Raimundos Oki, Dili, East Timor East Timor's political parties kicked off a month of campaigning Tuesday for new parliamentary elections due in May with promises to boost development in one of Asia's poorest nations.
It will be the second parliamentary election in less than a year for East Timor's fledgling democracy. A minority government formed after elections last July and led by the Fretilin party collapsed in January after its policy program and budget were defeated in parliament.
Independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who is leading an alliance of three opposition parties including his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, urged East Timorese to elect the grouping to "strengthen and improve our country in order to bring development to free people from poverty."
Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri also vowed development by creating more special economic zones. "We promise to free society from poverty," he told a crowd in Manatuto district.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.
Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces grim poverty. Leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.
Parliamentary and presidential elections held last year were the first without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012. The campaigning that started Tuesday ends on May 10 and voting is to take place on May 12.
Gusmao received a boost to his popularity after leading negotiations that settled the sea border between East Timor and Australia and provisionally agreed on formulas for division of oil and gas riches beneath the sea bed.
Thousands of East Timorese lined the road to the capital's international airport in early March to cheer a returning Gusmao after the deal was signed at the U.N.
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Paulina Quintao The President of the National Election Commission (CNE), Alcino Barris said there is no law regulating parents to not involve their children in electoral campaigns, but is criminal for political parties to mobilize children to take part in political activities.
He said it is very difficult to ban children from involvement in political campaign activities because these activities are organized in communities' homes and parents need to listen to the political parties so they can take part in the election.
He added that mobilizing children includes organizing children to listen to electoral propaganda during a whole day to increase numbers of crowds without the knowledge from parents. "But it is not easy to define the crime of mobilization," he said in Delta nova, Dili.
He added that it is difficult for CNE to say it is a crime and order the capture of the parents who involve their children in political campaigning because there is no legal basis.
On the other hand, the President of the National Commission for Children Right (KNDL), Commissioner Maria Barreto warned the relevant institutions such as the Ombudsman of Justice and Human Rights (PDHJ), the Timor-Leste National Police (PNTL), the National Election commission (CNE) to prioritize the protection of children during the monitoring of the political campaigns.
She also urged the parents to control and protect the children from involvement in the campaigning because there is always risk of violence.
"We all know that parents need to listen to information from the political parties so they can vote for the political party that can addresses their needs, but they should also remain conscious of not involving children in the campaign," she appealed.
She added that monitoring of the last election showed that parents often took their children with them in their cars during political parades.
She added also that some political parties given out promotion material to children under 15 to distributed and get them to participate in the rallies to boost participation numbers.
She appealed to political parties to prioritise child protection during the early election because children cannot vote.
Celestina Soares The General Commander of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) Commissioner Julio da Costa Hornai appealed to the public to not trust information shared on social media sites such as Facebook that frighten the community.
He said that information posted on Facebook that claims certain areas at risk areas it not true. He raised the issue in relation to a recent post on Facebook warning of areas of rist and asking people to not move around the country.
"Until now the Police have not released any information about at risk places in Dili and in some municipalities and asking people to limit their movement," said commissioner Hornai.
He urged the Timorese to ignore the information posted on Facebook and to go ablout their daily routine as usual. "Keep doing your daily activities and your programs in your daily life," he said.
We assured that is there are any problems, the National Police of Timor-Leste in coordination with the Defense Forces of Timor-Leste will act.
Meanwhile, student Pedro da Costa Lobato observed that general situation in the country is under control and peaceful so far and that there is no conflict. He said the information spread on Facebook about some areas that are risky is not true.
"At 10 at night there are still people moving around and we have not heard about any conflict in the areas mentioned on Facebook," said Lobato.
He appealed for the community in Timor-Leste to not trust the information on Facebook as it is not true.
Paulina Quintao According to data generated from the Health in Family (Saude na Familia (SnF) national program of home visits, 92% of 206,123 families in Timor-Leste present risk factors that may result in disease.
Through the SnF home visits, health professionals have been classifying visited families into four categories of families, the first category being a healthy family, the second category a family with risk factors of disease, the third group of families with illnesses, and the fourth category of families with one or more member living with a disability.
According to the Director General for Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Doctor Odete Viegas, reality shows that families in category 1, corresponding to being health are only seven percent (7%) of all families whiles families at risk of disease compose 92% of the total.
She added that the percentage is staggering because of people's life styles, with many smokers, drinking alcohol, drinking coffee and chewing beetle nut.
"These statistics highlight the need for greater health promotion to our communities to lower their risk factors, otherwise in future, there will be many more sick people, suffering from hypertension, heart disease and diabetes," she said in Becora, Dili.
She added that health professionals will sit with community leaders to make micro-plans on what intervention and prevention measures are possible.
Suku Chief of Caicoli Hipolito Marques Sarmento appreciated the national program Health in the Family (SnF) and is ready to collaborate with health professionals to disseminate health information in his community.
"As local authority, we are ready to go into the community and raise awareness for them to change their behaviour and prevent getting sick," he said.
He added that health professional have a duty to deliver health and information to the community, but prevention of illness is up to each individual to do hers or his best to not fall sick.
Paulina Quintao The National Director for Water Resources and Management, Ministry of Pubic Works (MOP) Gustavo da Cruz said Timor-Leste has sufficient water resources within the territory to respond to the needs of communities, but there are limitations in the State Budget create adequate water supply networks for the community.
Another problem is the geographical composition of Timor-Leste because many communities lives in isolated villages, surrounded by mountainous terrain and that makes it difficult to supply them with easily available water.
He said most people in Timor-Leste use manual water pumps to supply water to their community. "We also face operational and human resources limitations and with the system of maintenance," he added in Dili.
He informed that more than 200 water pumps have been installed across the territory but 50% of water pumps are not working properly so communities cannot access clean water.
He said the government and partners in rural areas have established the clean water management facility groups in every municipality to control water systems in the communities, but they are not working adequately.
He added water systems include electrical water pumps, some powered by generators and solar panels because some areas do have not access to the electricity grid.
He said even in municipalities that have access to water, where there is a canalized system, communities do not take proper care of the network, in some sukus and hamlets communities destroy the water pipes.
Meanwhile, the Director of Organization Hafoun Timor-Leste Foundation (FHTL), Koko Valentine said water issue has not been solved since the first government until now as the government has not created a policy for water and sanitation management.
He said so far the government, non-government organizations and the partners have implemented clean water and sanitation programs based on the ministerial diploma no. 4/2004 while the policy is unclear.
"Our estimation was that in 2020, 75% of population in the country will have access to clean water, but in reality, coverage is rolling out very slowly," he said.
He informed that government's estimation is that by 2020, 75% of communities in rural areas will have access to clean water, but now it only reaches some 50%.
He added that while the government is committed to providing clean water and sanitation as a priority issue, it forgets to allocate enough resources to allow to deliver on this commitment.
Paulina Quintao The result of an assessment conducted on clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) of health facilities across Timor-Leste shows that from the 380 health facilities within the country, 75% do not have running water.
The Deputy Minister of Health Luis Lobato said this issue needs to be addressed to ensure adequate WASH across all health facilities across the territory.
He acknowledged the situation and this impair the ability to health professionals to ensure good standards of hygiene at the health facilities.
"Hygiene is about having clean conditions and we cannot imagine how this can happen in the workplace when treating patients if there is no water," he said during the opening of a seminar on the presentation of results of the Assessment at the Ministry of Health, in Kaikoli, Dili.
He welcomed the results of the assessment as they serve as an indicator for the government to create strategies and plans based on the data provided.
He said the government must guarantee citizens get access to clean water but reality shows that communities are getting sick due to lack of clean water and hygiene.
He informed that the MoH has made a proposal to the Council Ministers on how to add water and sanitation services in all health facilities and services.
He added the Ministry is also considering new strategies related to water catchments to preserve rain water for health facilities to use during the dry season and those without a water spring nearby.
On the other hand, the representative of National Directorate for Water and Sanitation Service Martinus Nahac said adding water and sanitation services to the work the MoH is implementing will be up to the upcoming government.
He said during the Indonesian occupation, MoH was solely responsible for water and sanitation services, but after independence this has been taken over by the Ministry of Infrastructure.
"Moving forward the Ministries and development partners should work together to address the issue because water is very important," he said.
He said not only at the health facilities, the schools also lack water and sanitation because some areas have no spring water.
Meanwhile, the director for Health, Aileu Municipality, Antonio da Costa said all health facilities in Aileu municipality have access to clean water, but there are water shortages.
"The 75% rates do not include us because our health facilities have access to clean water," he said.
He added water shortage take place during the dry season, but alternative sources has to be used to ensure water and hygiene during health treatment.
Lucy Marks A new study has found children in East Timor have among the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world, with researchers estimating up to 10,000 young people could have the preventable, deadly disease.
Work is underway to train local Timorese health workers in picking up undiagnosed rheumatic heart disease, in order to get as many children as possible on lifesaving penicillin treatment.
