The lawyer representing a former-Australian-spy-turned-whistleblower in an East Timor bugging saga has called for a Senate inquiry.
"It's a litmus test on our moral leadership," Bernard Collaery told a rally of about 50 people outside Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.
The man known only as Witness K, continues to be denied a passport by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The former Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent was a key witness for East Timor in a case against Australia over allegations Dili's cabinet rooms were bugged during negotiations over a gas and oil treaty in 2004.
Witness K was supposed to give evidence at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague but had been unable to leave Australia because his passport was seized in 2012.
East Timor in January dropped the spy case against Australia as an act of goodwill ahead of negotiations on a maritime boundary.
Dili notified Canberra that it wished to tear up a 2006 treaty which split 50-50 future revenue of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The reserve contains gas and oil worth an estimated $50 billion but how the share of the spoils will be divided up must now be revisited. Australia and the East Timor government are taking part in conciliation in The Hague.
The domestic spy agency ASIO has no problems with returning Witness K's passport but ASIS continues to stand in the way.
Timor Sea Justice campaigner Peter Job told AAP a broader Senate inquiry was needed to examine Australia's history of "bullying" East Timor over the years as well as the Witness K saga.
Helen Davidson A journalist has avoided jail over an erroneous article about the now prime minister of Timor-Leste, after a Dili court threw out the criminal defamation charges.
Raimundos Oki, a senior reporter for the Timor Post, and his former editor Lourenco Martins Vicente, were found not guilty of "slanderous denunciation on Thursday at the district court in Dili.
"You are free, you can return to your normal activities and please be careful in reporting news," judge Ivan Goncalves said. Prosecutors had pushed for one year's jail for Oki and a two-year suspended sentence for Martins.
"The victory does not belong to me and Lourenco Vicente but it belongs to those who believes in freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Timor-Leste and all over the countries in the world," Oki said. "I thank you very much to all of the supporters fighting against criminal defamation."
The November 2015 article claimed Rui Maria de Araujo, as an adviser to the finance minister, had recommended a winning bid for a government supply contract, but misnamed the company.
Under Timor-Leste press law, Araujo was given a right of reply the following week, and a correction of Oki's report and apology was published the following day.
But in January 2016, Araujo who became prime minister in early 2015 filed a criminal defamation suit, and the case then lay with prosecutors.
Timorese and international human rights and press freedom organisations campaigned for the government to step in. Forty-eight hours before Thursday's hearing Araujo wrote to the court advocating against jail time for Oki and Martins.
Supporters of the journalists said the case threatened freedom of the press in the young democracy, and called for the government not to use the penal code against journalists instead of established communications law.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Timor-Leste Press Union and the Timor-Leste Journalists Association, welcomed the court's decision.
The IFJ general secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: "This is a pivotal victory for press freedom in Timor Leste and reinforcement of national and international solidarity against criminal defamation and an attempt to send journalists to jail for simply doing their jobs."
However Bellanger added the organisation remained "gravely concerned" at how far the case had gotten. "Timor Leste decriminalised defamation in 2009, and yet here we are in 2017, dealing with this case," he said.
"The lives of Oki and Lourenco have been deeply impacted by this case. Now we just hope they can get on with their work and doing the important job of keeping the public informed and undertaking their investigations without fear of jail."
Jose Belo, Timorese journalist and former head of the Timor-Leste press union, suggested the case would have a chilling effect on journalists.
"Other journalists will be afraid to do serious stories. This is a beginning of a new era, where the politicians will do whatever they can to put a journalist in jail," he said.
Michael Vincent The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has hailed as a victory the acquittal of two journalists in East Timor who had faced the threat of jail for a story they wrote about Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo in 2015.
Journalist Raimundos Oki and his former editor Lourenco Vicente Martins were facing charges of "slanderous denunciation" after Oki wrote an article mistakenly naming a company it claimed Mr Araujo had backed for a government contract.
They apologised and the IFJ said they printed a correction the next day, but Mr Araujo claimed the article damaged his reputation and pressed the criminal defamation charges.
Reporters and supporters had taken to the streets of Dili to protest the charges with prosecutors seeking a one year jail term for Oki. Oki also received support from former Timorese president Taur Matan Ruak and Australian journalist Peter Greste.
Only in the last week did the Prime Minister declare he did not want them jailed. On Thursday, a court in Dili threw out the case.
The IFJ said it is a pivotal victory against criminal defamation laws and those trying to send journalists to jail for trying to their jobs.
It had previously warned Mr Araujo that "the resorting to punitive criminal action can be viewed only by our organisations as draconian and disproportionate".
It also said the charging of the two journalists "threatened to significantly undermine press freedom in Timor Leste by engendering a culture of fear and intimidation among journalists who report on issues of national import".
Thomas Ora, Dili The Catholic Church in Timor-Leste has urged political parties not only to compete for parliamentary seats but also to ramp up their efforts to reduce poverty and improve the lives of people ahead of parliamentary elections next month.
Twenty-one parties will compete for 65 parliamentary seats in an election scheduled for July 22. The National Election Commission kicked off the election campaign on June 20 which will end July 19.
"The most important thing is that political parties take concrete action to improve the lives of today's poor," said Father Herminio Goncalves, chairman of Dili Diocese's Justice and Peace Commission.
While more than 80 percent of people rely on agriculture, there has been no breakthroughs in the agricultural sector. Rice fields have dried up because there is poor irrigation, is a notable case.
According to the government poverty in Timor-Leste is decreasing with the national poverty rate having fallen from 50.4 percent in 2007 to 41.8 percent in 2014. The country's GDP per capita has also improved from US$762.17 in 1999 to US$983.50 in 2015, the last time it was recorded.
However, the poverty rate remains high in the country. Many people remain without electricity or sanitation, malnutrition, unemployment and poor education, church leaders and observers say.
"This is a serious problem that needs immediate attention from parties," Father Goncalves said on June 26. The priest also said the church will continue voicing these concerns throughout the campaign.
According to the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit and nonpartisan organization committed to advancing freedom and democracy worldwide, the Fretilin party and CNRT (National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction) established by Xanana Gusmao in 2007 are the election frontrunners, followed by the Democratic Party and the newly established People's Liberation Party by former president Taur Matan Ruak.
