Subject: What Went Wrong in East Timor? [+Alkatiri interview: Oiling the Wheels]

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

also: Interview with Alkatiri: Oiling the Wheels

The Bulletin [with Newsweek] May 28, 2003

Bleating Hearts

As the do-gooders move on, carpetbaggers and corrupt locals are left to count the loot. Eric Ellis discovers that most East Timorese are wondering what went wrong a year after independence.

In East Timor, men are men and it's the goats who may well be nervous. An unsavoury yarn about the antics of a platoon of bored UN civilian police in the country's Oecussi enclave and a family of goats is one of many hoary stories swirling around Dili. The United Nations mission in East Timor denies anything untoward took place in Oecussi last year. But it is true that a posse of "civpols" were transferred home from their $US200-a-day peacekeeping jobs well before their contracts expired. And it is also true that East Timorese goats are now sniggeringly known as "Jordanian war brides".

Political correctness seems to have been left at home by East Timor's 3000-strong foreign community of misfits, mercenaries and missionaries. Whether one is in the "Bumcrack Bar", a bloodhouse patronised by Northern Territorian hard men in Stubbies and blue singlets, or "Fort Shit-Scared", Australia's heavily fortified diplomatic compound, or "The Pussy Bar", preferred latte-drinking locale of twentysomething Portuguese women, East Timor's goldfish bowl is a heady cocktail of Humpty Doo, Angola and the Algarve - against a south seas backdrop. If one misses home, there is always the Mr Whippy van, imported from Australia and luring customers with, of course, Greensleeves.

Apocryphal or otherwise, the Oecussi story and similar tales keep these well-heeled malaes (foreigners) titillated as they plan their exit strategies to save the next war-torn hellhole. Iraq? Congo? Aceh? But not before a luxury holiday in nearby Bali or Kakadu, both just a per diem away, or six months' income for many East Timorese.

But a year after the radical chic of the liberation struggle and as the sympathy-for-East-Timor honeymoon loses its lustre, dark rumours swirl among East Timorese. Of expensive houses in Darwin bought for senior government officials by prospective foreign investors. Of government goons roughing up foreign businessmen - notably a Malaysian scrap-metal merchant occupying a prime Dili oceanside site - then running them out of town. Or of the alleged $US20,000 backhander payable to compliant judges of dubious competence for favourable rulings.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told The Bulletin he wants to be known as running one of the world's toughest anti-corruption administrations: "I challenge anyone to prove there is official corruption in East Timor."

Of course, it's not all bad news. The steady return of Dili's Chinese community, which before the 1975 Indonesian invasion was 50,000-strong and the backbone of the economy, has been encouraging. The mostly Hakka community - returning from exile in Australia, Macau and Hong Kong - numbers 4000 and, after playing a key role in East Timor's independence day parade, they are reconstituting their cultural centre-cum-chamber of commerce and opening businesses or reclaiming holdings purloined during Jakarta's military occupation. At night, their elders gather in the shallows of Dili's Areia Branca beach, 5km east of town beneath the famous Jesus Christ statue, where the talk is of opportunity, of making money and of Sydney property prices.

Positive, too, has been the quick restoration of calm - East Timor now has one of the world's lowest crime rates - following last December's riots, which destroyed Dili's downtown, killed two and threatened to unwind four years of solid work in law and order. Blamed by the government on "militia", with a sub- text suggesting Indonesian agents, the riots were in reality a warning sign that East Timor's 800,000 people are increasingly impatient that prosperity has not arrived with independence.

According to Elizabeth Huybens, the World Bank's Dili representative, East Timorese are poorer this year than last, with a per capita income of just $US450 ($680). Huybens attributes this to the steady departure of highly paid UN personnel, taking with them their "false economy" that was a $US bonanza for Timorese and for many Australian firms. A year ago most of these, mainly from the Northern Territory, were pledging their long-haul commitment to East Timor. Today they are nowhere to be found.

But frustrations remain, and there are many. Four years of a UN presence has failed to deliver adequate power, water and sanitation. The few businesses operating here also grumble about Timor Telecom, a recent joint venture of local businessmen and Portugal Telecom.