A group of cardiologists and paediatricians from around Australia began the study in 2016, screening 1,400 children and young people in schools in Dili and Emera.
The results, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, show 3.5 per cent had definite or borderline rheumatic heart disease, with girls over-represented in the numbers.
Project lead Dr Josh Francis from the Menzies School of Health Research, supported by the East Timor Hearts Fund, said one in 20 girls had the illness, compared to one in 50 boys.
"If that prevalence of 3.5 per cent represents the whole country... there's half-a-million children in Timor Leste, so the burden of rheumatic heart disease is enormous," Dr Francis said. "There could be between 5,000 and 10,000 kids with rheumatic heart disease."
The patients identified with mild or moderate conditions were treated with monthly penicillin injections to stop the progression of the disease, giving the heart a chance to recover.
If the disease progresses to severe and the need for heart surgery goes unmet, the preventable disease can be fatal.
Timorese paediatric registrar Dr Mario Noronha said many children who come to hospital in East Timor already have late stages of the disease. "Because most of them still believe in traditional healers so this is a trouble for us to get the early stage," he said.
Dr Noronha is among several Timorese doctors on a six-month rotation in Darwin to learn how to detect the early stages of the disease and to educate Timorese people on how to identify symptoms.
"Through this rotation that I'm doing in this hospital [Royal Darwin Hospital] it will be very worthwhile in the future to prevent our children from this catastrophe," he said.
His colleague, Dr Sonia Lopes Belo, said the training in Darwin was vital to find solutions back home. "If we don't do the screening in a couple of months or a couple of years, they will come with the severe disease and even death," she said.
Dr Francis said the study's figures were the tip of the iceberg, and may be conservative, because only children who attended school were screened.
"There is a massive burden of undetected rheumatic heart disease [in East Timor] and it won't present to the clinics until it's too late," he said.
Work is now underway to find more undetected cases by mobilising a local workforce of Timorese doctors, nurses and community workers, trained by Australian doctors.
The Timorese staff monitor those children identified as having rheumatic heart disease and administer monthly penicillin. From today, Dr Francis and a team of 40 health workers will set out to screen up to a further 3,000 school children over the next two weeks.
It is now hoped they will continue screening for undiagnosed disease into the future by using a hand-held echocardiography devices, with the ultimate aim of revolutionising access to screening services.
Several of the devices, known as v-scanners, were donated to the project by the Humpty Dumpty Foundation. They enable health workers to make a diagnosis that previously would have only been done by a specialist cardiologist.
East Timor currently has one cardiologist and one echocardiography machine in the national hospital for a population of 1.3 million people.
"The portability of this machine is extraordinary," Dr Francis said. "You can stick it in your pocket and head out to a remote community in the Northern Territory or somewhere in a district of Timor Leste without the problems that come with carrying big machinery."
For the first time, Aboriginal health workers from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory will join the team in East Timor, after being trained in how to use the v-scanners.
Chelsea Ryan, 20, is a receptionist at an Arnhem Land health centre, but has been trained by cardiologists to use the device.
"I'm looking forward to it and I can't wait to come back and tell everyone what I've done in East Timor," Ms Ryan said. "I want to be a role model to the younger ones. I want to show them an example for the kids back at home."
The Arnhem Land community workers had been part of a pilot screening project during which 500 school children were screened and members of the community were trained in techniques for early detection of rheumatic heart disease.
"The v-scan is pretty useful... I'll be able to go out to the outstations and scan hearts, like many of the children," Ms Ryan said. "It'll help a lot of people, I want everyone in the community to get better, I don't want them to have heart problems."
Celestina Soares The General Director of the Ministry of Education (ME) Antoninho Pires said many public schools are not in good condition and do not follow prescribed education standard, according to research conducted in 2015.
Director Pires added in 2016 and 2017 the ministry started identifying these schools so that they can be added to rehabilitation programs underway in 2018.
"We have managed to identify 78% of the schools with poor conditions. We have started rehabilitating some but we still have limitations with our budget," he said in Dili.
The Ministry of Education allocates some five (5) million dollars annually for school rehabilitation projects.
"We cannot rehabilitate them all in the one year, as we have to work with our existing budget," he said. "I hope the upcoming government can approve more budget for the program," he said.
He added that the amount usually allocated for schools' rehabilitation is not enough to attend the needs of all schools that need work.
Meanwhile, the National Secretary for Education Network from the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE) Jose Monteiro said some schools need repairs due to natural disasters and others because the infrastructure is already old.
He asked the government to look at this issue so that students can have a more adequate learning experience.
"We see the Ministry has worked hard, and so far, they have managed to fix some schools, but not all of them," he said.
He also urged the General Director Pires to not worry about politics but get programs ready for the new government once it takes office. "That way when there is a new government they can address the needs of schools that have poor infrastructure," he said.
At least 100 of 100,000 people die each year in Timor-Leste from Tuberculosis (TB) according to data from the Ministry of Health (MH).
Deputy Minister of Health Luis Lobato considers TB a major public health issue in Timor-Leste because of the high prevalence and morbidity with current estimate of 5,000 of 100,00 people suffering from TB.
"Our data shows that 100 of 100,000 people die annually which means in Timor-Leste one or two people die daily from TB," he said in a recent celebration of World TB Day at Hotel Timor, in Dili.
He added government has make a major commitment to combat TB through the creation of several mechanisms that provide adequate health treatment to the community, but reiterated that greater contributions are required from relevant entities, and especially from TB sufferers themselves.
He added the major obstacle Timor-Leste faces was the inadequate knowledge of the communities on how to safe keep their own health, with many patients not completing the full course of TB medication.
The Vice Minister made assurances in 2030 TB will be eliminated in Timor-Leste, the same way malaria and leprosy have been eliminated nationally.
Meanwhile World Health Organization (WHO) in Timor-Leste, representative Sudath Peiris said TB has devastating consequences for families and nations because the disease kills so many worldwide. Peiris added WHO estimates show that 10.4 million people in the world can be identified with TB in 2016; and 1.8 million people died in 2016. Worldwide, three TB sufferers die every minute.
"The World Health Organization has made a major commitment to support the Ministry of Health to end the TB epidemic, and I believe in days to come elimination will be successful."
He said recently WHO supported the Ministry of Health revise the National Strategic Plan for TB control 2018-2022, which is based on WHO's guidelines to end TB and which also calls for an increase of health coverage to include everyone.
Paulina Quintao At the end of 2017, the number of women in leadership roles including as part of the executive in the public sector is still low according to the data from the Integrated Public Administration and Management System (SIGAP), of the Public Service the Commission.
The Deputy Justice and Human Rights Ombudsmen (PDHJ), Jesuina Maria Ferreira Gomes said several factors limit women's mobility to reach leadership roles in public institutions.
The reports showed that there was a total of 1452 members of the executive within public administration (general directors, national directors, chiefs of departments and chiefs of sections) in the public administration and of those only 317 were women (22%) with the majority being men (78%).
The Deputy Justice and Human Rights Ombudsmen (PDHJ), Jesuina Maria Ferreira Gomes said several factors limit women's mobility to reach leadership roles in public institutions in Timor-Leste.
She said that often men lack trust in women workers compared to male workers because women have many other concerns including during menstruation, during pregnancy and after child birth, which affects their ability to perform at work.
"I always say that to promote women's participation, men should understand a women's condition in particular about reproductive health," she said during a training of facilitators to promote women and female youth participation in the political parties, organized by women in Dili.
She also encouraged women to plan their families adequately to they have a good balance between their career and their family life and don't have to choose between them.
Across public administration there is a total of 33,499 personnel out of which 11,659 (35%) are women and 21,840 are men (65%).
Meanwhile, the Director of the Women's Movement Timor-Leste (MOFFE), Yasinta Lujina said women's organization are struggling with advocating the creating of a balance between women and men's participation in the labour market across all sectors.
The urged the government to look at gender balance across public administration and develop policies that allow and encourage more women to apply for positions.
"The government needs to look at the policy of recruitment because many times announcements encourage women to apply, but without a mechanism to facilitate women's access including a quota system for women," she added.
Another problem often questioned by the public is the issue of nepotism and jobs for relatives and friends that makes it more difficult for women who do not have the right contacts to get a position.
She appealed to the Public Service Commission (CPS) to ensure the recruitment process is impartial.
Celestina Soares The Second Police Commander from Dili municipality, Superintendent Assistant Euclidis Belo said the National Police Forces of Timor-Leste PNTL will take strong measures against perpetrators of sexual harassment against women in public spaces and on public streets.
He urges everyone to report any instance of men harassing women in public to the police. "Especially the women in Dili, if you see a man committing sexual harassment in public spaces you should report it to the police so we can act," he said.
As a Catholic country, he said this action has against the moral that cannot be tolerated. "It may be a kind of disease so the [perpetrator] can go and get checked at the hospital, but this behavior will not be tolerated," he added.