Justino Sapalo Ximenes, dean of faculty of law at the University of Dili, said Fretilin and CNRT would likely dominate parliament, while the Democrats and People's Liberation will struggle.
The present Timor-Leste parliament has Fretilin with 25 seats, CNRT with 30 seats, the Democrat Party with eight, while the Frenti Mudanca has two seats. "It's important for parties to focus on people's welfare, not on how to rise to power. Otherwise, they will die out," said Ximenes.
Former president and CNRT leader, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, told thousands of supporters last week that under his leadership there have been many pro-poor programs.
Gusmao said his party has played a crucial role in preserving peace, unity and stability, which are fundamental cornerstones to ensuring the success of development.
"For the next five years, CNRT will focus more on improving the lives of small people, especially in rural areas, to create more job opportunities," he said.
Guteriano Neves and Khoo Ying Hooi In July, Timorese voters will go to the polls for the second time this year to elect the country's parliament.
The recent presidential election, held on March 20, witnessed a clear victory by former parliament chief Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, a candidate strongly backed by former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. The result prolonged the debate that the country's leadership is still largely personality-driven, as it continues to be dominated by high-profile resistance leaders.
In the parliamentary elections, to be held on July 22, 21 political parties are set to contest 65 seats in the national parliament. This election is particularly significant, as it will again test the strength of the new coalition of the two largest political parties in Timor-Leste - the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) - that was formed in early 2015.
This time around, the national mood is slightly different compared to previous elections. Unlike previous elections, where peace and security dominated the agenda, now, the most important policy issue may very well be the most important problem facing the country today: the economy. As recent polls conducted by the Asia Foundation (AF) and the International Republic Institute (IRI) indicated, the percentage of Timorese believing that the country is moving in the right direction is decreasing.
The 2016 Tatoli! Public Opinion Poll by the AF showed that "Fewer people in 2016 feel that the country is going in the Right Direction versus the Wrong Direction than in 2014. In 2016 only 58 percent of respondents felt that the country is going in the right direction (compared to 73 percent in 2014); conversely 32 percent of respondents felt the country is going in the wrong direction (up from 25 percent in 2014)."
Meanwhile, the IRI survey indicated that there has been a decrease of 15 percent, from 49 percent to 34 percent, in Timorese who think that things are going in the right direction for the country.
At the institutional level, Timor-Leste's democratic institutions have been under constant criticism in recent times. The "national unity" government formed by the two major political forces the CNRT and FRETILIN from the government's point of view is a necessary pact to secure peace and stability in the long term. But, at the same time, one of the practical implications of such a move is the clear absence of a strong opposition. This is seen by many critics as a threat toward Timor-Leste's democratic institutions.
The political context for the upcoming parliamentary election is interesting. The issue of sustainable economy is increasingly gaining attention from the Timorese. The AF poll showed that 32 percent of the respondents viewed economic issues, including diversifying Timor-Leste's economy, as the top priority in the country. The economy issue is not new, but it has been a persistent issue and that will continue to pose a challenge for whoever forms the next government.
As one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, one persistent discussion in Timor-Leste is how to avoid the resource curse. Several policies have been put in place to avoid the paradox of plenty, with the main intention being to use oil revenues as the basis to finance other developmental needs. All major parties are committed to tackling this issue. However, after 15 years of independence, almost 90 percent of state revenue is still derived from petroleum.
Agriculture and tourism are frequently regarded as alternative sectors that need to be developed to diversify the economy. The key question is how to achieve that. While everyone seems to be clear about the importance of economic diversification, why has little been done to overcome the issue? Thus far, the current government's approach involves emphasizing physical infrastructure and two development poles: the Zonas Especiais de Economia Social de Mercado (ZEESM) project (or special economic and social market zones) in Oecusse and Suai Supply Base. At the same time, an economic reform program is also being undertaken. But like any reforms involving structural problems that have been embedded in societal history, it will take a long process, with trials and errors before finding the real remedies.
Alongside the economic diversification issue, another issue that stands out is unemployment. This is particularly critical given that around 70 percent of Timorese are below 30 years old. This could be a key determinant factor in this election. This election is also characterized by the high portion of the population who are first-time voters. In Timor Leste, the voting age is 17 years old.
Providing social services to the growing population is another challenge. While infrastructure has been receiving the biggest portion of Timor-Leste's annual budget for the past decade, grievances about poor infrastructure continue. Timor-Leste will need to continue to develop roads, water and sanitation, irrigation, and basic infrastructure to provide public services.
On top of that, there is also concern that the development in the past decade has been heavily focused on Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste, alone. The growing gap between Dili and the other 12 districts is another issue. The situation has triggered a sense of being marginalized by the local elites, as Timor-Leste is still a highly rural society.
The country is racing against time to solve these massive challenges. For the next few years, if Timor-Leste continues to rely on a single account the Petroleum Fund to pay public servants, subsidize veterans, provide social services, and finance mega projects, the current development process could prove an unsustainable one. Therefore, the election this time around is not merely about who will be in power. More importantly, it will determine how the elected representatives and the elected government affect the way the country is developed, including the path that Timor-Leste is taking.
A quick look at social media posts shows that resistance leaders turned political figures - like Xanana, Lu-Olo, and Mari Alkatiri, Timor-Leste's first prime minister - continue to dominate the discussion. Both polls by the IRI and AF pointed to the same trend. In addition, Taur Matan Ruak, the former president of the republic, is seen as a potential contender for this election with his new party, the People's Liberation Party (PLP).
In terms of policy differences, the Xanana-led CNRT's policies are based on the 2030 Strategic Development Plan, which aimed for Timor-Leste to become a middle-income country by 2030. FRETILIN is comfortably confident, after securing Lu-Olo's election as the fourth president of Timor-Leste. Its programs offer a "balance" between growth and sustainable development. The newcomer, the PLP, aims to challenge the existing development path by offering resource distribution and investment in basic needs.
FRETILIN and CNRT are still the dominant powers in the country, as revealed by the polls conducted by the IRI and AF. Interestingly, the IRI poll showed that 46 percent of the people are still undecided. While it is still premature to predict the outcome of the election, one thing is for sure young voters will help decide this election, and their loyalties are up for grabs.
Helen Davidson, Dili Before becoming the fourth president of one of the world's youngest countries, Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres spent almost a quarter of a century in the Timorese resistance against Indonesian occupation.
