would be in July to August, he said.

Members of the transitional parliament called the National Council (NC) have said they have not seen a draft constitution which they should be debating on.

In a January hearing with Finance Minister Michael Francino, the members learned that despite the looming deadline, there were no funds for voters' registration or subsidies for the campaign of political parties.

When UNTAET was set up in October 1999 to replace the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), the UN Security Council decided its initial term would last until Jan. 31, 2001. Given the absence of a constitution and a decision on electoral systems the suggested extension until December 2001 may be realistic, some locals say.

The hand over from UNAMET's head Ian Martin to UNTAET's Brazilian Sergio de Mello was welcomed as an improvement in the then anti- Australian and anti-west climate in Indonesia.

Entering its second year here there is much criticism over UNTAET's performance. Timorese leader, now President of the National Council, Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, expressed strong hopes "that UNTAET would not its mistakes of the first year" of its mission.

Praise is also to be found. Traders in Dili's Mercado (market) said UNTAET is giving priority to rural areas while they could still manage on their own.

Radio UNTAET is also commended for its wide reaching programs and UNTAET tries to inform the public of its policies, among others through the bi-weekly editions of the Tais Timor tabloid.

The most highlighted sign of resentment was the threat of four out of nine ministers -- including economic minister Mari Alkatiri and infrastructure minister Joao Carrascalao -- to resign from the transitional cabinet.

"UNTAET should be subordinate to the East Timor Transitional Administration; now that's Timorization," Alkatiri was quoted as saying in reports.

The Administration, or ETTA, was set up as part of the "Timorization" policy. Placing ETTA above the UN-sponsored body sounds doubtful, yet Alkatiri was encouraged by "rapid changes" -- but this was before Annan's suggestion of UNTAET's extension.

UNTAET's mandate from the Security Council dated Oct. 22, 1999 shows that it is given overall responsibility over East Timor. At that time people had just returned from hiding in Timor's mountains or over the border in Kupang following the arrival of the International Troops for East Timor in September.

Some elderly people had died of cold in the mountains and many became sick in refugee camps. Upon their return residents either took over empty homes or set up temporary roofing over their ruined homes.

Prices were ridiculous with a 500 gram pack of powdered milk reaching Rp 300,000, and cooking oil was just as costly.

The UN Security Council stressed the need for all parties to guarantee the right of safe return of refugees apart from ensuring emergency operations. Security was the priority -- "facilitating capacity building of the Timorese towards self governance" comes only later in the document.

As things got better later in 2000, calls increased for accelerated delegation and transfer of authority in various sectors, and ETTA was set up. However even ministers felt they had no say, hence the threat to resign.

At least sticking to the Security Council's resolution would help UNTAET give more benefit to the people they are serving. The resolution points out "the need of UNTAET to consult and closely work with the people of East Timor to achieve its mandate effectively for the sake of developing local democratic institutions ..."

It adds, " .... To transfer to these institutions administrative and public service functions."

One UNTAET staffer says all this has been hard to understand, with colleagues only getting half the meaning of the resolution, that of having the role of administrator. "The mandate is clear to me -- helping capacity building of the Timorese," he said.

Notices at the UNTAET headquarters remind staff of "cultural sensitivity" to the "unique cultures in East Timor" and the above source says this would be much easier to achieve with more staff from neighboring countries.

Culture aside, repeated criticism is of the Timorese feeling there is little left for them to do, with international staff in what they see as too many positions -- or discrimination in stark difference in wages in areas where they are doing similar work to international staff. The criticism also applies to UN bodies and international and non- international organizations.

"He couldn't even operate the satellite phone," one former staffer in the Covalima region said of a colleague in a UN organization who was paid much more than he was.

The other main criticism is that international staff including those from international NGOs do not adequately consult locals on their needs and other necessary input regarding "facilitation" or "aid." Many are "inept but arrogant," thinking Timorese cannot do anything, NC member and lawyer Aniceto Gueterres said.

"The best people have left out of frustration," says one staffer at UNTAET.

Transition is all a matter of willpower on the part of UNTAET, says Gueterres. The political will to transfer political and administrative authority to the Timorese is not there yet, he said.

"This is evident from the stalling of transition and the interests of so many countries and individuals, and political interests" including that of the Timorese, Gueterres told The Jakarta Post.

Sociologist Helen Hill, who has studied East Timor since the 1970s, said international staff "have a lack of imagination of what it is like to be Timorese."

The seemingly simple way out -- just ask the locals -- seems not so simple as the UN and international staffers have not been "obliged to consult" locals in previous experiences, mainly peacekeeping operations, Hill said.

The same goes for emergency NGOs. Only top Timorese leaders are consulted, "leading to all sorts of unnecessary problems," she said.

"It has been wrong to draw comparisons with (UN work) in Bosnia or Cambodia," said Hill, who is writing a book on the latest developments of the new nation.

Timorese feel very insulted with such comparisons, she told the Post in an interview.

"They feel they are the victors," she said, and resent being treated "like helpless victims of war as in Bosnia or Cambodia."

In the Maliana district, locals say they have good cooperation with UNTAET regarding their community programs. They affirmed they would be ready for the time when they will be on their own -- but for now they were not doing anything yet, "because for now UNTAET is doing everything."

Such a mistaken paradigm of being administrators of an emergency situation which has led to the habit of not consulting locals is, however, without malice, Hill said.

Compared to Indonesia, "which tried to make the Timorese love them by giving goodies" such as basic facilities, Hill said "the UN feels it's loved already", it does not feel it has to help more with amenities like transportation and street lighting.

UNTAET's deputy district administrator in Bobonaro town of Maliana, Joao Vicente, said UNTAET does not want people to become dependent on them.

"There are some private buses operating already," he said.

UNTAET says it is doing adequate facilitation. Its Tais Timor tabloid reminds people of largely repaired roads following heavy flooding, enabling the minibus routes and provision of electricity -- itself a source of frustration as power is far from stable "while UNTAET buildings remain bright" in the dark, a local said.

Hill says both the Timorese and the UNTAET are responsible for slowing down the transition. "The Timorese are a very thorough people," she said. "They wouldn't rush through the constitution."

If UNTAET's mandate is extended, it might be a significant step to take into much more consideration the basically upbeat feeling among these victors of war.

"There has been trouble, that's to be expected of a new nation," says trader Domingos Alves Cabral in Dili, of fights on New Year's Eve.

"But we're in high spirits, we can manage."

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