"Therefore, we ask coordination, collaboration with the authorities. Report it to the police so we can act based on the regulation and articles written in the penal code."
He said a few weeks ago, they managed to capture a man who allegedly committed sexual harassment to women in public spaces.
"We captured [him] and are conducting the investigation in coordination with the Ministry of Public Prosecution to determine whether his actions were against the penal code or not," he said.
However, he said it is important to act according to the law and allow for an investigation to take place before handing over the case to the Ministry of Public Prosecutions.
Student Ervina do Carmo said it is well known that men show uneducated actions towards women in public spaces. "It scares us as women," she said.
She said it always happens and many women are the victims of these actions. "We ask the PNTL to seek out these people."
Paulina Quintao The Ministry of Health (MoH) in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) through the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) are discussing about the best mechanism of cooperation between ministries and institutions that best addressed the needs of Timorese living with disability.
The DG Dr Odete Viegas said it is very important to fix services for people with special needs.
The General Director for Health Services of MoH, Odete Viegas said it is very important to fix services for people with special needs because during the domiciliary visits conducted part of the Health in the Family program, many cases of Timorese living with disability have been identified.
She said the Ministry has an obligation to coordinate with other relevant ministries to respond to the needs of people with disabilities.
"We will sign an MoU with them on how to create better coordination mechanisms in the future," she said during a recent visit to the National Rehabilitation Centre, in Becora, Dili.
She said they will also coordinate with the National Hospital HNGV in Dili to prioritize people with disabilities, if they need urgent diagnosis, including X-ray and other services.
Meanwhile, the Director of the National Rehabilitation Centre, Veronica das Dores appreciated the initiative to transfer people with disabilities from the municipalities to Dili for treatment.
She added some of the difficulties the NRC faces include lack of adequate transport for people with special needs and that they only have five (5) small cars to transport people in Dili but these cannot reach patients in the municipalities.
"We have a dormitory with 14 beds, but we won't be able to attend many patients coming from the municipalities. We also don't have enough space for rehabilitative and therapeutical work so we might have to limit the number of people we can take in at one time," he said.
She informed that so far, they have managed to treat over 5,000 people with disabilities. The treatments include therapy for those who have suffered a stroke, they also provide wheelchairs, prosthetic hands and crutches.
Shannon Power One of the world's youngest nations is powering ahead on LGBTI rights and has come up with a clever way to promote inclusion.
Last year, East Timor's first Pride March made headlines around the world, not only for its color and celebration, but because it was a remarkable achievement.
It only became an independent state in 2002 after decades of authoritative Indonesian rule. In that time it has had to build itself up very quickly.
There has been little time to give attention to the LGBTI community. Like many others around the world LGBTI face a lot of violence, discrimination and family pressures.
Just days before the Pride March, former Prime Minister Rui Maria De Araujo became the first South East Asian leader to publicly call for acceptance and protection of LGBTI people.
'Everyone has the potential to contribute to the development of the nation, including members of the LGBT community,' he said at the time.
'Discrimination, disrespect and abuse towards people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity does not provide any benefit to our nation.'
Just last year, a shocking report revealed the extremely high levels of violence LBT women face in East Timor. LBT women reported violence like being dragged behind cars, corrective rape and being strangled with hoses and other horrific acts. Often this violence happened at the hands of their own families.
But the East Timorese are family oriented and the first part of overcoming stigma is to increase family acceptance of LGBTI people.
Youth organization, Hatutan Youth, has come up with a really clever idea to promote acceptance and inclusion. There were no resources in local languages Tetum and Portuguese about the LGBTI community so they decided to make their own.
'The Road to Acceptance' is a 15 minute-long video features inspiring stories of renowned LGBTI people. 'It is time we make our own video,' Hatutan Youth coordinator Natalino Guterres told Gay Star News.
'We understand Timorese people are very visual, and it is our hope that such powerful and positive stories can help change people's perspectives on the issue.'
In a country like East Timor, it was tough getting people to share their stories in such a public way. But it is also important to have the right allies help get the documentary accepted in the wider community.
So when Xanana Gusmao turned up at the documentary launch it was a massive coup. Guterres said having Gusmao and other influential dignitaries there 'makes us feel that we are not alone in this fight'.
Known as the 'Father of East Timor', Gusmao was its first President after independence. Gusmao was a critical figure in gaining independence from Indonesia.
'Xanana Gusmao is one of the most influential people in the country. Having him there was another step on the road to acceptance,' Guterres said.
'We hope his presence can influence positive changes. Never in the past we have seen our national leaders openly showed such support and solidarity on the cause.'
The documentary is just a first step in promoting acceptance. The next will be up to LGBTI allies to help the community. 'We see this video as a first step on the family acceptance initiative,' Guterres said.
'We hope that in the long run it will be able to spark a movement of its own, composed of parents, siblings, and friends who are supportive of their LGBT children, brothers and sisters, which is something we don't see here (in East Timor).'
Audiovisual production company, PixelAsia, supported Hatutan to make the video. 'Film is such a powerful medium to show positive role models with our protagonists we were privileged to capture the stories of energetic and diverse members of the LGBTI Community in Timor-Leste,' said PixelAsia's Lena Lenzen.
Paulina Quintao According to data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2016, 18% of heads of family of the 204,000 families surveyed are women.
Director of the Young Women's Movement (MOFFE) organization, Yasinta Lujina, said this demonstrates the important role of women from family level to the public level that needs greater recognition.
She said it is not easy for women to be at the head of a family but women will always do their best to ensure their family is looked after and had dignity.
She added that many women had to assume the role of head of family because their husbands died, or abandoned them or some are just irresponsible.
He added in these circumstances, the government and other women need to support them to empower them to escape vulnerability and to live a dignified life.
"We need to support them, to capacitate them on how to run business with small funds according to their ability and resources they have," she said from her office in Dili.
She informed that in 2017 MOFFE worked alongside the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) to capacitate widows and single women in two municipalities, Covalima and Bobonaro, and in the Special Administrative Region of Oecusse-Ambeno (RAEOA) on business management.
MOFFE chose these municipalities closer to the border because often families are at great risk of human traffic and of engaging in prostitution activity that will damage their future.
She said they were able to establish 17 groups of 10 members each to carry on small business and the majority are now able to generate enough income for their daily lives.
Meanwhile former MSS Minister Maria Domingas Alves said the previous government created the Mothers Purse (bolsa da mae) Program, to support widows and single mothers, especially with support of schooling for their children as the key criteria for these families including for orphans and people living with disability.
She added the State has the obligation to ensure the wellbeing and dignity of every citizen especially those most vulnerable in society.
"Dignified wellbeing for every citizen, especially those most vulnerable are entitled to a subsidy from the State," she said.
She said subsidies are small with each child getting $5 per month and can only access it every six months.
She said also that currently many parties are talking about this program in their campaigning, and she hopes they will be able to raise the subsidies for women to a reasonable amount that truly supports them.
Paulina Quintao Based on the results of monitoring activities conducted by the Office of the Human Rights and Justice Ombudsmen (PDHJ), high rates of violations against defined criteria for good governance demonstrate government is not fully functional.
Deputy PDHJ Jesuina Maria Ferreira Gomes said there are four categories used to measure the status of governance in Timor-Leste, such as incompetence, abuse of power, mal administration, and illegal activities.
From the cases received by PDHJ mostly concern maladministration, in particular the poor ability of the community in accessing public services, lack of checks and balances, and abuses of power related to the use of state patrimony for personal reasons.
"Governance in not fully functional so we need to improve our administration, access to public services and every person must only use as much power as prescribed by the law," she said in Dili.
She added other violation include illegal action such as public schools charging feed for students and from parents given the law clearly states that education is free at public schools for the first nine years of education.
She stated that 10 principles establish the parameters defining good governance including participation, promotion of justice, responsibility, transparency, clear vision, equality, accountability, efficiency and efficacy, control and professionalism.
She acknowledged the government has already accomplished many things but there is room for improvements that ensures good governance so that people get the benefits.
On the other hand, resident Fernanda Reis is concerned public servants who continue to use state property such as cars for private use.
She urged authorities to ensure there are mechanisms in place to control the proper use of state assets.
Oki Raimundos, Dili, East Timor Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has waded back into the young country's politics ahead of parliamentary elections next month, calling the government a total failure in the past decade in crucial areas such as reducing child malnutrition and providing clean water.
Ramos-Horta, joint recipient of the 1996 Nobel prize for efforts to bring independence and peace to East Timor, is not a candidate in the elections but has declared support for the Fretilin party, which led a short-lived minority government that collapsed at the start of this year.
The May 12 vote, East Timor's second parliamentary election in less than a year, will pit a loose grouping of Fretilin and one minor party against a formal alliance of three parties led by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, a giant in East Timor's politics who was its first president, from 2002 to 2007, and prime minister from 2007 to 2015.
