Monthly Archives: July 2008

World Bank warning to East Timor

By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Jakarta

File image of a woman washing clothes in a refugee camp in East Timor
Rising prices and the weak dollar are hitting East Timor’s poor hard

The World Bank has added its voice to those calling on East Timor to reconsider its economic policies.

East Timor’s government is currently asking parliament to approve a 120% increase in this year’s budget, funded from the country’s Petroleum Fund.

The fund is the country’s nest egg, built with energy revenues from a gas field in the Timor Sea.

In a letter to the prime minister, the Bank warned the plans could set Timor on course for a “resource curse”.

The private letter – a leaked copy of which was seen by the BBC – says the World Bank is concerned about the precedent being set for dipping into the country’s petroleum savings.

If the government continues to withdraw more than a sustainable amount, it says, it would signal that Timor is following the “detrimental path taken by many other resource-rich countries”.

The letter, sent by the regional head of the Bank, also says that government plans to spend much of the new money on subsidies are misguided.

The finance minister has said subsiding high food and fuel prices is essential to prevent instability.

But the Bank says it fears the subsidies may backfire, threatening economic stability, and creating uncertainty – all of which will make it much harder for Timor to wean itself off its reliance on oil and gas.

Pressure to spend

At the moment the country depends on energy revenues for almost all its income.

East Timor has so far won a lot of praise for the way it has handled these revenues; storing them in a special US-based fund, and withdrawing only what can be sustainably spent.

But in the six years since independence, governments have struggled to spend even those amounts.

Reports from inside the ministries now say there is growing pressure to spend more and faster.

And there have also been growing allegations that proper procedure is not being followed – allegations the World Bank in its letter calls on the government to answer.

A million dollar view in impoverished East Timor

AlertNet Blogs

30 Jul 2008 13:16:00 GMT

Written by: Katie Chalk

Every morning, when Madalena opens her front door, she is faced with what has to be one of the most beautiful views on earth. High in the mountain ranges of Lequidoe, East Timor, she watches the sun spill over countless unspoilt peaks, with distant mists dissolving into a sky of impossible blue.

When I mention how much land like hers would be worth in my home country of Australia, she looks at me as though I am an idiot. Or tactless. Or both.

A widow with no regular source of income, Madalena may have a better grasp on economic realities than I do. She does not think of her view as a marketable entity. The beauty of her surroundings cannot help her to feed her children.

The basic rules of economic growth are simple. If people want something, then it is worth something. If they will pay more for it, then it is worth more. The expectation of profit is integral in transactions, but if the price is too high, people will stop buying it, at which stage the price will fall.

But recently, something has gone horribly wrong with these rules. The growing gap between rich and poor has seen the wealthy agree to buy global commodities at rates that push them beyond the reach of communities living in poverty.

This phenomenon has been dubbed the global food crisis. In Asia, it may as well be called the rice crisis. Thais and Cambodians don’t ask if you have eaten; they ask if you have “had your rice.”

It doesn’t need to be jasmine or basmati – throughout the continent, from tropical Malaysia through to wintry China, the measure of a family’s food security is their ability to purchase and lug home their own 25 kg (55 pound) bag of basic and beloved white goodness.

In the last year, prices for rice have risen in every country in the region, in some cases by 100 percent or more. A variety of economic justifications can be made – rising cost of fuel, decline of the U.S. dollar, an emphasis on exporting over local market supply, reduced agriculture industries, low harvests due to natural disaster.

But none of that means much to people like Madalena. She used to be able to buy a little rice to put on her table each day. Now, ashamed, she says her family eats rice once a week.

“I try to feed my children three times a day,” she says, “but they don’t get rice very often.”

The sting in all this is that rice is an introduced dependency in East Timor, its roots in a former wave of economic colonisation that pushed out traditional food crops like beans, maize and cassava, despite the land and irrigation requirements of growing rice successfully.

East Timor grows some rice, but nothing near enough to be sustainable. Most of the rice in Dili markets is imported from Indonesia and ranges in price as well as quality. It’s slightly more expensive in remote Lequidoe because the cost of transport needs to be covered.