He rose through the ranks to become the president of Fretilin formally the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, the leftwing nationalist party that began as a resistance movement fighting for independence from Portugal and then Indonesia. Post-independence, he became the president of the nation's parliament as it created its constitution.
He had previously, and unsuccessfully, run for the presidency twice. This year, with the backing of Timor-Leste's founding father, Xanana Gusmao, he won decisively.
In an interview with the Guardian at the presidential palace, Lu'Olo suggests the years of conflict shaped both himself and his leadership vision.
Indonesian forces invaded the region in 1975 after the withdrawal of Portugal, and the subsequent violent occupation saw up to 200,000 people killed before the Timorese voted for independence in 1999. That was met with further violence, and an Australian-led peacekeeping force was deployed.
"All of the Timorese territory from east to west was the stage for war," he says. "Many of my comrades perished in the war. Even with the people in the beginning of the war, I witnessed the killing of the population by bombardments. Through all of this, it's what built my character as a Timorese citizen."
At his swearing in on 19 May, Lu'Olo pledged to assert Timor-Leste and its "principles and values" on the world stage, promoting peace, prosperity, environmental protection and the elimination of poverty. The country would pursue bilateral relationships of mutual respect, regardless of the size of each nation, he said.
A week later Lu'Olo elaborates, telling the Guardian that 24 years of armed struggle has given Timor-Leste "life experience" in dealing with conflict. He urges superpowers to let go of their egos amid rising political disunity and extremism.
"What I want to say to all world leaders is that all conflict has to be resolved through dialogue, not violence. Violence only creates more violence, and who suffers? The people," he says. He urges world powers to focus on communication and assisting smaller countries out of poverty, instead of spending on "weapons of war".
He also says he will keep an eye on Indonesia and Australia, the latter in particular amid a border dispute regarding ownership over oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. But he stresses the two countries have an "excellent" relationship.
At Lu'Olo's inauguration and the week following, the Guardian heard from numerous Timorese voters who wanted the so-called "75 generation" the band of leaders and fighters who took on the Indonesian forces to continue leading.
However many warned the political capital that came with a freedom-fighting background was not limitless and the Timorese people were still suffering.
Other high-profile members such as Gusmao, Jose Ramos-Horta and Mari Alkatiri have held alternating leadership positions over the years, both inside and outside the government.
While the 75 generation displays a sense of personal responsibility to strengthen the country before handing power on, some critics are concerned the power and related trappings has been too narrowly shared among this political elite.
But Lu'Olo says he is proud of where he and his compatriots have brought Timor-Leste. "One of my missions is to secure the unity of the country and the unity of the leaders, to guarantee peace and stability and to take the country forward," he says.
A couple of hours outside Dili, another former guerrilla sits at his small roadside stall in the district of Liquica a region with deep scars that is home to a church where pro-Indonesian militias massacred hundreds. Floriano da Costa Marques says he was posted near the West Timor border during the conflict, a time he describes as "painful".
He says the people of Liquica have a good life now, but endure substandard roads, a lack of water, poor housing and high unemployment, particularly among the young. "I always remind the youth that during our struggle for independence, it was full of sacrifice as we always faced lots of hardship in the bush," he says. "Timor-Leste is now a free country; the youth must work harder and follow our steps."
Marques supports Lu'Olo and his predecessor at least partly because of their guerrilla and military backgrounds. But he has not given the president a free pass.
"Because he is a guerrilla, we elected him to bring the nation forward. He knew his people better, how poor and how hard Timorese life is he knew it well," he says. "We thought he is a good man and so we elected him to help us. But we still don't know how and in what ways."
Marcelino Carvalho, a resident in the village of Maumeta, says: "I think regardless of his background the new president should perform according to the will of the nation.
"The new government should do something new for development. For example, resolve the issue of youth unemployment rate. Recently the government... was offering road work for $3 per day, but this program alone is not enough for the youth. It is good that youths here are not troublemakers."
Isaura Goncalves, a mother of four and owner of a clothing stall at a roadside market, says she is not concerned about who is president, but Lu'Olo's background as a guerrilla means he understands the hardships faced by Timorese people.
In the 15 years since independence, the 39-year-old has built up her small business and paid back loans. Schooling, Goncalves says, is the most important issue to her. Also, she adds, her house doesn't have clean water and she is spending up to $5 a day 10% of a good day's revenue on buying drinking water.
"It is very hard. The children cannot go to school or are late for school because there is no clean water for shower and cooking," she says.
Lu'Olo will oversee a significant period in Timor-Leste's growth as a developing country. It is well known the oil- and gas-dependent nation will run out of its current reserves soon perhaps within Lu'Olo's term.
To diversify its economy the country has initiated wildly ambitious infrastructure projects, including in the western enclave of Oecusse. Headed by Alkatiri, the project has drawn ire for a lack of transparency about its funding, spending and implementation. The 70,000 residents are among the poorest in Timor-Leste and are watching hundreds of millions of dollars in public spending go on around them.
One woman who lives in a small wooden hut near the construction site of a new luxury hotel told the Guardian she felt the project had come "to destroy us as a community".
"We in the community are not happy. As a community we are unhappy, particularly the people who live close to the road. We also send our children to school, but when the government took our road, then where are we going to live?"
Lu'Olo says he has total confidence in the diversification plans, but will wait for the outcome of next month's parliamentary elections and the subsequent government's expenditure plans.
"Our only resource is petroleum and it's my position that those funds should be invested, not consumed," he says. "This is where the opportunity will come from for Timorese to better their lives. We have to concentrate on education, on health, it should all be integrated."
Lu'Olo says he and the new government will do their best to steer the country through the difficult economic times ahead.
The Timorese have created a state, and then a constitution and a government, and democracy is growing from there, he says. "From all those issues we have taken lessons on how not to make mistakes, and how to take the country forward."
Paulina Quintao The Timor-Leste National Youth Council (CNJTL) considers language ability as one of the barriers impeding young Timorese access to opportunities offered in neighbouring countries with access to scholarships and jobs.
The President of CNJTL, Maria Magno said language is a big obstacle and the reality is most young people are motivated and willing to study and work overseas but language makes it difficult for them to complete their application process.
"With adequate language ability, we can achieve our goals because it would no longer be a barrier for us to be able to access opportunities to achieve what we want," she said at her office in Palapaso, Dili. To address this situation, CNJTL provides free Portuguese and English courses to young Timorese.