"If I had been a prime minister for 10 years, I would have focused all those 10 years on quality education, on rural development and that means water and sanitation for the people," Ramos-Horta said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
"The study by the U.N. on our social economic indicators, particularly on malnutrition and children's growth are extremely negative, I'd say total failure over the last 10 years," he said.
Though partisan, Ramos-Horta's comments underline the challenges facing East Timor, which for the past decade has focused on infrastructure projects and a dwindling oil fund to boost its economy but has made little progress in addressing poverty in rural areas where nearly 70 percent of East Timorese live.
The U.N. estimates nearly half the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day and half of the children under 5 suffer moderate to severe physical and mental stunting as a result of malnutrition.
East Timor was occupied for a quarter-century by Indonesia, which invaded in 1975 just days after Fretilin the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor declared the eastern half of Timor island independent from Portugal, the colonial power. East Timor gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the nation. Today, politics remain dominated by a handful of men who were key figures in the so-called "1975 generation."
Ramos-Horta, who was president from 2007 to 2012, said the nation of 1.3 million people has made "tremendous progress" in establishing consistent rule of law and consolidating its democracy, among the newest in the world. Presidential and parliamentary elections last year were the first held without the supervision of U.N. peacekeepers.
But in other areas it has gone astray, he said, such as not focusing the education system on vocational training that would give young Timorese skills that are useful for a developing country.
"You will be better paid with a vocational certificate in electricity or plumbing than if you show up with your Ph.D. in humanities. So it has been very wrong from the start, since independence. I hope the next government can change that," he said.
Neither Fretilin nor Gusmao's party, known as CNRT, can by themselves win an outright majority of votes, but Gusmao appears to have gained an advantage by forming an alliance with smaller parties. After 2012 elections in which CNRT was the biggest party but short of an absolute majority, it eventually settled into a national unity coalition with Fretilin.
Gusmao recently received a boost to his popularity after leading negotiations that settled the sea border between East Timor and Australia. They also provisionally agreed on formulas for division of oil and gas riches beneath the sea bed. Thousands of East Timorese lined the road to the capital's international airport in early March to cheer a returning Gusmao after the deal was signed at the United Nations.
Ramos-Horta said Gusmao, whose CNRT suffered a drop in votes in the 2017 elections, becoming the second-biggest party after Fretilin, is a "good man" who cares about his country but may have been in politics too long.
"It's obvious that he's tired, frustrated because people around him, the Cabinet members, they didn't deliver and he paid the price last year in 2017, and he'll probably pay the price again because of the people around him," he said. "They didn't deliver on his grand vision."
Paulina Quintao Alola Foundation urges relevant institutions, especially the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) to conduct a routine control and checks to the Casino across Dili to prevent activities such as prostitution, drug use and human trafficking from taking place.
The Director of Alola Foundation (AF) Alzira Reis said despite the legality of gambling other negative activities should not allowed to flourish and this needs to be controlled by the security authorities.
She is concerned with the existence of these gaming houses as they have many foreign women working in them and their passports are confiscated by their employers.
She considered this a serious situation and the government must act by conducting regular inspections because those people may be victims of human trafficking.
"Law implementation should be strong. Immigration services should be strengthened and routine inspections should be conducted so that there is greater control over who comes into the country and that what they do here is important," she said from her office, in Mascarenhas, Dili.
She said unless there is rigorous control, this will lead to negative effects such as human trafficking, drugs and higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS infections.
Alola Foundation is a women's organization established in 2001 and working to fix the quality life of women and children. This organization is part of a working group that combats human trafficking in Timor-Leste.
On the other hand, the director of national organization Luta Hamutuk (LH) Jose da Costa said there should be a limit on the number of Casinos allowed to operate and greater control over their activities to limit any other activities emerging in the country.
He asked the government to measure and analyze the social impacts of casino because it has given negative impacts to the society. "We prefer to close them because it is not part of our culture."
He added the existence of casino will lead to prostitutions, human trafficking and drug entering the country if there is no proper control from the authorities especially from the security sector.
Ben C. Solomon, Com, East Timor On a rainy spring morning, Fizzy Moslim strapped on her weathered-chrome oxygen tank and slipped into the warm water.
Few visitors make it out to the sleepy fishing village of Com, a backbreaking seven-hour drive from the capital, and usually no one except the locals ever dives into its waters.
Below she found an underwater metropolis. Sea turtles swam beside hundreds of reef fish, feeding on the rich coral below. Two young dugong, a manatee-like sea mammal, sped away, and a blacktip reef shark swam along the ocean floor.
"This isn't even nearly the best of what I've seen," said Ms. Moslim, an instructor for Compass Diving tours, as she came up from the depths.
In March, Ms. Moslim and a team of divers and conservationists set out on a mission to chart these sea sanctuaries in hopes of bringing in a new kind of species here: tourists.
"If these corals will stay strong, the people around them will need the money to keep them safe," said Trudiann Dale, the East Timor country director for Conservation International. "Eco-tourism, if done right, could provide that."
The tiny country of East Timor is surrounded by some of the most magnificent and untouched marine life in the world. Off the island of Atauro alone, researchers have discovered 253 reef fish species, surpassing the world record.
But 16 years after gaining its independence after decades of bloody occupation, East Timor remains the poorest country in Southeast Asia. As politicians struggle to find new economic streams like oil pumping and coffee exports, none have proved powerful enough to raise the country out of poverty.
The question for conservationists and government officials is clear: How can the country both develop tourism and keep its pristine beauty?
"It's a hard thing," said Manuel Mendes, head of the Department of Protected Areas and National Parks for East Timor, noting his country's susceptibility to climate change and drought. "We know that if we just leave it all alone, it will soon be gone."
Around the world, coral is being wiped out. According to the conservation group W.W.F., almost a quarter of coral reefs worldwide are damaged beyond repair. The rest are under threat from rising sea temperatures, harmful fishing practices and vicious tourism.
"We don't want to end up like Bali," said Ms. Dale, referring to the nearby tourist center's "garbage emergency" last year, when nearly 100 tons of garbage washed up on the island's beaches.
Since declaring independence in 2002, after suffering years of harsh occupation by the Indonesian military, East Timor has been struggling to find its feet.
"During the Indonesian time, soldiers would throw grenades in the reef to fish," said Zanuari Marteans, a 60-year-old fisherman from Atauro Island. "We hid in the villages and watched them destroy. We could do nothing."
In the years after independence, the country had one of the highest fertility rates in the region, with almost seven births per mother. Sixteen years later, most of the population is younger than 25, with unemployment on the rise.
Since 2004, almost 80 percent of East Timor's gross domestic product has come from the oil field in the Timor Sea, where reserves are projected to run dry by 2023. In March, the ex-rebel leader and independence hero Xanana Gusmao led negotiations with Australia, expanding East Timor's sea border and giving hopes for an extended deal worth billions more. But discussions on where the oil will be pumped continue, and East Timor is struggling to find jobs for the growing population.
The reef development here is no accident. For generations, local fishermen have safeguarded their supplies of fish by creating marine protected areas. Communities would agree on the boundaries, mark them off and ban fishing there: no nets being dragged around, no rumbling boat motors. In these areas, fish and coral develop untouched, so future generations have a chance to fish them.
In 2016, the East Timorese government started putting these practices into law. It created a budget and started paying rangers to help out. But the budget is minuscule and barely covers the enforcers' salaries.
Accordingly, much of the day-to-day work around the reefs has remained with the fishing communities.
Inside a concrete shack to protect from the hot midday sun, Ms. Dale gathered a group of local fishermen and hotel owners together with Compass Diving, based in Dili, to share ideas for eco-tourism.
Their pristine reef, she explained, could bring in divers from around the world who would pay good money to explore them. The fishermen sat smoking cigarettes with their arms guardedly crossed.
"We don't know where to start," said Lucas Monteioro, 32, a jobless resident of Com. "The community is interested in tourism and making new money, but people here only have the sea."
The truth is that tourism has remained starkly low, with the Asia Foundation estimating that only about 5,000 tourists a year make it to East Timor. Roads are rocky and inaccessible, and flights to get in the country are sparse and expensive.
Given that, eco-tourism is still not a realistic priority for governmental leaders, though there is hope it will improve.
In parts of the country, big-money hotels have already started contracting developments. Government proposals have included turning East Timor into a Macau-like tax haven and casino destination.
But for the fishermen here, the weight of the preservation will remain a central part of their lives.
"These fish are our life, and the reef is their house," said Mr. Marteans, sitting up from an afternoon nap in the warm sand and getting ready for an evening fishing run. "If someone has no house, how can they live?"
A version of this article appears in print on April 9, 2018, on Page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Young Nation Seeks Tourists To Keep Reefs Unspoiled.
Andrew Greene The head of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) has made a historic appearance before a tribunal to argue intelligence files on East Timor and Indonesia cannot yet be released because his agency is too busy.
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, ASIS Director-General Paul Symon fronted the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to respond to a request for 40-year-old documents that cover the period of the Balibo massacre.