It’s not even particularly nutritious. Children growing up in poor rice-based communities can suffer malnourishment because rice is pure carbohydrate, without vitamins or protein. Purchased, processed rice even lacks the healthy fibre present in its cruder form.

Madalena would be better off returning to local crops of organic, healthy, fresh vegetables, but a rice-driven cash economy has now become a way of life. Even up here.

The capacity for residents of Lequidoe to earn money is a fundamental challenge. There are no jobs around here. The ground is rocky and lack of irrigation infrastructure means only one harvest a year. Most families have a small plot of land where they grow cassava, corn and a few greens. They hope for a good enough yield to sell some at market, the only chance they have for cash.

Madalena has given up on farming her land. She is not strong enough to do it alone. She survives by selling the oranges from one tree, and every couple of years a calf from her one cow.

Madalena’s children mainly eat steamed cassava, donated by her farming neighbours. Her youngest daughter Dilsia, 5, is “moderately” malnourished, though (revealingly in this land of large families) her condition has improved since three of her older siblings moved away from home to go to school in a nearby town. With less competition for food, she is getting a fairer share.

This is good news for Madalena, who has been worried, not just about Dilsia’s health, but also about how to find money for medicine and the food she knows Dilsia needs.

She and Dilsia have been attending classes at a nutrition post set up by World Vision to monitor and improve children’s health in this village. She makes sure they go to the cooking class whenever it is on; she learns about local ingredients she can add to cassava or rice to make it more nutritious, and Dilsia enjoys the food they prepare together.

At home, she tries to make the same dishes, measuring out her dwindling rice supply carefully. Six months ago she bought a sack for $18. When she went back recently the same sack was $25 – more than Madalena is able to earn in a month.

A kilogram of rice in Australia, locally grown or maybe imported from a high-export Asian country like Vietnam or Thailand, costs two to three times as much as it would in East Timor. But the average wage in Australia is just under $200 a day. In East Timor, where jobs are scarce and farming difficult, 40 percent of people earn 55 cents or less. This makes a kilogram of rice the equivalent of more than a day’s wage.

Would I pay $200 for a kilo of rice? Unlikely. Instead I would protest and write letters and join movements, citing my rights, to end an illogical inflation beyond any possible sustainability of economy. But the world’s poor have never thought of themselves as powerful consumers; there are no food riots in this quiet, malnourished, struggling village.

I ask Madalena how she has managed alone to survive, keep her children clothed, fed and in school.

“We have found it very hard,” she says. “Every day is a challenge. But I am not really alone. My neighbours have supported me a lot.

“I send my children to school because it is something for them to do. What they do in the future is up to them, and their education will help. But I think they will find it hard to be anything but farmers – there is nothing else to do here.”

I look again at the breathtaking view. It looks like a land of plenty – chickens chase their mother hens into the bushes, a goat with her kid bleats and rears by the side of the dirt road. Madalena’s orange tree is heavy with fruit.

But none of it is destined for her table. So far down in the economic hierarchy that nobody can even see her, she still thinks of it all in terms of cash. She would rather have the money that the chickens are worth, so that she can buy what she needs – medicine, house repairs, clothes for her children, and most importantly, three meals a day for her malnourished Dilsia.

Blogged by Katie Chalk
Katie Chalk is an Australian communicator who has been working for World Vision since 2002, moving to the Asia-Pacific office in 2006 to assist with reporting on issues and events relevant to World Vision’s work in the region. As well as supporting national communications teams to collect and share stories and images, she writes opinion for websites and regional media. Katie is based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Biofuel plans may leave East Timor hungry

The West Australian

July 30, 2008

Dawn Gibson in Dili

More than half the arable farmland in East Timor could be used by international companies for biofuel production under a Government plan which poses a huge threat to the new country’s ability to feed its people.

Former ruling party Fretilin fears a contract between the coalition Government and Indonesian-linked company GT Leste Biotech to use 100,000ha of farmland for sugar cane was the first step in a ill-considered strategy to take advantage of the massive global thirst for alternative fuel sources.

The opposition party understood that further contracts were being considered to plant another 200,000ha with biofuel crops, possibly palm oil, which would mean that 60 per cent of East Timor’s farmland would be tied up in the ventures.