She said while some young people can get some professional experience working for non-government organizations voluntarily, many other are not able to do this and end getting involved in conflict.
She acknowledged that most young people who have been able to access an opportunity to study and work outside the country must work hard to develop adequate language ability.
Meanwhile, Cesarino Goncalves a youth from Liquica municipality said many young people are not trying hard enough to improve themselves by attending Portuguese and English courses.
He said that nowadays, there are many opportunities to study overseas but it depends on the young people to get ready in terms of language proficiency to be able to compete for these opportunities.
"Language is the way to find the sciences in the world and makes it easier to get a job, it is there very important for everyone especially the youth to attend any course in Portuguese and English," he said.
He also urged the government to develop Portuguese language in schools because the official languages are Tetum and Portuguese according to the constitution of RDTL.
Paulina Quintao Some 340 students of Bogor and Maubara Public High Schools, in Liquisa municipality did not sit for their exams for first semester due to a strike called by volunteer teachers awaiting formalization of their status by the Ministry of Education.
National MP Angelica da Costa raised the issue at the plenary by asking Ministry of Education to intervene so students did not become the victim.
"We know that this is students' first exam but the two schools did not give the examdue to the teachers strike," he raised at the plenary of the national parliament.
He said the school has 30 teachers; 9 permanent and 21 volunteer teachers. The volunteer teachers are paid by the students' parents through the school's box of $4/hour per student.
The volunteer teachers have submitted their documents to the Ministry of Education to consider and to make them permanent teachers since 2014.
Meanwhile, the National secretary of the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE), Jose de Jesus considered the strike inappropriate as the problem is between the volunteers and the Ministry of Education, not the students.
"It means that they do not have the willingness and commitment to contribute to education development in Timor-Leste," he said. He said the strike impacted gravely on the students, as report books for their first exam were empty.
He encouraged the volunteer teachers to raise their concerns with the Ministry of Education so that this will not impact with the learning process.
In 2016, the Ministry of Education declared it would no longer consider volunteer teachers but in reality some schools still educate students with volunteers.
"Reality is that from the beginning until now one teacher teaches some 30-60 students in one class. We cannot guarantee quality [of education] for the students," he said.
He added the normal standard of effective learning is 25 students in each class so teachers can adequately supervise students.
Paulina Quintao, The network Timor Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE) recommended the Ministry of Education to conduct in-depth research on the implementation of mother tongue education in basic schools so there is more information and accurate data about this approach.
TLCE National Secretary Jose de Jesus acknowledged that last research undertaken by UNESCO on the implementation of mother tongue education in basic schools in three municipalities across Timor-Leste showed that there was significant progress as the children have good level of understanding.
The study also found that students get better marks compared to those children at other schools. Nonetheless he urged the government to conduct in-depth research of the method.
"The Ministry of Education should conduct in-depth research on the implementation of mother tongue [education] to be presented to the public and the parliament. Through this research, we may know if it is good or not and to continue or not," he said from his office, in Kaikoli, Dili.
He hoped that through more information and better data, that government will be able to adequately respond to those who object the methodology especially with politicians about the advantages of its implementation.
TLCE National Secretary de Jesus agrees that if the research shows there is no merit in the approach and if it does not make better students that it should not be used.
He also urged politicians to make analyse the issue rationally to be more careful with their words as they may be causing to students learning mentality.
"It can lead to mental pressure for children who use mother tongue in their learning because if politicians say it is not a good method it may impede their language development," he said.
The program was implemented fully with UNESCO funds over three-years. In 2010, UNESCO worked with Ministry of Education introducing mother tongue to the basic schools, aimed to facilitate teachers introducing science to first and second grade students so that they may have better understanding and to improve their ability in reading and counting.
The mother tongue education pilot initiative was implemented in 10 schools in two municipalities of Lautem and Manatuto, and in the Special Administrative Region Oe-Cusse. The instruction languages were Fataluku in Lautem, Galolen in Manatuto, and Baikeno in Oe-cusse.
The national curriculum on mother tongue education prescribes that preschool teachers for grades A to B must use mother tongue for teaching. When students then move to basic school first grade level, teachers start using the mother tongue as an instruction language to teach Tetum and Portuguese.
Teachers keep using mother tongue as an introduction language up until third grade but students are learning more in Tetum and Portuguese especially in speaking and writing. In fourth and fifth grades, teachers and students fully transition to teaching only in Tetum and Portuguese.
On the other hand, Member of Commission F (for education, health, culture, veterans and gender equality affairs), MPO EladioFaculto agrees the government must to conduct an in-depth research on the issue.
The MP added that when the commission monitored the activity on the ground, it received several complaints from teachers about the program and the way it was impeding the learning process.
"At first, they said mother tongue was only going to be used to introduce some vocabulary that students did not understand in Tetum, some particular words and the numbering system but now most the teachers use mother tongue to teach," he said.
The MP has concerns because teachers keep using mother tongue to teach fourth and fifth grade students, making it more difficult for them learn Portuguese.
He said the research conducted by UNESCO did not reflect the real situation in schools implementing the program because reports show students who do not know how to speak adequately Tetum and Portuguese. "Our observation is that mother tongue education is impeding students learning Portuguese and Tetum and English in the country," he added.
He acknowledged that mother tongue is the identity of Timorese particularly at the municipality level and should be preserved so it does not get lost but that does not mean it must be added into the school curriculum.
Paulina Quintao National Members of Parliament (MPs) have questioned teaching quality and education standards across the country as grade five students in basic schools are still struggling to speak Portuguese.
National MP David Dias Ximenes said that in the past first grade students already had a good understanding of the language, but students nowadays found it difficult to read.
"We ask them, but they do not know how to spell [the words]. What kind of education is this?" he said. "[This issue] needs more attention. Do not play with children's education because we compromise on adequate education for the future of the country."
The National Secretary of Timor-Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE), Jose de Jesus, said this was the reality across the country.
However, he said the drop in Portuguese levels was not only the fault of teachers, but also because parents were not helping their children to improve their ability at home. "It is very difficult for students to guide themselves in the Portuguese language because at home they just speak Tetum," he said.
He urged parents who were fluent in Portuguese to practice with their children at home and encourage them to read so that they could improve their language ability.