The application for the highly-classified papers has come from Canberra-based academic Clinton Fernandes, who has battled since 2014 for access to ASIS intelligence reports on the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.
During his appearance which lasted about an hour, Mr Symon was quizzed over why it had taken ASIS several months to respond to questions from the National Archives.
The ASIS boss explained that in a "disruptive" world his intelligence agency faced many competing pressures and he had to prioritise various tasks and challenges for his staff.
Speaking outside the tribunal, Mr Symon rejected suggestions his organisation was trying to keep secret its knowledge of the events leading up to Indonesia's invasion and the deaths of five Australian newsmen at Balibo in 1975.
"It's not the issue that we won't release documents, we are working through a process and that's what I'm here discussing with the tribunal," Mr Symon said. "It's a pity that its been characterised that we are withholding documents."
Grieg Cunningham, the brother of murdered Channel Seven cameraman Gary Cunningham, said he and other Balibo relatives had already waited too long for answers. "All we need is the truth," Mr Cunningham told the ABC.
"We are not after justice in the respect of vengeance to hang people up or anything like that. We just want to be told what happened. After 43 years, we're entitled to that and I expect it".
But Mr Symon said he did not accept that his organisation was taking too long to release the historic records.
"The process requires my staff to work through those records line by line and to make sure we don't release information that is adverse to our own national interests, that's my responsibility," he said.
"This is not a desire to withhold, this is a desire to make sure I can manage all that the Government asks of the Secret Intelligence Service and balance those priorities against all the other administrative, management, operational issues I've got to manage."
Andrew Greene Australian intelligence operations that took place during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor should stay secret, the head of the country's overseas spy agency will argue today.
In what is believed to be a first, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) director-general Paul Symon is scheduled to appear at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to put forward his organisation's case.
The spy chief's testimony is in response to Canberra-based academic Clinton Fernandes, who has battled since 2014 for access to the 40-year-old ASIS records on East Timor.
At first ASIS and the National Archives insisted that they could not even confirm or deny whether such records existed, claiming that to do so would cause damage to Australia's "security, defence or international relations".
Professor Fernandes challenged this position in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and in February the National Archives backed down, conceding it did in fact have such records.
But National Archives insisted it and ASIS needed up to a year to examine the documents to consider whether they could be released.
"It was common knowledge that Australia was involved in East Timor and was very interested in Indonesia in the 1970s," Professor Fernandes told the ABC.
"To say that even a confirmation that ASIS records exist would harm national security seems ridiculous to me.
"We hope in the proceedings to ask questions that make [ASIS director-general Paul Symon] justify why on national security grounds these materials should continue to be withheld 43 years after the event."
The University of New South Wales academic, who is a former Defence intelligence officer, believes the classified ASIS records could offer more insights into the events leading up to the killing of five Australian journalists in Balibo in 1975.
"We hope to find the extent to which the covert instrument of statecraft was involved," Professor Fernandes said.
"The documents would shed light on Australian diplomacy and Indonesian military operations in Timor. The true facts, the details about the diplomacy and the human intelligence before and after that haven't really been exposed.
"It would be a real victory for all of us concerned with transparency. What is the intelligence, the Secret Intelligence Service telling us about developments in Timor or foreknowledge about the killings of those journalists?"
Family of Balibo Five victim want documents made public
Greig Cunningham, the brother of Balibo Five victim Gary Cunningham, told the ABC he supported Professor Fernandes' push for the documents' release.
"All strength to him. I hope he is successful. We have been trying since 1975 to get the truth about what happened in Balibo in that time. We've hit a brick wall all the time from our own Government," Mr Cunningham said. "This is something we desperately need, we desperately want. We want justice."
Mr Cunningham said he believed there was more information about what was happening in Balibo before his brother was killed to which ASIS would have access.
"We've had eyewitness accounts, but we actually know that there is more information that the Indonesians have access to. I believe that ASIS do. But they still are refusing to keep it for us," he said.
"They don't realise the ripples of effect. It destroys some families. It's destroyed the backgrounds to people," he said.
"All we need is the truth. We are not after justice in the respect of vengeance to hang people up or anything like that. We just want to be told what happened. After 43 years, we're entitled to that, and I expect it."
Much of the proceedings in today's historic tribunal hearing will be kept secret after acting Attorney-General Greg Hunt last week agreed to an ASIS request that part of its evidence be given in private.
In a letter dated April 19 explaining his decision, Mr Hunt said he had "given serious consideration to all the material and the reasons for and against the disclosure of the information". "I have determined that the disclosure of this information would be contrary to the public interest by reason that it would prejudice the security, defence or international relations of Australia," the letter said.
"Therefore I am satisfied that it is necessary to issue a public interest certificate to protect the information they contain. This certificate will also cover any information given as evidence that discloses the contents of the confidential affidavit."
Professor Fernandes said the move meant ASIS would be able to give its evidence in secret and he would not be able to hear it, but will later be asked by the tribunal to respond to it.
Among the historic ASIS records Professor Fernandes is also hoping to have released are those covering the spy agency's operations in Chile before the 1973 coup.
Chilean president Salvadore Allende was overthrown by military forces who installed dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Two officers from ASIS were stationed in Santiago following a formal request from the United States, but little else is known about their activities.
"ASIS ran agents in Chile for the United States, and if the United States can release 16,000 pages of records on its involvement in the coup in Chile, surely Australia can do the same," Professor Fernandes said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has refused to explain why documents about Australian spy operations during the Indonesian occupation of East Timor should remain secret.
Since 2014, Canberra academic Clinton Fernandes has been trying to get access to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service's 43-year old records about East Timor through the National Archives of Australia.
The overseas secret intelligence director general Paul Symon was due to argue against release at an Administrative Appeals Tribunal private hearing on Friday.
"It is not the practice of the Australian government to comment on intelligence matters," Ms Bishop told reporters in Sydney. She said the matter was before the tribunal and it would be inappropriate for her to provide a running commentary.
Professor Fernandes said his legal team hopes in the proceedings to ask questions that make ASIS justify why on national security grounds the materials should continue to be withheld 43 years after the event.
"It was common knowledge that Australia was involved in East Timor and was very interested in Indonesia in the 1970s," the University of New South Wales professor told the ABC.
He believes the documents could shed light on events leading up to the 1975 deaths of five Australian journalists at Balibo.
Mary Aileen Bacalso, Manila In predominantly Catholic Timor-Leste, which is battling an exploding population, an estimated 4,500 children were plucked from the bosom of their families and taken to Indonesia over two decades ago. Now they are trying to come home.
The exodus of those children from their homeland occurred at the height of a series of violent conflicts between separatist groups and the Indonesian military from 1974 to 1999.
A report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation noted that the widespread practice of removing children from their homes "displayed a mindset that by taking control of Timor-Leste's territory, Indonesia also gained unfettered control over its children."
Indonesia soldiers, and even civilians in power in Timor-Leste, felt that they were entitled to take an East Timorese child home without their parents' permission.
In 2015, I was fortunate to have personally witnessed the most humanly gratifying outcome every human rights worker on the theme of enforced disappearances can have: the identification and reunification of long disappeared children, now adults, with their biological families.
There were 14 of them taking the plane from Indonesia to the now independent country of Timor-Leste to meet, for the first time in decades, with their long lost families.
On that day, poignant stories were told by the children of Timor-Leste, one of the newest members of the United Nations and a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Theirs were stories of grief and longing, of refusal to forget their identity, of child labor, of sexual exploitation, of poverty and lack of education, of remembering and reconstructing historical memories.
Isabelinha Pinto was taken from her parents at the tender age of five. A soldier took her because he had no daughter.
In Indonesia, Isabelinha did not forget what her father told her: "You have to be strong, honest and brave." She took her father's word to heart, and survived. A cousin found her.
After reunifying with her parents, Isabelinha volunteered to find other children like her. She became instrumental in facilitating the search for Timorese children in Indonesia.
Victor da Costa, who works for Indonesian human rights group Kontras, was taken from his home in Timor when he was 4 years old.
When he came of age, he went back to Timor-Leste only to find that he had already been declared dead, thus a ritual had to be performed for his soul to return from the dead.
"I had mixed feelings of sadness and anger when I learned that I already had my own grave," he said.
A study titled "Long Journey Home" includes the testimonies of 65 children who were reunified with their parents. They speak of alienation and constant longing, of deception of their changed identities; of the trauma of war, of slavery, torture, and ill treatment, and of the challenges of reunification.
Marco Antonio Garavito Fernandez, director of the Liga Guatemalteca de Higiene Mental of Guatemala, emphasized the utmost importance of mending broken hearts of both the children and their biological families.
On the day when the 14 stolen children were coming home from Indonesia, Marco made paper cutouts of hearts. One piece of each of the hearts was given to family members who were waiting for their disappeared loved ones. The other pieces were with the children.
When the pieces of the hearts were put together, indelible scars remain, but the broken hearts were one again.