The land could be leased for as long as 20 to 50 years.

Fretilin MP Jose Teixeira, the minister for development under the former government, said the coalition’s policy was unacceptable in a country with huge numbers of poor farmers.

The introduction of biotech crops would make it impossible for many to continue to grow food for their families.

“We are concerned because there has been no transparent national debate on this issue,” he said.

Fretilin claimed the coalition’s lack of transparency was reflected in its budget being debated in Parliament which sought to provide scant funding for long-term infrastructure needs while granting all MPs expensive new cars.

Mr Teixeira was also scathing of what he saw as reluctance among world leaders to push the Indonesian Government to prosecute the perpetrators of the human rights atrocities committed against East Timorese civilians in the wake of the 1999 vote for independence.

“Why should little old Timor-Leste carry the burden diplomatically of dealing with a big neighbour like Indonesia which we have to maintain a good relationship with?” he said.

Fellow Fretilin MP Estanislau Da Silva said the party had long supported the inquiry into the atrocities recently wrapped up by the Indonesia-Timor Leste Joint Commission for Truth and Friendship. However, he said there was still a need for reconciliation and justice.


Joyo Indonesia News Service

East Timor Moves To Close Tent Cities

Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) [Australia]

July 28, 2008


East Timor’s government has taken the first steps towards closing one of its biggest tent camps for internally displaced people. Following months of delay, officials have started sending people home after accommodating them at the airport for two years. It’s part of an ambitious plan to close all camps by the end of the year. It’s home away from home. An estimated 35,000 internally displaced people are still living in tents in and around the capital, Dili. But two years after the camps were set up the UN mission and the government are anxious to see them closed before they become a permanent fixture. They have already cut food rations and are offering camp dwellers up to $4,500 to go and rebuild their lives. But it’s not that simple.

MATILDA, INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSON (TRANSLATION): It’s going to be November before we can go and by then it will be the rainy season. Our home has been destroyed and it has not been repaired yet. So, when we go, we’ll still be living in a tent.

The World Food Program says that 87% of people here don’t have a home to go to. They have been destroyed or have been illegally occupied.

VITOR, INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSON (TRANSLATION): We will go any day, but we are worried some political parties are going to create more conflict. We hope they can avoid that and take us out soon.

Agencies say there is evidence of lingering hostility, and not everyone is using government money to rebuild their homes. There also concerns about whether villagers will stay home once they get there.

LIUZ VIEIRA, INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION OFFICE CHIEF: Are the returns that have happened so far sustainable? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone can answer that definitively. There are a lot of community dynamics that need to be addressed. For example, to what extent the issue of east and west divisions have been adequately addressed. Is there something beneath the surface that’s bubbling up? That’s something all of us have to keep an eye on.

Amid growing tensions over perceived government corruption, and with a sensitive investigation under way into the assault on the country’s leaders, peace here is far from assured. Gary Cox, World News Australia.


Joyo Indonesia News Service

Food self sufficiency

Whilst the present government is subsidising the cost of rice,
basic foods, and petrol, family and friends in
Timor-Leste tell me the subsidy is not sufficient to meet
family needs. Indeed TETS have just sent emergency money to enable some
friends to buy rice for their families.

The low value of the dollar has of course added to difficulties, what
seems to have been forgotten is that the UN, International staff, and
of course the IDF are paid extremely high wages, the Timorese are not –
thus Timor-Leste, in particular Dili, has a two tier economic system.

Having lived with the locals in Dili, and elsewhere in the country, I
know how difficult this system makes life for the indigenous people.

Most locals shop at the markets, but in 2006 Comoro and other
markets were burned down – some stall holders set shop up elsewhere,
i.e. on the beach road, but fuel costs hamper bringing produce
from the districts, low rainfall has exasperated the problem. People
in the districts need to feed themselves and their families, less
comes into the markets that still exist in Dili, prices become higher.

Solutions proposed by the government are short term and do not seem to
be working. A better solution would surely be for the
government to invest in local agriculture, i.e. help subsidence
farmers buy tools enabling them and their families to
produce more food. (Having worked on smallholdings in the districts I
know lack of farming tools hampers production)

Surely this governments proposal of selling off 300 thousand hectares
of land to grow bio fuels, without consulting the people of Timor-Leste,
will exasperate the problem further.