Timor Telecom took over from Telstra, which wired Australia's Interfet forces in 1999. While Telstra may be much criticised in Australia, it provided East Timor with a world-class phone service. No longer. Timor Telecom is not only prohibitively expensive but unreliable. Only half the calls connect first time and there's no mobile-roaming capability. Complains one Australian hotel-owner: "East Timor went from having a first-world telephone service to the third world overnight."

Worrying, too, is the ruling Fretilin party's readiness to use its overwhelming parliamentary majority when consensus might be more appropriate in a struggling new nation. Both locals and foreign diplomats worry that East Timor's commitment to democracy may falter, that it might be "doing a Cambodia", where UN-sponsored elections in 1993 are long forgotten in Hun Sen's effective one-party state in Phnom Penh today. Indeed, scores stored up for 25 years in this over-politicised hothouse are now being settled.

Despite resistance from President Xanana Gusmao, the past year has featured not-so-subtle efforts by Fretilin, the unpopular Alkatiri's dominant party, to stamp its version of history on the country. May 20 wasn't actually the first birthday of independence but, said banners around Dili, of the restoration of independence, a reference to Fretilin's brief, unrecognised rule between Portugal's exit and Indonesia's invasion. Timor Lorosae, last year's officially declared name of the new nation, which means "rising sun of the east", has been changed to Timor Leste - Portuguese for East Timor. That's a nod to the so-called Mozambique Clique led by Alkatiri himself, who fought Fretilin's campaign from Maputo.

Then there's the official references to "Presidente Nicolau Lobato", the official name of Dili airport and of a main street in the capital. Lobato was a Fretilin leader but he was never president.

Fascinating, too, is the diplomatic struggle between Lisbon and Canberra for influence in East Timor. Neither side say they are in battle but it's clear each have their own agendas. In shades of the former Soviet Union, Portuguese government radio blares out from speakers across the main square, as the families of old colonial government officials count their $US300 monthly pensions sent from Lisbon. Where Australia's fortress-like embassy is halfway to the airport for an easier getaway if things turn ugly again, Portugal's is next door to the government's offices, where Alkatiri and his clique are said to lead the anti-Australian lobby.

It's in those government offices where Canberra is cast as a bully for its inflexible position on Timor Sea oil and gas royalties, which promise a $40bn bonanza when - or rather if - production begins. With difficulty to the Australian ear, that criticism is spoken in Portuguese, East Timor's official language. That and the pensions are probably enough to assuage Lisbon's colonial guilt. As for Canberra, it doesn't want another failed Pacific state on its doorstep, suggesting some leeway on the Timor Sea boundaries is in the offing.


The Bulletin [with Newsweek] May 28, 2003


Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri explains Dili's position on oil - and corruption to Eric Ellis

Q Have all outstanding obstacles concerning the Bayu Undan field been resolved? Can production go ahead?

A Agreement [with Australia] has been reached but we still need parliament to ratify. I approved everything with Conoco-Phillips [the developer] last week. I am sure it will be passed. Everybody's always pushing us to go faster but we are doing our best.

Q Is your position on sea boundaries around the Greater Sunrise field non-negotiable?

A Our position is clear. We claim 100% of what we think is ours but we also recognise there are overlapping claims and we need to negotiate them immediately for a stable regime. But what we think is our sovereign right we will never give up.

QIs Australia bullying you on Greater Sunrise?

A Australia is one of the major contributors in this country, and we thank the Australian government, but business is business. They know me very well and they know I never give up when I think it's the right of my people.

Q How will the oil and gas royalties be handled fiscally?

A We will set up an independent fund, which can only be spent with the approval of the parliament. But even we think we will need an independent body to monitor this, with appropriate checks and balances. I have full power to do anything I like but I am governing to create a very solid state, with a transparent system.

Q People are complaining of rising corruption...

A I challenge anybody to prove that there is corruption within the system. There are rumours [but] there is no corruption, for sure.

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