Various groups in Timor-Leste and Indonesia have been working hard to find the truth and facilitate the much-needed healing of surviving stolen children and their families.
In ferreting out the truth, in attaining justice, in facilitating the much-needed healing and reparation, both Timor-Leste and Indonesia must assert the power of memory against forgetting.
Addressing human rights violations during the Indonesian occupation can lead to the healing of wounds, however difficult, and stop the bleeding in Timor-Leste. It could be the most precious gift to the children.
Searching for them is a sacred act that both civil society organizations and the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste must continue struggling for.
Guteriano Neves For the third time in less than a year, Timorese are going to cast their votes. The early election, scheduled for May 12 is the direct consequence of failed political negotiations among the parties. They failed to form a coalition government with majority support in Parliament and the minority government formed by FRETILIN and the Democratic Party was unable to pass a budget prompting Parliament's dissolution and the early election.
Tension is high among political elites, reflected in campaign rhetoric. At the same time, nearly all the political parties are concerned with Timor-Leste's current development challenges and future trajectory. These challenges are related to limited employment opportunity for the youth and demographic pressure, low agriculture productivity leading to the import dependency, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public resources, and more importantly, the state's dependence on the Petroleum Fund account to finance the budget. Moreover, despite big spending on infrastructure, complaints over poor infrastructure, and the poor service delivery are facets of daily conversations.
There are even deeper problems. Timor-Leste's political and economic institutions a legacy of history and circumstance hinder efforts to address the country's economic ills.
In the last decade, Timor-Leste has followed in the steps of oil-dependent countries, perceiving money as the solution to every problem. Public spending is the easiest policy instrument. Between 2008 and 2015, on average, government expenditure was 77 percent of non-oil GDP. Between 2009 until 2017, on average, the government's budget grew by 14 percent annually, whereas non-oil GDP grew at 5.7 percent annually.
This imbalance between spending and growth contributes to a variety of economic problems. When the government has money, its tendency is to spend it as quickly as possible. In this way, budget execution becomes a key performance indicator for ministries. Import dependency is the direct consequences of such government spending incentivizing household consumption. Demand for goods and services, from both the public administration and private sector, turns to imports when domestic supply is unavailable.
The injection of petroleum money into the domestic market also drives the domestic prices up, making inputs for domestic production more expensive and less competitive. This then undermines the government's efforts to diversify the economy, particularly in the agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing sectors. Facing this structural problem, instead of looking for a long-term solution, some politicians turn to subsidies to prop up domestic producers.
More importantly, while all the parties are critical of each other for these challenges and the failure of previous governments, none of them are proposing new approaches, let alone radical new ideas. Close observation of ongoing public debates reveals that nearly all political parties fall into the same trap: seeing money as the solution to every problem. Consequently they tend to opt for the same policy prescription: public spending. Where they differ however is the "micro-management" in which some promise to do better by improving the "quality of spending" or reorganization of budget allocation across sectors.
Cutting public spending is the most important policy position that the next government needs to commit to. This is not only a way to prolong the life of the Petroleum Fund, but more importantly, to change the incentives that have contributed to Timor-Leste's economic dysfunction. This may slow economic growth. Nevertheless, it is a strategic option if the government aims to increase domestic productivity, reduce demand for imported goods and services, and improve the efficiency of public spending.
However, the real challenge for decision-makers will come from the political side. As the politicians are used to big spending, it becomes challenging for them to cut the budget, even when revenues are already falling. This requires efforts to adjust ambitious plans already underway, and cut unnecessary spending to sustain the already costly public administration. Further, unnecessary subsidies need to be cut. At this point, the budget already stands at $1.5 billion annually. The recurrent expenditure already exceeds $1 billion.
Meanwhile, although the government's spending is already disproportionate, people in rural areas, particularly outside of Dili, are demanding better quality service delivery and better infrastructure. To make things worse, party leaders campaign with a lot of promises, including increasing subsidies. People who are used to various kinds of government subsidies will continue to demand them. It is difficult for any politician to campaign based on budget cuts and subsidy slashes.
More importantly, government spending has given rise to a small "rentier class," primarily in Dili. These are people who have relied on the informal connections with Dili's elites to make disproportionate profit from government contracts. Although street discussions admit that the rentier class exist in every major political party, the issue is not touched. Given that the rentier class is influential in term of financing political campaigns, it makes sense to speculate that any efforts to cut the budget will always pose threats to the interests of the rentier class which politicians need to get elected.
The challenge for the upcoming government is how to navigate through this complex reality. On the one hand, if it is serious about increasing domestic productivity, it has to change the economic incentives. Based on the existing context, the best way to do so is through budget cuts. On the other hand, the new government will have to manage divergent interests, particularly powerful groups who have been benefited disproportionately from the existing economic structure and have influence over political decisions.
Guteriano Neves is a Dili-based independent policy analyst. This article reflects the author's personal opinion.
David Hutt The campaign season is now in its second week in Timor-Leste ahead of another general election on May 12. Last July's election led to a weak minority government that failed to pass its mandate, forcing the country's president in February to call for another ballot.
The path to the upcoming general election for Timor-Leste has been a rather complicated and event-filled one. Last year, Fretilin secured just a little over 1,000 more votes than the second placed party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT). As such, Fretilin won 23 seats in parliament and the CNRT 22 seats. But even when backed with the seven seats of the Democratic Party (PD), Fretilin could only form a minority government.
Nonetheless, in September, recently elected President Francisco Guterres (a leading member of Fretilin) allowed the minority government to try to form a mandate. Soon afterwards, three opposition parties the CNRT, the People's Liberation Party (PLP), and the youth-aligned KHUNTO formed a coalition, the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP). With a majority of parliamentarians (35), the AMP twice blocked the minority government's program, meaning that the president had no choice but to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.
Amid the campaigning that has commenced ahead of polls, however, it has been interesting to watch the shape of coalitions being formed. When the Court of Appeals in March released the official list of political parties that will compete next month, most had entered into informal coalitions.
This seemingly minor point has significance because Timor-Leste has no great history of electoral alliances. At last year's election, for example, ballots were cast for 20 different parties. There was only one alliance, the Popular Unity Bloc (BUP) composed of three small parties, which secured just 0.9 percent of the vote.
By contrast, in the upcoming election, there will be four coalitions, and only four parties will compete outside of an alliance, including Fretilin and the PD. The other two the Hope of the Fatherland Party (PEP) and the Republican Party (PR) won just a few thousand votes each last year.
One of the four coalitions, the most important will be the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), the continuation of the CNRT-PLP-KHUNTO coalition that was formed in parliamentary opposition last year. Collectively, the three parties won 46.5 percent of the vote last year and are expected to poll well next month. And if they again win 35 seats this year, they will be able to form a majority government.
Another coalition is the Democratic Development Front (FDD), which is composed of United Party for Development and Democracy (PUDD), the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), and Frenti-Mudanca, a former Fretilin breakaway faction. When combined, these parties won 6.4 percent of the vote at last year's general election.
Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Movement (MSD) combines four left-wing parties that, together, won 2.4 percent of the vote last year. Last is the National Development Movement (MDN), an alliance of four small parties, that, when combined, won roughly 1.4 percent of the vote last year.
A recent article by Michael Leach, a Professor of Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University of Technology, pointed out that some of Timor-Leste's smaller parties, most of which failed to win the 4 percent threshold needed to gain a seat in parliament, have formed coalitions in the hope of attaining some power. Indeed, if the FDD alliance parties this year attain a similar number of votes as last year, they would win a handful of seats in parliament.
In terms of actually having an impact on the next election, Leach writes that the coalitions will likely be a detriment to Fretilin. First, they could steal a handful of seats that might make the difference between a minority and majority government. Indeed, Leach thinks that it is likely that Fretilin will "need to exceed its 2017 vote share" in this year's ballot if it is to win power. Second, it is probable that some of the coalitions, if they win seats, would be more supportive of the AMP than Fretilin. The left-wing MSD alliance, for example, would probably support the AMP's agenda of more investment in education and social welfare. Potentially, a smaller coalition could enter into an alliance with the AMP after the election in order to form a majority government.
So might the PD. So far, there are indications that the PD, which joined Fretilin in its minority government, will continue cooperating with the major party while campaigning. But some political observers have detected hesitation within the PD ranks over whether to again back Fretilin or, instead, opt for the AMP coalition.
But the importance of the new coalition is more than just how it will rattle the big players. Before last year's general election, Fretilin and the CNRT together held power for several years as part of the "national unity" government, an attempt in 2015 to put the two historic parties' differences and antagonisms aside for the sake of stability. Some analysts thought this unity would continue after last year's election, though that wasn't the case.