Oxfam and other NGO’s have stated that bio fuels do nothing
to improve the life of the poor, indeed they do the opposite, and of
course the land is lost long term for the production of food.

The government has stated land that would be used to grow
bio fuels is ‘waste land’ (how often we have heard the term ‘waste
land’ or ‘slum clearance,’ in my area (Tyneside) when councils want to
move people out of their homes so car sales room, state of the art gyms,
or posh new homes that locals can’t afford, can be built).

I would argue from observations whilst in Timor-Leste, and from
talking to Timorese family and friends living in Great Britain that
there is no waste land in Timor-Leste. The land the government is
proposing to sell is arable or grazing land for buffalo, pigs, goats,
chickens etc. If the food shortage is acute now what will happen if
this land is sold off?

While the proposed factory in Baucau will enable some Timorese to find
work would suggest that most of the employees will be from elsewhere.

As a postscript would add that the Xanana governments proposal has
met with a great deal of opposition and anger from the Timorese still
living in the diaspora. The question many ask is why did we and our
families fight to get Indonesia off our soil, only for this government
to try to sell our land from under our feet to Indonesia. Naturally
the environmentalists in all countries are also concerned about the
proposed bio fuel sell off.

Tyneside East Timor Solidarity

On Fri, 25 Jul 2008 12:42:25 -0400
ETAN wrote:

> East Timor hit by dollar woes
> By Lucy Williamson
> BBC News, East Timor
> The television blares Chinese-language programmes
> across supermarket shelves stacked with noodles,
> bottles of bleach and bags of rice.
> Outside, in Dili’s dusty commercial district, the
> afternoon heat hangs limp and heavy.
> Loh Bee Choon sits in the cool of the shop,
> making small talk with her scattering of customers.
> One by one, she tots up their purchases; the
> medical bleeping of the scanner marking her income, dollar by dollar.
> Goods from Indonesia, China, Singapore, the US –
> but very few indeed from here in East Timor.
> All of which makes a lot of sense, because not
> much is produced in East Timor. Imports are an
> essential part of life and 90% of goods come from overseas.
> But with the US dollar – the official currency –
> worth less abroad now than it used to be, buying
> them is getting much more expensive.
> “It’s had a big effect,” Loh Bee Choon said.
> “Because the value of the dollar has gone down,
> we’ve had to raise prices by around 20% to 30%.”
> If prices at the Loh supermarket go up by 20% or
> 30%, that has a huge impact on local people.
> There is no general social security system, and
> East Timor has no control over monetary policy.
> When the dollar runs into trouble, as it has done
> recently, there is really nowhere the country’s people can turn.
> ‘Not enough’
> Daniele da Conceicao knows exactly how that
> feels. He lives with his family in the backstreets of Dili.
> His salary – around $85 (£43) a month – used to
> be just enough to feed and clothe everyone, send
> the children to school, and have a little bit
> left over. Now, he struggles just to buy enough to eat.
> Last year, he said, $30 would buy two bags of
> rice – enough for the family for a month. Now it
> buys only one bag, which means almost
> three-quarters of his salary goes on rice each month.
> He needs another $10 for kerosene to cook it.
> Then there is transport to get to work and get
> the children to school, and some vegetables for dinner.
> Then the money is more than gone. As Daniele puts
> it, “It’s really far away from enough to sustain the family.”
> Energy fund
> Joao Goncalves, East Timor’s minister for
> economic development, acknowledges there is a problem.
> People like Daniele are being hit twice, he says,
> once by the weak dollar and again by the high global prices of food
> and fuel.
> The government’s answer is to subsidise basic goods like food and
> fuel.
> As Mr Goncalves explained, the plan – currently
> before parliament – is to subsidise essential
> basics like rice, corn and beans, and to
> stockpile a 12-month supply of these staples to ensure food security.
> That may ease pressure on Daniele and his
> children in the short-term, but it is proving
> harder for some MPs and economists to swallow.
> That is because the government plans to pay for
> the subsidies by taking $240m out of East Timor’s Petroleum Fund.
> The fund is the country’s nest egg, built with
> energy revenues from a gas field in the Timor Sea.
> Those revenues account for virtually all the
> country’s income and each year, careful
> calculations are made to determine how much the
> government can sustainably siphon off for its budget each year.
> Now, the government says it is time to dip into
> the savings themselves. Not doing so, it says,
> risks poverty turning to instability.
> But its opponents say this kind of spending will
> dampen private enterprise, and leave East Timor
> with little to show for its money – and if the
> oil fund is drained, it risks leaving East Timor
> with no economic future at all.