He said it was not only students in basic schools that were struggling and that junior and senior high schools students also found it difficult to answer questions in Portuguese.
He recommended that the Ministry of Education give priority to improving the education system in the country so that children had access to quality education in their communities and did not just focus on securing a scholarship to study overseas.
Rhiannon Elston At Rainha da Paz school in Dili, students play in the shadow of a burnt-out building.
Their school, like many others across Timor-Leste, had to be rebuilt after Indonesia's scorched-earth withdrawal policy in 1999 left vast tracts of infrastructure destroyed.
Former President Jose Ramos-Horta said the government has "started from scratch" to rebuild a broken education system.
"We have done enormous [work to] the education sector," he said. "Well over a thousand schools rebuilt or repaired in the last five years."
Education is highly valued here. Each school day afternoon, thousands of students can be seen in the capital walking home from class in neat uniforms. Mr Ramos-Horta says enrolment is at around 90 per cent.
But inside classrooms, many teachers are untrained and unpaid. An estimated 75 per cent of teachers came from Indonesia during occupation and returned there before independence.
Volunteers stepped in to fill the gap. Many are still there, and as their student body grows, so does the demand for better quality education. Mr Ramos-Horta says there are not enough skilled workers who can teach the teachers.
"You cannot produce schoolteachers, high quality schoolteachers in an assembly line," says Mr Ramos-Horta. "We have a problem in quality education, quality of teachers. Very few are well trained."
Joana Barros is the principal of Rainha da Paz school and has been a teacher for 28 years. When the classroom she used to teach in was burned to the ground, she taught outdoors. "I feel like they are all my children," she says of her students.
Ms Barros is a permanent teacher and receives a salary. She wishes more teachers received the same benefit. "The government should pay attention to the teacher's salary," she says through a translator. "I also think of the children. They need teachers to be educated."
Once a week, her school receives a visit from Mary MacKillop International, the international aid and development arm of the Sisters of St Joseph. With money from Australian donors, they are helping to train Timor-Leste's vast pool of volunteer teachers.
Country Director Alipio Baltazar says the program has helped train 2000 people to date. "Education is a really critical aspect of development in Timor-Leste and the government of Timor-Leste very limited resources."
But with a young, growing population and a huge demand for skilled workers, many more teachers will need to be trained to support the nation in the future.
Paulina Quintao The Director of Clinical Services of the National Hospital Guido Valadares (HNGV), Flavio Brandao said medical specialist services in Timor-Leste still depend on foreign specialists due to the lack of national specialists.
He urged the government to give priority of specialist medical training and to consider this an investment for future health services in the country.
"We really need specialists. The number of specialists we have right now is not sufficient yet," he said in his office, Bidau, Dili.
Currently, 30 foreign specialists providing health care assistance to patients at the National Hospital in Dili, from Cuba, China, and Australia. Timor-Leste has 12 Timorese health specialists' in obstetrics, pediatric, surgery, skin, bones, hepatology, cardiology, eyes and neurology.
He said some specialist trainings are held inside the country including for pediatric and eye care because the specialist doctors from other countries are in Timor-Leste and they are able to transfer their knowledge to the Timorese doctors.
"It costs much money holding this type of training overseas, but in-country, the doctors know better the diseases and the situations and it cost less," he said.
He said the national hospital has held talks with the National University of Timor Lorosa'e (UNTL) to establish post-graduate training in pediatric.
On the other hand, the President Commission F (health, education, culture, veterans and gender equality), MP Virgilio da Costa Hornai said as a nation, the government should think to give priority to train the specialist doctors.
He said that GP's are plenty but Timor-Leste still has limited numbers of specialist doctors.
"We can contract foreign specialists but we cannot sustain this situation," he said.
He added the general parliament allocated funds for human capital development in the annual state general budget who get it depends on the policies of government.
Khoo Ying Hooi, University of Malaya "Quirky is one way of describing this art space," writes the Lonely Planet about Arte Moris. But Arte Moris (or Living Art) is much more than an art gallery or a fine art school.
Established in 2003, the centre offers a place for young Timorese to express themselves through art while helping them bond and share positive values about their country. World famous freedom fighters posters usually popular with the youth, such as those of Che Guevara and Bob Marley, surround teenagers who come to learn the practice of the arts sculptures, murals, canvas print and much more.
Initially a project by Swiss artist Luca Gansser and his wife, Gabriela Gansser, with a group of young people, Arte Moris has slowly turned into a well-recognised and the only art centre in the country. In the year of its inception, Arte Moris was awarded the UN Human Rights prize for its advocacy of freedom of expression.
But Arte Moris' aim is not just to promote the arts. It hopes to help East Timorese people rebuild their lives after the long bloody independence struggle of one of the world's newest countries, which was founded on May 20, 2002.
The Southeast Asian island was first colonised by the Portuguese in 1515. The country eventually gained independence from Portugal in November 1975 through the Revolutionary Front of an Independent East Timor (Fretilin). But that only lasted a brief nine days before it was invaded by the Indonesian military.
The country remained occupied until August 30 1999, when an independence referendum saw 78.5% of the East Timorese people vote for separation from Indonesia. The result led to widespread violence by pro-Indonesian groups that required the intervention of UN peacekeepers.
That led to a UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) in 1999 to 2002, when Timor Leste restored full independence.
The bloody struggle against Indonesian occupation brought the East Timorese together. But a political-military crisis erupted in 2006 after members of the army were dismissed.
The incident escalated into a set of clashes between the police, army, rebel soldiers and urban youth, with over 100 people killed in 2006 and over 150,000 displaced. The crisis revealed a deep tension between the old and young generations of the country.
Timor Leste has one of the most youthful populations in the world. Its rapid population growth has drawn attention to the position and plight of the youth in the country.
According to a 2007 World Bank report titled Timor Leste's Youth in Crisis: Situational Analysis and Policy Options, the involvement of youth in widespread violence was one of the most visible elements of the crisis. And the generation gap is now a key feature of the contemporary social discourse in Timor Leste.
Two generations witnessed the country's long struggle for independence. The first is the "Generation of '99" or Geracao Foun born during the period of Indonesian occupation, some of who emerged as national leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. They are distinct from the "Generation of "75" who are Portuguese-speaking older leaders and mostly dominate the government.