Following this, a number of political observers grew gloomy over Timor-Leste's democracy. Many warned that it could precipitate unhealthy partisanship and create instability; some said it could potentially lead to the division and violence seen in 2006. From Leach's recent article, one can detect slight cynicism about the events of last year. He wrote:
"In the wash-up from 2017, two things are clear. The era of national unity is effectively over, and this election campaign will reflect a far more polarized environment. Timor-Leste also missed the opportunity of the 'double handover,' the two changes in power that are often seen as a key indicator of democratic consolidation."
I have welcomed a return of some partisanship to Timor-Leste. After all, the "national unity" government effectively did away with any political opposition, which forced then-President Tuar Matan Ruak to go beyond his constitutional duties in holding the government to account, and later saw him co-found the PLP.
But the prospective new era of political alliances is arguably a sign of greater accord among some political parties, though in a way that will make sure that disparate views and opinions are not sidelined for the sake of "stability" or "consensus politics." Indeed, most of the smaller parties (some of which are simply vehicles for individual politicians) will now have to compromise and debate with their alliance partners, which can only be a good thing. And, if they are successful, we could see new politicians and parties enter parliament. Recent elections have seen the number of parties in parliament restricted to just a handful, compared to 12 parties winning seats in 2001 and seven in 2007 (the 2007 election saw two small alliances win seats).
As for the "double handover" of power, this could have been a problem for East Timorese democracy. But the solution that was found ought to be seen as a victory for the country's democratic future. It didn't succumb to violence, nor did the minority Fretilin-PD government cling onto power unconstitutionally. Indeed, last year's parliamentary impasse is now to be solved democratically through fresh elections next month.
As a result, Timor-Leste can stand proud as arguably the most democratic nation in Southeast Asia even more so as the rest of the region now succumbs to even greater autocracy and tyranny.
Michael Leach Timor-Leste returns to the polls on 12 May, almost ten months after last July's election failed to produce a sustainable government.
Fretilin won the largest number of seats at that election, twenty-three, but managed to recruit only one other party, the Democratic Party, or PD, to a governing alliance. Together, they could muster just thirty seats in the sixty-five-seat parliament. Installed in September as the country's first minority government by president Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres (also from Fretilin), the alliance soon ran into trouble as opposition parties combined to form a post-election alliance controlling thirty-five seats, then known as the Parliamentary Majority Alliance, or AMP. By October the government's program had been rejected by the new majority alliance in the parliament.
The four-week campaign, which started today, will see Fretilin go head to head with the coalition of three opposition parties, now called the Aliansa Mudanca ba Progresso (Change for Progress Alliance, or AMP). Led by former prime minister Xanana Gusmao's CNRT, the coalition also includes former president Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party PLP, and a smaller youth-focused party, KHUNTO, which secured five seats last July.
Dili was quiet on day one of the campaign, with Fretilin kicking off its campaign in the district of Manatuto and the AMP in Ainaro. But the election promises to be far tenser than last year's campaign, which followed an unprecedented era of national unity between 2015 and 2017, and a period of government best seen as an informal power-sharing executive between CNRT and Fretilin. After its July win, Fretilin hoped for confidence-and-supply arrangements with other parties, but none was forthcoming. In the end, the government's program was never formally rejected for a second time, which would have led to its fall, as Fretilin's parliamentary tactics not only delayed its second presentation but also delayed or legally challenged no-confidence motions from the opposition. Once six months had passed since the July election, the president was entitled to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. Relations between the major parties are now at a low point.
With parties combining forces for different strategic reasons, just eight parties and coalitions will contest next month's poll, considerably fewer than last year's twenty-one contestants. The AMP's combination of three parties that received 29.5, 10.5 and 6.5 per cent respectively in 2017 strategically maximises their chances of finishing first and gaining a clear majority or, failing that, leading a new cross-party government as the largest parliamentary force.
Some smaller parties have formed pre-election coalitions in the hope of exceeding the 4 per cent threshold required to gain seats. The most significant of these is the Democratic Development Front, or FDD, combining sub-threshold parties that did relatively well in 2017: PUDD (2.8 per cent in 2017), UDT (2 per cent) and Frente Mundanca (1.6 per cent). Significantly, this group is openly oriented towards the AMP. If it exceeds 4 per cent, it will also reduce the number of seats the major parties can gather an outcome likely to particularly disadvantage to Fretilin, which would need to exceed its 2017 vote share.
Another smaller coalition, the Social Democratic Movement, or MSD, combines the Socialist Party of Timor with elements of two formerly medium-sized parties, the ASDT and the PSD. The MSD's prospects are at least reasonable, though it would need a swing on 2017 results to exceed the threshold. It, too, is likely to support the AMP in the event of success.
The PD, meanwhile, showed last year that its 9.5 per cent vote was resilient in the face of new challengers. All reports suggest relations between Fretilin and the PD continue to be good and that the two parties will be cooperative on the campaign trail, though there are also some signs of continuing internal divisions within PD over their orientation to the two major forces.
Fretilin promised to take its program to the people if parliament rejected it, and will run in 2018 with a bold new slogan, reminiscent of Australia's Whitlam era, "Timor-Leste Cannot Wait Any Longer: It's Time." The AMP is running with several new slogans, including 'Together Unite the Nation," using posters seeking to take advantage of their two major resistance leaders, Gusmao and Ruak. While this leader-focused approach narrowly failed for the CNRT in 2017, when Fretilin's emphasis on development issues saw them narrowly home, the AMP has doubled down with two historic leaders of the resistance. Some AMP posters also feature the words "red line" in English, referring to a traditional oath or pledge taken by some voters last year to support Ruak and the PLP, a pledge now called into the service of the AMP. For its part, civil society has called for a new focus on policies rather than personalities, and for parties to refrain from personal attacks.
Fretilin showed its longer-term 30 per cent vote share was resilient at last year's election. With new challengers on the non-Fretilin side of politics in 2017, this proved enough for the party to edge in front. But the scale of the challenge facing Fretilin over the next few weeks is evident in the collective vote share of the AMP's constituent parties, which represented 46.5 per cent of the 2017 vote. The AMP's formation means that the individual fortunes of the constituent parties will be unknown this time, though it will be interesting to watch if the vote changes from the combined total received last year.
Several new factors may also affect next month's vote. Will Fretilin's vote be affected by the parliamentary standoff of late 2017, or will its program attract new voters? Will the PLP's share of the vote be affected by the combination with Gusmao, with support from the Baucau-based veterans groups an important vote base in 2017 now reportedly divided? While the combination of Gusmao and Ruak makes sense as reuniting old comrades, some PLP supporters might also mark the party down for having run last year on a promise to spend more on basic development health, education and agriculture but then joining forces with the party most associated with megaproject-style development. Whether these factors prove electorally significant is another question, however, as much of the PLP vote came from the CNRT support base, and so the net effect on the AMP vote may be minor. Some in the PLP also hope that the new combination of Gusmao and Ruak will moderate the development focus of the CNRT, orienting it more towards basic development indicators. And if the AMP wins, it may nominate Ruak himself for PM, with Gusmao returning to a similar role in development as he held in the 2015 17 government.
How the new maritime boundary treaty is deployed in the campaign is another interesting question. Gusmao, as the chief negotiator, celebrated the agreement on his return to Timor-Leste, having secured a median line boundary and an increased share of Greater Sunrise revenues. But he also quickly signalled the likelihood of a new nationalist campaign to see the oil and gas processed onshore in Timor-Leste. In the context of an election campaign, this gives his coalition two powerful nationalist themes.
As the election approaches, the AMP has the advantage of size, and will clearly be a formidable force on 12 May. The likely support of the smaller coalition most likely to take seats is another factor in its favour. For its part, Fretilin can probably rely on the support of the PD, and has the open support of important independents like Jose Ramos-Horta, who has thrown his support behind the minority government. In addition, the influential former Fretilin figure, Abilio Araujo, a notable supporter of PLP in 2017, has returned to the Fretilin fold in 2018. The Catholic Church, once a major critic of Fretilin, has also been relatively supportive of the minority government.
In the wash-up from 2017, two things are clear. The era of national unity is effectively over, and this election campaign will reflect a far more polarised environment. Timor-Leste also missed the opportunity of the "double handover," the two changes in power that are often seen as a key indicator of democratic consolidation. Nonetheless, whatever the outcome, the stripe of any new government is unlikely to replicate previous formations. It may be that non-Fretilin politics takes a permanent new shape, raising the question of when a leadership transition is likely within Fretilin. In the meantime, domestic and international observers will be hoping that the pact of national unity signed by the parties last week holds as the major parties face off next month.
Euan Moyle A landmark agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste has finally marked their maritime borders and exclusive economic zones, which have been a sore point in relations between the two countries. The agreement is one of the first conciliations under the dispute framework set out under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and has been touted by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as a new chapter in relations between the two nations.
The treaty settles the long-running dispute over the Timor Sea, which holds significant oil and gas reserves worth up to $US30 billion. However, disagreement remains over profit sharing from resource extraction and suspicion in Dili of Australian conduct throughout the decades-long process of conciliation.