Too scared to go home, Timorese in limbo

The Age

27 July 2008

By Ben Doherty- THERE is food now, for the markets are open, and the men have found work on local farms.

But Dominges Enriques has lived too many — nine — of her 34 years at Noelbaki to believe it will last. Her family has no land of its own to work, and without it she must buy her food. Soon it will be expensive once more. She knows her children will go hungry again.

Ms Enriques is proudly East Timorese, but she has not been back to her homeland since the violent birth that gave her country its independence in 1999. As she was married to an Indonesian, East Timor was not safe for her at emancipation, and she fears it is still not: “Timor Leste now, it has many problems, and it makes me afraid to go back.”

So she finds herself still in Noelbaki, an ad hoc refugee camp built abutting a bus terminal on the outskirts of the port town of Kupang in West Timor. She has lived here for almost a decade.

Noelbaki is a shantytown of tumble-down lean-tos, half-tarpaulin-half-corrugated-iron shacks, and traditional one-room thatched huts. At its peak immediately following the independence violence it housed about 20,000 people. Now, it is home to about one-tenth that number.

It remains a bare and desolate place. Concrete floors are rare. Electricity and running water are unimagined luxuries. There is no grass. During the dry season, the earth is baked hard, turned to dust. During the wet, homes are filled with water for days at a time, and the land is unworkable mud. Outbreaks of dengue fever, malaria and chicken pox sweep through the camp with depressing regularity, aid workers say.
“The children don’t have many fruits and vegetables and they don’t get healthy from eating,” Ms Enriques says. “Some-times they are very sick.”

But Dominges Enriques is not a unique case. There are more than 20,000 refugees (former refugees, officially) in West Timor, but almost the entire population of 1.6 million is vulnerable to famine and rising food prices.

A five-year drought was broken this year by flooding rains that swept away or ruined almost every crop.

A study in May by aid agency World Church Service of nearly 5000 families in West Timor found 91% of homes are classified as “food insecure”, meaning they don’t have regular, affordable access to safe, nutritionally adequate food.

As a result, the survey found, 61% of children aged under five in West Timor are chronically malnourished and suffering from stunted growth. Thirteen per cent of children under five are classified as suffering acute malnutrition — ttheir bodies are wasting away for lack of food. Fifty-eight per cent are suffering from anaemia, 80% of those under two. About 50% of West Timorese children are underweight, more than twice the figure in Africa.

There is concern from aid agencies that the current situation could result in a “lost generation” of West Timorese due to the irreversible damage to cognitive and physical development caused by malnutrition.

The Australian Government’s aid arm, AusAid, has a long-standing presence in West Timor, running programs to tackle infant mortality and help the fledgling provincial government administer its funds.

But aid workers say while the problems of West Timor are myriad, it is the food shortage that is most pressing, exacerbated this year by crop failure and imported food prices pushed up by the cost of oil. Even rice subsidised by the Government is too expensive for some.

There is despair all around in Noelbaki. Winston Rondo, co-ordinator of CIS Timor, an NGO which has helped East Timorese refugees since 1999, says few in the camp can see a way out. “The people here do not know what is their future,” he says. “They are just like water flowing; they will see what will happen tomorrow.”

Most of the men here are farmers, and, without the prospect of getting any land, have no skills to parlay into an income. Some are drunk when The Age visits, as they watch preparations for another cockfight on a blood-stained patch of bare earth.

The police are called. They come this time, but not always. This is not a safe place. Domestic violence is common, according to Mr Rondo, as are sexual assaults.