The groups find themselves in disagreement over certain matters. But their relations are crucial for the transmission of cultural values and for the country's social cohesion.
Timor Leste's youth suffer from a lack of job opportunities and the poverty rate) remains high at 41.8%. The promises of independence seem far away as basic rights such as education, employment and political participation still lag behind.
The youth of Timor Leste has been so scarred by this recent history that it has taken up the habit of venting on the walls. Parts of the nation's capital Dili look like an open-air art gallery.
After 2006, recognising that murals and graffiti were one of the most inclusive means of communication in the country, Nobel prize-winning former president Jose Ramos-Horta and several NGOs commissioned artists to paint the walls across the country and to convey messages of national unity and peace.
Murals and graffiti are now distinct part of the landscape. Arts help the young ones express their resistance to the legal and political authority in the country.
Many of the artists come from the "Generation of '99" and faced exclusion after the 2002 independence. They seek today to legitimise their role in the resistance movement against Indonesia but also to remind today's generation of their history while engaging in debates on post-independence identity.
The Gembel Art Collective is another such initiative, established in 2003 like Arte Moris. Gembel Art offers free arts classes and also proposes to have theatre, music and traditional performances. Similarly to Arte Moris, its classes and spaces are open to all.
Artists such as those associated with Arte Moris or Gembel Art Collective are also actively involved in human rights issues. These include fighting for land and for finding the children "disappeared" during the Indonesian occupation; an estimated 4,000 childrenwere secretly taken to Indonesia between 1975 and 1999.
The artists voice their dissatisfaction and discontent over government policies such as the lack of job opportunities for the youth. They may also support campaigns, such as the Hands Off Timor Oil initiative, with the government. Through the arts, they urge people to think about the issues affecting their country.
In another attempt to bridge the generations that have parted ways because of various crisis Timor Leste has known, music bands have taken over public spaces as well.
One example is Galaxy Band, which was established in 1999 just after the referendum. The band received popular support among the younger generation as their lyrics criticised human rights shortfalls, as well as land, national and social issues and those related to nationalism.
According to its lead vocalist, Mely Fernandez, whom I met in Dili, the late 1990s were a new beginning for Timorese youth, but also foretold an uncertain future.
During the 2006 internal crisis, the band incorporated social and political messages into their songs and poems. Occasionally, they face government interference but for Mely, that's a positive sign because it means the government is listening.
Despite achieving the highest democracy index in the Southeast Asia region in a 2016 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the artists' use and enjoyment of public spaces is not without challenges.
While Ramos-Horta was a strong supporter of the arts in Timor Leste, today public spaces are not well looked after by the government.
In the Arte Moris gallery, broken ceilings are not repaired because maintenance is not a priority anymore. One of the possible reasons for this is the political messages the artists are sending to the people.
Facing the challenge of not receiving much support from the government, they have been actively advocating the arts. Now and then, Arte Moris and Gembel Art Collective receive assistance from international NGOs and not much is coming in from the national level.
Gembel Art Collective offers free arts courses to children as non-formal education. Students from both Arte Moris and Gembel Arts come from different districts. There are currently six districts that offer free art classes, set up by former students. They need government support for a long-term sustainability as they cannot rely on international assistance.
Another key issue that the artists advocate is the promotion of local languages and dialects. Tetum and Portuguese are both the official languages of Timor Leste. Bahasa Indonesia and English are defined as working languages, as stated in the Constitution. For some Timorese, these latter are considered economic languages as they are not the mother tongues of the country.
For artists in Arte Moris, dialects are important but they are gradually being forgotten and are now only used in districts. Osme Gonsalves from Lospalos, a former guerilla fighter during the Indonesian occupation works today as an artist and a poet. He promotes the use of local languages such as his dialect, Fataluku. According to him, dialect has an important role in the construction of national and social identity.
Asked about what they wish for their future, the artists said, "We will never stop and we will keep doing what we do. Hopefully we can influence more of our people especially younger brothers and sisters to also appreciate arts for the future of Timor Leste."
The author would like to thank Osme Gonsalves from Arte Moris, Gembel Art Collective and Mely Fernandez from the Galaxy Band for their willingness to share their thoughts.
The coalition government is under fire for ignoring East Timor and failing to send any ministers to Dili since it came to power in 2013. Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has just wrapped up a two-day visit to the capital Dili.
Senator Wong met with new President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, Prime Minister Dr Rui Maria de Araujo and senior ministers. She also toured a vocational education training centre and teachers mentoring program receiving Australian aid support.
"I think it's disappointing there hasn't been a minister visit since the change of government (in 2013)" Senator Wong told AAP from Dili. "It's not far from Darwin at all."
Senator Wong believes bilateral ties have been strained in recent years over the maritime boundary dispute. Australia and the East Timor government are now taking part in conciliation in The Hague.
East Timor notified Australia in January that it wished to tear up a 2006 treaty which split 50-50 future revenue of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The reserve contains gas and oil worth an estimated $50 billion, but how the spoils will be divided up must now be revisited.
Labor has pledged its support for reaching a binding international resolution with East Timor, either through bilateral negotiation or international arbitration.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, Bangkok (Reporting ASEAN) By the time ASEAN turns 50 years old next year, Timor Leste could already be its eleventh member state. After filing its application six years ago, Timor Leste is poised to join ASEAN under the chairmanship of the Philippines, which is very keen to bring the region's young democracy into its embrace.
What made headlines regarding the admission of Timor Leste, or East Timor, was the comment by Rahmat Pramono, Indonesia's Permanent Representative to ASEAN, that ASEAN was closer to welcoming Dili. This was, after all, the first time a senior ASEAN official revealed the status of ongoing discussions on ASEAN's fourth enlargement.
"In 2011, when Indonesia was the head of ASEAN, Timor Leste submitted an application to join ASEAN. The ASEAN member countries agreed to conduct a feasibility study of the new country," Pramono said. Earlier, Timor Leste's prospects for gaining membership had been blocked by Jakarta, which said that the country was not ready due to political instability, weak economic infrastructure and insufficient human resources to engage ASEAN. These assessments were shared by other member states at the time.
But a change of heart came about as the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste improved under the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Today, Jakarta is actively pushing for Dili's inclusion in ASEAN. New ASEAN members such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are likewise inclined to accept Timor Leste.
