Subject: Tapping Timor's transition

Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia)

May 22, 2004 Saturday

Tapping Timor's transition

Graham Lloyd

The fledgling independent nation of East Timor is grappling with the legacy of Indonesian rule as it faces the challenges of the future, reports Graham Lloyd from Dili

'The real heroes of this country are very humble'

FROM the balcony of Dili's Esplanada Hotel one can see marlin break the water as they carve up baitfish in a bay looked over by a clifftop statue of Jesus.

The promenade is lined with food hawkers, the air thick with the smell of the day's catch laid out for sale on tables, octopus strung from trees to dry.

This week the seafront is particularly busy. Old men and women wearing a mixture of formal clothing, traditional dress and tribal head pieces have formed in large groups to drink an intoxicating home brew under tarpaulins slung low among the trees.

They are in high spirits, gathering in groups to beat drums and dance with swords unsheathed.

The revellers have come in from the hills to celebrate the second anniversary of East Timor's resumption of nationhood.

They inhabit a free but rapidly changing world, and reminders of the looting rampage that accompanied the Indonesian withdrawal are everywhere.

Dozens of city buildings remain burnt-out shells, skeletons of concrete of which a corner may be used to hawk cigarettes and bottled water.

Military vehicles and four-wheel-drives splashed with United Nations motifs still rumble through the chaotic maze of one-way streets but, increasingly, they are being outnumbered by modern four-cylinder cars dumped in Dili as used goods by East Timor's Asian neighbours.

Driving is neither licensed nor policed, but it can't be far off. East Timor is in transition.

It is too early to confidently predict the outcome, but the Government believes it has avoided the pitfalls encountered by many former colonies trying to move to self-reliance.

Despite the political rhetoric over negotiations with Australia on the future of Timor Sea oil revenues, the Dili administration is not banking on oil alone to save it. It is attempting to build -- from almost nothing -- a multi-layered economy with a target of full food self-sufficiency within a decade, foreign investment partners who will bring processing industries to create employment, and financial discipline in public expenditure.

In its bid to build a civil society from scratch, East Timor has identified its limited judicial system as a a major weakness and publicly at least, it is guarding against emerging nepotism and corruption.

A new stage in East Timor's transition was reached this week when control of the country's military and civilian policing was passed from the UN to the newly trained local authorities.

But this does not signal the end of UN assistance, for the Security Council is anxious to protect what it regards as one of its success stories with what it has termed a consolidation phase.

The new UN mandate will run for six months, with an option to extend for one final six-month period after that.

Even so, during the next six weeks the UN military presence will be scaled back dramatically and refocused from defence to assisting in nation building.

Australia still will contribute about one-quarter of the new force, with its 100 personnel concentrating on civil engineering projects such as road building.

Aside from independence celebrations and the assumption of control for its military and police, the most important gathering in Dili this week was a conference of donors who, under the guidance of the World Bank, are seeking to help put the nation on a viable footing.

THE East Timor Government has already been forced to cut spending and bolster revenue collections to satisfy the multinational coalition of aid organisations.

The medium-term budget financing gap has been reduced from $126 million to $30 million as a result of better tax collection and administration, reduced government expenditure of $42 million, and increased oil and gas revenue projections of $54 million.

World Bank vice-president Jamil Kassum, who presided over this week's meeting, said the East Timor Government had made impressive progress but significant challenges remained.

East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told donors: "I wish to reiterate that the ultimate test of good governance is meeting the needs of our people.

"It is the provision of education that is relevant, delivering quality health services, supplying clean water and safe sanitation and reducing the burden on women and children, the construction and maintenance of access roads and supplying electricity.

"Above all, it is creating the enabling conditions for the people to work hard and lift themselves out of poverty."

Prime Minister Alkatiri is one of three people on whom East Timor's immediate success depends.

The others are President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister Ramos Horta.

Their relationship has been described as "cohesive although fractious", with the three sharing a common history extending back many years.

Alkatiri is understood to have been Gusmao's lawyer when he divorced. Gusmao and Horta have been generally regarded as closest but they are now at public loggerheads about the appropriate response to negotiations with Australia over the Timor Sea border negotiations.

More broadly, East Timor politics is currently defined as an identity struggle rooted in what the various players were doing during Indonesian rule.

Diplomatic observers say it is an objective fact that those who have done best out of independence are those who were in the diaspora, overseas.

This is not surprising, as it was the educated class which was able to flee.

Alkatiri lived in exile in Mozambique. Gusmao was jailed in East Timor, and now enjoys widespread popular support. Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner, was the international face of resistance and is popularly regarded to have suffered as much as anyone.

However, recognition of the guerilla resistance offered by many remains a particular stumbling block.

Many who identify as having fought hard in the resistance feel left behind and want some recognition, and the country remains awash with rumours of counter-claims to political authority.

Many of the claims centre on the resistance commander commonly known as "L7", who has an almost mythic status because of his heroic deeds during the Indonesian occupation.

But Horta says talk of any uprising is overblown and that he has a good personal relationship with L7.

"I can tell you L7 will not make a single move in this country without warning me and checking with me whether he can do it or not," Horta said this week.

"I have known him since childhood and have been working with him since June 2000.

"This is not to say there are not issues."

Horta said unlike similar countries in Africa and South America, resistance fighters had not sought to seize city mansions following occupation.

"The real heroes of this country are very humble," he said.

"L7 lives in a house of corrugated iron. I respect him, I pay for his children's school.

"Does he have a political agenda? No. He is just angry at the way he has been treated, but he knows . . . "

It is a recognition that the skills needed for nation-building are different from those needed for resistance.

"We received a barely functioning public administration with huge gaps at the leadership level with many poorly trained people and we have made a it a priority to strengthen the public administration," Horta told The Courier-Mail this week.

"The judiciary remains in deficit despite the efforts of the Government, but there are no shortcuts to improving the strength of the judiciary, it will simply take many years."

EAST Timor has adopted a system of civil law as opposed to the British model of common law because, says Horta, common law is based on hundreds of years of precedent which simply does not exist in East Timor.

But as the system evolves it will become more and more hybrid, civil with some common law.

Horta says remarkable progress has been made in education.

"We have many more children in school today than ever before. University enrolments have increased from 2000 to 8000 without counting those studying abroad."

The Government is insisting that youth must go for vocational skills like electrical engineering, plumbing and carpentry.

Eighteen students are in Cuba studying medicine at the invitation of the Cuban Government.

"If we continue this, in five years from now East Timor will have hundreds of highly educated university graduates, thousand of people with tertiary vocational skills," Horta says.

"We have continuing training for our civil servants, in agriculture we have improved dramatically in terms of productivity and East Timor has the potential to be self-sufficient in food within a few years."

But crime was another matter. Although street-level crime remained low, with an absence of organised crime or major theft, domestic violence was an issue needing to be addressed.

"What we do have that is serious is domestic violence," Horta says, pointing out that 70 per cent of court cases in the small nation are related to wife beating and the physical abuse of children.

"This is the legacy of 24 years of Indonesian cultural violence," he says. "You cannot just erase 24 years of every day being subjected to intimidation, humiliation and violence. Every day for 24 years you hear of violence, see violence, you live in fear.

"This country is still profoundly traumatised. Deep down people still have scars from losing their relatives. There is hardly any family in this country that is not affected."

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