What is said in the briefing is pretty accurate, but would like to make some comments.
Despite aid money being tied up by donors demands many improvements have been made since my visit in 2002 around Dili, i.e infrastructure, and water piped to more areas in Dili, attacks and destruction in part of Tassie Toli did not stop the people in that area getting piped water, I think in July 2006. Water at the moment is free to the population unlike in Britain and other western countries. I was told that electricity was free if your household had no workers.
Free health care has been implemented, Dili hospital has excellent facilities, in the eight months I was in Timor Leste hospital staff coped exceptionally well in extremely difficult conditions. There is a well run hospital in Baucau and clinics in all districts. There is a need for more doctors and nurses throughout Timor Leste but the Fretilin government has this well in hand. Cuban doctors are in Timor Leste training Timorese people to run their health service, not only in Dili but throughout the country. A large number of Timorese students, both male and female, are in Cuba training in health and education services, because of scholarship programmes set up by the Fretilin government, these programmes naturally enhance the lives of the students but also ensure the future of health and education in Timor Leste.
Fretilin has implemented free secular education for the young, despite huge opposition by the Catholic church, previously all education services were run by the Catholic church, parents had to pay to send their children to school, thus meaning the poorest could not afford schooling leading to discrimination. At the present time parents can chose to send their children to a state or church school, if they can afford the fees.
The Fretilin government under Alkatiri had also earmarked money for improvements in the districts, for example money had been set aside to improve the road between Los Palos town and Titular (in some places the road is impassable necessitating driving over moorland and fields). Money was earmarked to repair electricity wires in Mehara, indeed in all the Tuttala district, tropical storms caused severe damage to the overhead lines. When I visited in 2002 this area had electricity part of the day, ( there is an electricity supply from Dili to Los Palos at least part of the day, believe the same applies to most districts to the West of Dili, certainly Aileu district had electricity). Plans to build a pen housing buffaloes to enable vaccination against disease were also in hand.
During the time Ramos-Horta was caretaker Prime Minister the sucos were told that there was not enough funds for all the projects, they were asked to select two projects. (I was present at the meeting in Merhara when this was discussed by the suco, district administrator and local people) press release ‘Fretilin Signs Community Contracts for Local Development,’ giving more details of plans community projects is on TETS news blog.
The problem of aid money being tied to suit donors requirements has indeed caused problems and slowed up development. For example when travelling to Aileu road works to improve travelling between Dili and Aileu were in progress, good, only problem the Japanese donors insisted one of their companies ran the project, the friend I was travelling with said the majority of the work force were Japanese. Wile the project is essential it does little to improve the huge unemployment problem in Timor -Leste – to say that Timorese workers do not have skills the skills needed to carry out this type of work is frankly untrue, much skilled work is carried out throught Timor-Leste by people in their own communities, i.e. house building, temporary repairs of roads, water project in Mehara.
Whilst I was in Timor-Leste our own Hilary Ben talked of the need to stop aid money being tied to donors demand, saying it was essential third world countries were developed to suit the needs of their own citizens.
Despite the problems of aid money being tied to needs of the donor country Timor-Leste is debt free, Fretilin has pledged to keep the country debt free, however other parties have made it plain they are happy to borrow money from the world bank, telling people this will lead to speedy development and wealth for all. Unfortunately, this is not a true analysis of what happens to countries steeped in ‘Third World debt,’ wealth disparancy is hugely divisionary. Whilst there are problems of poverty in Timor -Leste, at the moment it is solvable, borrowing would simply exasperate the problem.
Development should be looked at in real terms. Destruction of homes and the infrastructure did not only happen after the referendum, villages were destroyed more than once by the military throughout the 25 year occupation by Indonesia. Progress has been made to repair the destruction in many areas. Whilst it is fine to talk of everyone having water, electricity etc. instantly, this has to be looked at realistically.
How quickly after the second world war was Britain developed? Many country areas did not have piped water or electricity till at least ten years after the ending of the war. Indeed some towns relied on gas lighting for 15 years after the war. Outside toilets were the norm in many areas until 30 years ago, and the tin bath was a well know commodity in many households throughout the country until about the same period. Instant development is impossible without debt, after the war there was a slow and perhaps more equal development in Britain, borrowing and capitalist policies have not led to a more equal society, indeed many rights fought for are now being eroded, for example university education became free to all, now it has to be paid for meaning that only the rich can afford to attend university easily. The poorer in British society have to make hard choices, borrow and work to be able to attend University or take jobs that do not require a degree, in other words ensuring a two tier society. National health services are being eroded, and many parents have to have fund raisers to provide books for schools in poorer area. In retrospect a slow development seems much more desirable. (the same erosion is taking place in varying degrees in all western societies)
As the briefing states it is impossible for IDP’s to return to their homes (if they haven’t been destroyed) until security improves. A question mark hangs over whether International forces are able to provide security, I witnessed the destruction of many homes when living in Dili after International forces had been deployed to stop fighting. Indeed Fretilin supporters were stoned in Fatahada, Dili, and in the Manatuta district last week. Homes of Fretilin supporters were burnt recently in Ermine. (See news blog for further details) Reinado and Railos are still roaming the country causing problems despite the UN calling for their arrest. UN forces are still in charge of security.
Although the briefing makes no reference to the role of women in government and civil institutions I would like to make a comment on the representation of women in Timor-Leste. Whilst there I saw genuine participation by women in all walks of life, women in government were able to criticise and change government policy. Western society talks strongly of equality for women, in reality often only lip service is paid to equal rights, women have little control over government policies or their lives, many being forced into paid work when they would prefer to bring up their families.
Contrary to what is said, the majority of women in the districts also participate in decision making and are free to choose how they participate in family and community life.
(press releases referring to women’s role in Timor-Leste are on TETS web or news blog)
Lidia Catherine Tindle.
Tyneside East Timor Solidarity