The issue of the Timor Sea has been long-running, involving not only Australia and Timor-Leste but also Portugal, Timor-Leste's colonial administrators, and Indonesia which invaded and occupied the territory from 1975 to 1999.
Australia first attempted to engage with Portugal on the border issue in the 1970s. However, Lisbon rebuffed Australian attempts to mediate to wait until international maritime law negotiations the precursor to UNCLOS were concluded, in the hopes it would secure a better deal. After Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste, Australia and Indonesia negotiated continental shelf boundaries in 1971. Another treaty signed in 1989, the Timor Gap Treaty, stipulated joint resource exploration in the Greater Sunrise gas and oil field and set an equal share of revenue from resources extracted from the seabed. However, two years later, Lisbon commenced proceedings against Australia in the International Court of Justice because, as the recognised administrating power of the territory prior to Indonesia's invasion in 1975, Portugal saw the treaty as unlawful. The ICJ ruled against Portugal, and the treaty remained in force until Indonesia's withdrawal from Timor in 1999.
In 2002, just weeks before Timor-Leste achieved independence, Australia withdrew from a UNCLOS law stipulating compulsory dispute resolution through an international body, possibly to stall negotiations over the Greater Sunrise field and maintain Australian control as agreed with Indonesia in the 1970s. After Timor-Leste's independence, Canberra renegotiated new boundaries and signed the Timor Sea Treaty which set another joint development area, with 90% of revenue going to Timor-Leste and 10% to Australia. It also put a hold on Timorese border expansion into the territory for fifty years. Nonetheless, Dili continued to push for a resolution to the outstanding issue of the Greater Sunrise field.
Australia has been accused of being a bully in its long-running dispute with Timor-Leste, with relations between the two nations souring even before the conciliation process begun in 2016. In 2004, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service bugged the Palace of Government in Dili, including its cabinet rooms, under the guise of an aid project. The information received reportedly gave Australia an upper hand in treaty negotiations in 2006. This action prompted domestic and international criticism, and anger from Dili. Former President of Timor-Leste and chief negotiator during the current round of treaty negotiations Xanana Gusmao has also accused Australia of colluding with oil and gas companies to aid their case. Companies including Shell, Conoco Phillips and Australian conglomerate Woodside all contributed to the conciliation process at the UN and have expressed interest in further developing the Greater Sunrise area.
Timor-Leste long considered Australia a close friend owing to its role in Timor-Leste's independence and nation building. However, because of Australia's continued legal stalling, anti-Australian sentiment has risen significantly in Dili which views Canberra as illegally occupying resources which Timor-Leste rightfully owns.
The new treaty gives Australia and Timor-Leste a chance to rebuild their relationship and sets an important precedent as maritime military expansion and projection becomes more common in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However, recent international arbitration in the region has been marked by failure, a trend which this decision is not likely to be significant enough to reverse.
The case of the South China Sea and China's extensive maritime claims and militarisation is instructive. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that, under UNCLOS, China's claims in the South China Sea were illegal and its activities infringed on the Philippines' exclusive economic zone. China did not accept the ruling, suggesting that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction. With the region becoming increasingly tense and China indicating it will ignore the jurisdiction of international arbitration courts despite being a signatory to UNCLOS, the success of Australia and Timor-Leste's negotiations under the UNCLOS conciliation process will likely not help convince other states to come to the negotiating table over other issues. Large states have often ignored the jurisdiction of international law when they are ruled against, especially in issues surrounding sovereignty. Rulings against the US in the ICJ in 1986 and 2003, Britain in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2015, and Japan in the ICJ in 2014 were all ignored and the jurisdiction of the courts questioned. This considered, despite the success of the treaty, the future for international law will be less certain if states continue to flout international rules and norms.
The continued uncertainty of resource ownership in the Greater Sunrise area will continue to be a major issue for both Australia and Timor-Leste. Negotiations are still ongoing as to where to process gas and oil either in an existing processing terminal in Darwin, where 80% of profits would be given to Timor-Leste, or at a facility on the southern Timorese coast where Timor-Leste would enjoy 70% of the profits. Even then, by using already existing facilities by transferring through Darwin, Timor-Leste is estimated to only receive around US$8 billion over a period of about 20 years. If negotiations stall for any extended period, there are indications that Timor could become bankrupt as other oil and gas sources in the country are exhausted and it withdraws large amounts from its sovereign wealth fund. Canberra would be deeply uncomfortable with this given the cost of peacekeeping missions and the opportunity a failed Timor-Leste could give China to further grow its influence through aid and development funding. The confusion surrounding resource ownership may be frustrating for Australia, but for the impoverished Timor-Leste, it presents a far direr situation without diversifying its economy out of oil and gas, the Greater Sunrise area may be more of a problem than an economic opportunity.
Clive Schofield and Bec Strating On March 6, 2018, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a landmark treaty that draws permanent maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. The treaty is the result of the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation (UNCC) processes that have facilitated negotiations between the two states for over a year. This represents an important symbolic victory for Timor-Leste, as Australia had been reluctant to establish permanent maritime boundaries.
This does not mean that the Timor Sea saga is over. Maritime boundaries are only one aspect in this complex set of disputes. It's still to be determined whether gas from the Greater Sunrise complex of gas fields in the Sea is piped to Timor-Leste or Australia for processing, and this decision will, in turn, dictate the revenue split.
The new treaty provides two options for the development of Greater Sunrise with a different split in revenues depending on which direction the pipeline runs. If the pipeline goes to Timor-Leste, Australia will receive 30 percent of the upstream revenue arising from the development. Should the gas be pumped to Darwin, Australia will get only 20 percent of the upstream revenue. This "extra" 10 percent of upstream revenue that Timor-Leste would receive if it loses the pipeline has been estimated to be worth US$3.1-3.5 billion.
The timely development of Greater Sunrise is a crucial strategic consideration for Timor-Leste. More than 90 percent of Timor-Leste's national budget comes from oil revenues from fields that will be depleted in less than five years, and the government will exhaust Timor-Leste's sovereign wealth fund within a decade at its present rate of expenditure. If Timor-Leste secures the pipeline, it will receive less upstream revenue but instead will gain lucrative downstream industrial and job-creation developments that necessarily flow from the processing of gas and other resources.
But Timor-Leste's leaders will have to confront unpalatable commercial realities about their pipeline dream.
Independent oil and gas industry experts have argued that the pipeline to Australia is the only option that makes commercial sense. It would take advantage of existing pipelines that connect mature oil fields to their associated onshore processing facilities in Australia, and it would avoid the technical and financial challenges of constructing a pipeline that traverses the Timor Trough. Additionally, a pipeline to Australia would mean that Greater Sunrise commercial venture partners could avoid the risks associated with building new processing facilities in a developing country such as Timor-Leste.
Timor-Leste's proposal could only occur with a direct subsidy of $5.6 billion by the government of Timor-Leste (or another funder), and it would only provide a mere 7 percent return on a capital investment of $15.6 billion. There is next to no evidence on the public record showing the economic viability of the pipeline to Timor-Leste, nor is there a cost-benefit analysis clearly demonstrating the economic benefits of the planned processing plant for Timorese citizens.
Despite this, Timor-Leste's politicians have invested significant political capital in not only "winning" the boundary dispute but also in bringing the pipeline to Timor-Leste's shores and thus securing investment, industry, jobs, and development. In particular, Timor-Leste's main negotiator and former prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, has been explicit in stating that having the pipeline go to Timor-Leste is non-negotiable. This rhetoric has been used by successive governments since Gusmao first became prime minister in 2007. The pursuit of maritime boundaries (reinvigorated in 2012) was largely driven by the fact that Timor-Leste failed to persuade Woodside Petroleum and the other commercial partners that its pipeline plan was viable.
Timor-Leste's political situation is currently uncertain as it goes back to the polls in May following the failure of 2017 elections to enable the formation of an authoritative government. During this interregnum, the pipeline has again become a totemic issue in politics. This may ultimately constitute a rhetorical trap: given commercial realities, Timor-Leste's leadership risks hemming themselves into a corner by being unable to compromise on the pipeline. If the pipeline really is a non-negotiable issue, this is likely to have significant impacts on the future development capacities of the Timorese state.
Timor-Leste appears to be finding its discussions with commercial partners far tougher than those with Australia. While Australia was motivated to reach a settlement with Timor-Leste by the desire to remove a persistent irritant in bilateral relations (as well as to remove a source of censure for Australia on the international stage), the commercial partners are not subject to the same pressures. Timor-Leste may find that Woodside's priorities do not readily align with Timorese desires particularly concerning the direction of the pipeline and the rapidity of development.
Against this backdrop, the question is whether the 10 percent "compensation" for the pipeline heading to Australia will be enough to persuade a change of heart in Dili. This would provide the best chance for Timor-Leste to seize the opportunity for developing Greater Sunrise in the near term. Otherwise, the chance to secure Timor-Leste's economic future through the Timor Gap will disappear.