Looking back, Timor Leste had expressed its intention to join ASEAN as early as a year after its independence in 2002. At the time, Thailand and Cambodia were the only two countries backing the young nation's bid to join ASEAN right away. They thought that the best way to help was to include it in the ASEAN family as soon as possible. As a young democracy, Thailand at the time also viewed ASEAN's expansion as a way to strengthen openness and democratization in its member states.
But other ASEAN countries were reluctant about Timor Leste's entry. Among the old ASEAN members, Singapore was very succinct in its position that Timor Leste needed some time to prepare for membership in ASEAN because it lacked the capacity to join the economic community. The island republic feared that Timor Leste's entry would slow down the grouping's community-building progress.
The feasibility studies done as part as of processing Timor Leste's membership application looked at three aspects by which to evaluate the country's overall qualifications as ASEAN's 11th member. These three are the pillars of politics and security, economy and socio-cultural issues. The political and security as well as economic aspects have been assessed, while the socio-cultural assessment is expected to be completed soon by Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and Security Studies.
The two completed studies on the politics and security pillar and the economic pillar concluded that Timor Leste must improve human resource development and undertake capacity-building in order to boost its economic growth and skills. When the ASEAN Community was launched at the end of last year, all members pledged to implement new action plans in the three pillars under the new framework from 2015-2025.
In July this year, the ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in Vientiane to discuss whether Timor Leste can join the regional organization by next year.
Earlier this year, in a surprise move, Dili agreed to host a meeting among the ASEAN-based civil society organizations because Laos, ASEAN chair in 2016, was reluctant to do so. Since 2005, as part of the effort to transform ASEAN into a people-centred community, ASEAN leaders have been having an interface with representatives of civil society organizations. But so far, these dialogues have been held irregularly, and often depend on the ASEAN chair's decision.
When ASEAN admitted new members in 1995, 1997 and 1999, these new members Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia were admitted without any pre-conditions or preparations. They learned from daily engagements with their ASEAN colleagues, gradually absorbing the ASEAN way. In meeting after meeting, they worked together with officials from other member countries, at all levels. Within a short period, they mastered the ways and means to interact with the rest of ASEAN family.
To prepare for its membership in ASEAN, Timor Leste has opened foreign missions in all 10 ASEAN member countries and dispatched officials to be attached to the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat. Since there remain few Timor Leste officials who speak or write in English Tetum and Portuguese are the country's official languages quite a few other ASEAN countries have been diligently helping them out in English-language communication.
Currently, ASEAN has 10 members comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. (Reporting ASEAN Edited by Johanna Son)
Federal Labor is hopeful Australia can reset ties with East Timor after years of turbulence over a maritime boundary dispute.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is off to Dili on Wednesday. She will meet new President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, Prime Minister Dr Rui Maria de Araujo and senior ministers.
"All Australians are rightly proud of the role we played in supporting the Timorese people to claim their place as one of the world's newest and proudest democracies," Senator Wong said, referring to the Australian-led international peacekeeping mission following unrest after an independence referendum in 1999.
"However, our bilateral relations have been strained by the maritime boundary dispute."
Australia and the East Timor government are taking part in conciliation in The Hague on the issue.
East Timor notified Australia in January that it wished to tear up a 2006 treaty which split 50-50 future revenue of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The reserve contains gas and oil worth an estimated $50 billion but how the share of the spoils will be divided up must now be revisited.
Labor pledged in February last year its support for reaching a binding international resolution with East Timor, either through bilateral negotiation or international arbitration.
Senator Wong will also visit Australian aid projects and attend a dinner with Timorese women leaders.
Havana The Minister of the State, Coordinator of Social Affairs and Education Minister of Timor-Leste, Antonio da Conceicao, arrives today to Cuba to fulfil an official visit until Thursday.
In accordance with a press release spread in this capital, the delegation of Timor Leste will have meetings with authorities of the Caribbean island, occasion in which stronger links of friendship, solidarity and existing cooperation between both nations, will be strengthened.
Since May 20, 2002, date in which Timor-Leste reached its independence, the strong links of friendship and cooperation between the peoples and governments every day are more consolidated.
The agreements signed in vital areas, such as public health and education represent an important pillar of cooperation that reflects the very positive achievements since its inception, allowing the formation of more than a thousand students from Timor Leste in different branches of the health, education and culture.
This figure for graduates is a very significant since the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste has a population not exceeding 1.3 million inhabitants. Cuba and Timor-Leste are celebrating 15 years of excellent diplomatic relations.
I visited Timor Leste this May, just as the first new nation of the new millennium turned fifteen. Dili was bedecked with the red, yellow and black colours of the Timor flag and the spirit of the people was infectious.
I have not forgotten the fearful Dili I visited back in early 1999 when the Indonesian military was firmly in control and militia violence was just beginning to ramp up. So it was a great pleasure to sense the national pride and personal freedom of the young people around me.
Beyond Dili, change is in the air as massive road rebuilding projects, irrigation schemes and even new factories are well in evidence. Timor's 'think big' projects don't find favour with everyone, and there is concern that those at the bottom the rural poor will miss out on the new opportunities.
However, there seems to be one resource issue that everyone agrees on: Timor's rights to fair share of the maritime oil reserves in its surrounding seas. One of the deep scars in Timor Leste's past is its unjust treatment at the hands of its large and prosperous neighbour, Australia.
During more than 23 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia, Canberra was deaf to Timorese rights and Timorese suffering. Instead it profited from its good relationship with Indonesia by concluding a hugely beneficial joint exploration deal to exploit the resources of the Timor Sea. Although other western nations, including New Zealand, also betrayed the Timorese, Australia was the sole nation to grant full de jure recognition to Indonesia's violent take-over of the territory.
Since independence, Timor Leste has sought to complete its sovereignty by defining its maritime territory according to international law. But Australia has thwarted its small neighbour at every turn. It is interesting to contrast this situation with the way in which the maritime boundary between Australia and New Zealand was settled. In 2004 the two countries signed a Treaty which formalised their exclusive economic zone and continental shelf boundaries. There are now two separate boundaries set approximately at the mid points between the territories. In other words, the trans-Tasman neighbours followed the principles laid out in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). There were some issues to iron out, such as the effect of small islands, but the process provoked no angst.