But the residents of Noelbaki are trapped. These people are not refugees but “new citizens”, according to Jakarta. But it provides precious little support. Save for a bare primary-level schooling at a half-converted bus shelter and rudimentary health checks at village health posts, they feel ignored by a distant Government.

Their relationship with their homeland is equally fraught. Most at Noelbaki supported East Timor becoming an autonomous region of Indonesia in 1999 rather than an independent nation. But with the vote for secession overwhelming, the non-believers were driven out of East Timor, attacked in the streets, their houses razed.

Few believe their “problems” are forgotten back home, nor do they trust life has improved there since 1999. And so they remain, neither one, nor the other.

They carry a past they cannot leave behind, and a future that, for many, is without hope.

It is this that troubles Filipe de Araujo. Three of his four children were born at Noelbaki. They know no other life. He desperately wants to take them back to East Timor but cannot say when he will.

“For me, right now, it is too hard,” he tells The Age through an interpreter. “I am afraid of the situation (in East Timor), afraid for my children to be safe. It is not OK for us there.”

But he says life in the camp offers his children little hope: “We have given up. This is our life, this is our future, but what is there? We have given up.”

Ben Doherty travelled to West Timor as a fellow of the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre.

Balibo film shows suffering of Timorese

West Australian

Balibo film shows suffering of Timorese27th July 2008, 9:16 WST

Australian Paul Stewart was just 15 when Indonesian soldiers murdered
his cameraman brother in East Timor.

More than 30 years later, he hopes a new film about the Balibo Five
killings will be as much about the suffering of East Timorese during
Indonesia’s 1975 invasion as it is about the newsmen who died.

Stewart is in East Timor’s capital, Dili, working as an adviser during
the filming of Balibo, the movie, starring Anthony LaPaglia.

LaPaglia plays the role of Roger East, who was killed in East Timor in
December 1975 while trying to uncover the truth about the deaths of
five Australian-based newsmen, including Tony Stewart, in the town of
Balibo two months earlier.

No one has ever been tried over East’s death but witnesses have said he
was shot after being captured by Indonesian troops.

Few in Australia would be unfamiliar with the Balibo case.

Just last year a high-profile coronial inquest in Sydney found the
newsmen were deliberately killed by Indonesian forces to stop them from
covering up Jakarta’s invasion of East Timor.

But Paul Stewart wonders if Australians have a true sense of the horror
East Timorese experienced during the invasion.

For him, that story is as important as the loss of East, and his
Channel Seven cameraman brother alongside newsmen Brian Peters, Greg
Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Malcolm Rennie.

He said the legacy of the Balibo Five was their determination to inform
the world of what went on in East Timor more than three decades ago.

Indeed, the last piece of footage shot by the group captures the
journalist Shackleton explaining how he will forever remember the
plight of the Timorese. Very soon after, he was dead.

“Their story is everybody’s story because they set it up like that,”
Stewart said of the slain newsmen.

Part of the film is presented through the eyes of a young Timorese girl
who witnessed East’s death.

Stewart says it’s vital for the grieving process of Timorese for that
perspective to be told.

“I don’t think they acknowledge their own losses well,” says Stewart,
who after his brother’s death became an activist fighting for the
independence East Timor now enjoys.

“I’d get taken to demonstrations and I’d meet Timorese mob and they
would say ‘Paulie, mate, we are so sorry about your brother,’ and I’d
say ‘did you lose anyone?’ and they’d say ‘oh, yeah, 10 members of my

“This is a bigger picture than just my brother.”

Balibo director John Maynard expects the film will be controversial
because it graphically depicts the atrocities perpetrated by Indonesian
forces, and highlights the role the Australian and US governments
played in sanctioning the Indonesian invasion.

“But we are not inventing anything, it is a matter of record now what
happened to the Balibo Five and it is a matter of record what happened
to Roger East.”

Despite the Australian inquest that found the Balibo Five were killed
to stop them exposing Jakarta’s invasion, Indonesia maintains they were
accidentally killed in crossfire.

Jakarta recently stressed that it wants the film to include Indonesia’s
point of view.

Filming began in East Timor last week.