No such luck for small and impoverished Timor Leste. Just months before formal independence in May 2002, Australia withdrew from the maritime boundary dispute resolution procedures of the UNCLOS. This means that Timor Leste cannot take any dispute to an independent third party arbitrator for a binding decision. The negotiations since then have seen the conclusion of interim resource sharing treaties such as the 2006 'Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea' (CMATS).
It has been a great deal from Australia's perspective as it has been able to go on exploiting oil fields such as the Laminaria-Corallina field which is much closer to Timor than to Australia. Also at stake is the yet to be exploited Greater Sunrise gas field that would be mostly on the Timorese side of a border set by the UNCLOS equidistance principle.
Timorese NGO La'o Hamutuk estimates that Australia has profited by some 5 billion US dollars from 'Timor's' oil between 1999 and 2014. In comparison, Australian aid and peacekeeping assistance for the same period amounts to approximately 1.6 billion US dollars. So hardly a surprise to see anti-Australian graffiti around Dili.
To add shocking insult to deep injury there is the matter of alleged spying and overt attempts to cover up spying. A former Australian intelligence officer came forward with evidence that Australia had spied on the Timorese Cabinet office while the CMATS negotiations were ongoing. In 2013 Timor Leste sought help from the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration, but this prompted Canberra to conduct a lightning raid on the offices of Timor's Canberra-based lawyer Bernard Collaery. The documents and data seized were the property of the Timor Leste government.
There is a glimmer of hope now Australia has agreed with its small neighbour to terminate the CMATS Treaty and to take part in a conciliation process under UNCLOS. But this non-binding process still leaves scope for Australia to broker an unfair deal. The Australian Timor Sea Justice Campaign is asking simply that Australia finalise a fair and permanent maritime boundary drawn half-way between the Australian and Timorese coasts as international law recommends. New Zealand should support this position, as it reflects exactly what happened when Australia and New Zealand determined their maritime boundary.
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James Scambary On 26 October 2015, East Timor's Audit Chamber vetoed the largest contract in the country's history worth US$719 million dollars for 'non-compliance with basic standards in force in Timor-Leste'. This contract was part of a highly ambitious 'resource corridor' intended to span the country's entire south coast.
That a project of this magnitude didn't go through the most basic due diligence checks is significant for what it tells us about the East Timorese government's current political and economic trajectory.
While a number of recent political developments have generated considerable discussion, the increasing centralisation of power is a constant undercurrent. In early 2015, the incumbent Prime Minister, Kay Rala 'Xanana' Gusmao, stepped down and appointed former Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN) Health Minister Dr Rui Maria de Araujo in his place, and a number of other FRETILIN members to key roles and positions.
While that move took most observers by surprise, it had long been rumoured. In some respects it's a welcome rapprochement. Personal enmity between Gusmao and the leader of FRETILIN, Mari Alkatiri, was one of the key drivers of the 2006 violence. Elections became a bitter theatre for historical enmities between the two camps thereafter. De Araujo is also widely respected as a competent technocrat and there are indications he's embarked on a modest reform mission in the civil service.
It isn't such a victory for democracy. East Timor's governance system was already highly centralised before this new arrangement. Major spending decisions were made by Gusmao and a small coterie of unelected confidantes, largely bypassing any regulatory oversight.
Now, rather than stepping aside as such a move would suggest, Gusmao has actually increased his control. His new self-designed role as Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment retains almost total power over the capital budget, embracing all major infrastructure planning and investment and oversight of the two main regulatory bodies.
The incorporation of senior FRETILIN leaders into government posts has also removed the only effective source of opposition. With Ministerial appointments filled by Gusmao loyalists, there are currently few sources of dissent the National Parliament, for example, unanimously approved the last budget.
A new president has also just been elected, the FRETILIN member Francisco Guterres 'Lu-Olo', but his success can be clearly attributed to Gusmao's endorsement. Guterres was quick to indicate that he won't rock the boat. Gusmao remains the unofficial president, albeit with executive powers not detailed anywhere in the Constitution.
Such a centralisation of power has far reaching implications. The government has embarked on a raft of ambitious but increasingly controversial mega-projects. One is the south coast project, which includes an autobahn-like highway, a refinery, an airport and dedicated port with the ill-fated sea wall. In the isolated Oecusse enclave, construction for a Special Zone for Social Market Economy (ZEESM) (headed by Alkatiri) is already well underway. Drastically under costed and with little regard for detailed feasibility studies, those projects have the potential to bankrupt the state.
The Tase Mane project, for example, is premised on Timor winning the majority of the Greater Sunrise gas field. Without the skilled workforce or extant industrial sector to benefit from such a massive investment, the economic justification alone is so tenuous this investment should never have been countenanced. Given the likelihood that Greater Sunrise may not be developed for at least ten years if at all and, that Timor is by no means guaranteed a lion's share of that field under current median line negotiations, Tase Mane should be shelved indefinitely.
According to local NGO La'o Hamutuk, the Oecusse ZEESM project has already received almost $500 million in public funds over the last three years. While its project documents list a range of risible fantasies such as a 'Centre for Excellence in Ethical Investment', the centerpiece of this project is a planned light manufacturing hub. A 2016 World Bank report commissioned by the ZEESM Authority comprehensively rebutted government feasibility arguments.
Oecusse isn't on an international shipping route, for example, and it's highly unlikely that the enclave will ever generate sufficient industrial output to change that. This fact in itself should be enough to stop the project in its tracks. As with the South Coast project, investors have not been queuing up. Nonetheless, work continues, for example, on construction for a planned international airport. Where the passengers will come from is unknown, but like many other such ventures, economic or development outcomes seem to be a distant secondary consideration.
In July this year, East Timor will go into its third full parliamentary election. Despite a strong challenge from the nascent reform-minded People's Liberation Party, the dominance of Gusmao's Congresso Nacional da Reconstrucao Timorense (CNRT) and FRETILIN is unlikely to change. Neither, therefore, is the nation's current spending regime.
Petroleum revenues are estimated to end around 2021, yet the government has consistently withdrawn funds from the Petroleum Fund at more than a sustainable rate. As a consequence, East Timor is likely to run out of money within the next decade.
An Australian academic recently drew a vitriolic response from East Timor's former President, Jose Ramos Horta, for her statement that East Timor may be architects of their own demise. Unless current spending trends are reversed, however, this isn't a matter of opinion, but a mathematical certainty.