Monthly Archives: September 2008

Soaring unemployment in East Timor


September 28, 2008

Soaring unemployment in East Timor, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has raised concerns that violence could return to the streets if the restlessness among the country’s youths continues.

With about 80 per cent of young Timorese leaving school without any job in sight, most have given up hope except to leave their shores for greener pastures.

Hannah Belcher reports.

Government unable to champion onshore LNG plant from Greater Sunrise – Mari Alkatiri



Media Release

September 23, 2008

The de facto AMP government lead by Xanana Gusmão is showing itself to be totally incapable to provide the legal, technical and economic arguments that can convince the Greater Sunrise joint venture partners that a pipeline to Timor-Leste and an onshore LNG processing plant is the best and most viable option for the field’s development, said the former Timorese Prime Minister Dr Alkatiri today.

Dr Alkatiri negotiated both the Timor Sea treaty and the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) Treaty. He was speaking from Dili today after having met with his parliamentary colleagues to discuss recent developments and media reports that the Greater Sunrise joint venture had decided on Darwin as the location for the LNG plant to process the gas from Greater Sunrise.

“I think that the media reports of a site location decision by the Sunrise joint venture are premature. From recent discussions with Woodside’s top executives in charge of the project during a recent visit to Dili, I don’t believe the investment decision has been made yet. So the media reports are misleading and mischievous. As far as I can gauge, it is just a lot of noise,” Dr Alkatiri said.

“But they are uncomfortable about other noise coming from the Timor-Leste side that may lead them to question whether or not this Timor-Leste government knows the ground rules for the legal and technical process which will guide the discussions on which will be the best and most viable option for developing the Greater Sunrise field. I am worried by statements from people like the de facto Prime Minister and his Secretary of State for Natural Resources that it is a matter for the two governments to discuss. This is just wrong,” stressed Dr Alkatiri.

In recent media reports following Mr Gusmão’s visit to Australia, where this issue was discussed between Mr Gusmão and Australian Prime Minister Rudd, Mr Gusmão is quoted as having said: “This is an issue for negotiation between the two governments”, meaning the governments of Timor-Leste and Australia.

“This is wrong because the Treaty documents set out the criteria, the process and the mechanism for joint decision making. The developers of Greater Sunrise will present a proposal to the Sunrise Treaty Commission which will decide whether or not the development plan meets the technical and economic criteria set out by the treaty. Its not for the two government’s to negotiated as this de facto government thinks,” added Dr Alkatiri.

“Then you add the suspicion arising from the government’s signing of hitherto secret agreements with international oil companies who have no legal stake in the Greater Sunrise field. According to the explanation given by the Secretary of State during recent parliamentary hearings, this secret agreement purports to give them rights to market the gas from the field which they do not have, but in fact rests with the downstream contractors. I think we have a very volatile mix that will place in jeopardy Timor-Leste’s chances of getting a pipeline and LNG plant on our shores. This is a goal we all share and we support any government that tries to achieve that. But we have an obligation to speak out when we see actions that could jeopardize our chances,” Dr Alkatiri stressed.

Dr Alkatiri repeated his offer that FRETILIN have always been ready, willing and able to contribute with their extensive experience in negotiating these resource-related matters, through an appropriate inclusive and consultative body established for this specific purpose.

“That is how we were able to negotiate the outcomes we did during our government against the odds. We included everyone, civil society, opposition in parliament, the president, everyone,” he said in closing.

Contact: Jose Teixeira +670 728 7080

Nilva Guimaraes +670 734 0389

On Clarifying Land Ownership in Timor-Leste

USAID Timor-Leste

We would like to thank Professor Tim Anderson for the interesting article “Privatizing Land in Timor-Leste,” which was originally published in Timor-Leste’s Kla’ak (The Flame) newspaper and was posted on ETAN on September 16, 2008.

The article raises salient points about key issues Timor-Leste is facing at the moment, including the undervaluation and underutilization of land, the sustainability of certain agricultural practices, and food security. Professor Anderson does a good job of describing the interconnectedness of these issues, using as a starting point recent high-profile land lease arrangements involving the Government of Timor-Leste.

We would like to clarify a few points pertaining to USAID’s work, particularly with respect to what the author calls “privatization of land:”

(1) The author of the article “Privatizing Land” seems to be equating our efforts to clarify land ownership in Timor-Leste with “commercialization” or exploitation of land:

Through the Strengthening Property Rights (known locally as Ita Nia Rai) program, USAID is supporting the Government to (1) systematically collect and record land claims and (2) develop legislation to allow for the issuance of first-time ownership certificates or titles. All subsequent land transactions will be governed by the country’s Civil Code, the draft of which is pending approval by the Council of Ministers.

We believe the initiative to collect land claims nation-wide will, in fact, protect the rights of Timorese, individually and collectively, to their land. By creating a comprehensive record of current land use and claims to land ownership, the rights of the current land users — mostly small-scale farmers — will be recorded and ultimately recognized by law.

(2) We agree with the author that “undervaluation of land” is a problem in developing countries like Timor-Leste.

The author himself says that “uncertainty over title” contributes to undervaluation of land. Informed land titling, which is what we are promoting, should improve the valuation of land and make it more attractive for owners to make production-enhancing investments in their land, thereby contributing to improved food security.

We do not deny that clearer land ownership may increase the number of land transactions in Timor-Leste. Indeed, it would be a natural consequence of correcting the undervaluation of land. However, with clearer ownership, these sales will be more informed sales, with less risk of Timorese being taken advantage of due to unclear or multiple land claims.

In addition, a system that clearly records land ownership, based on current and historical land usage, is likely to help prevent the type of land deals that Professor Anderson is criticizing in his article.

(3) The author claims that “the big powers, through AusAID, USAID, and the World Bank…would like to see Timor-Leste’s constitution amended”, to allow foreign corporations to own land.

We have not advocated amending the constitution to allow foreign corporations to own land, and we are not aware of any “push” or proposal to do so.

(4) The author accuses the big powers of “hostility” to self-reliance and self-sufficiency for Timor-Leste.

USAID supports Timor-Leste’s goal of fully realizing its agricultural potential and increasing agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes. U.S. assistance in the area of agriculture in Timor-Leste supports efforts to transform the agriculture system from its current subsistence nature to one that is profitable and self-reliant.

In 2006, then Prime Minister José Ramos-Horta asked the international community for assistance to develop a system to provide the people of Timor-Leste with secure land rights as a way of promoting social stability and laying a strong foundation for economic growth. This request was supported by Timor-Leste’s own land tenure experts within the National Directorate of Land, Property and Cadastral Services (DNTPSC), who identified land tenure issues as a potential trigger for conflict throughout the nation. Numerous experts noted that a greater number of Timorese people themselves were speaking of the need for secure property rights during community consultations. USAID’s 2006 conflict assessment also raised concerns that uncertainty over land ownership and the inability to resolve land conflicts could be a contributing factor to future violent conflict in Timor-Leste. In early 2007, the Strengthening Property Rights program was part of a comprehensive package of assistance launched by USAID following the recommendations of the conflict assessment.

I thank the author again for the relevant opinion piece and this opportunity to address the issues raised.

Mark White
Representative, USAID Timor-Leste

U.S. Agency for International Development
Rua Sergio Vieira de Mello
Farol, Dili, Timor-Leste
Phone: (670) 332-2211/2
Fax: (670) 332-2216

East Timor police panned for crackdown on poor vendors


Dili – National police in East Timor, one of the poorest countries in Asia, are being criticized for a crackdown on snack vendors working a lucrative part of the capital, Dili. No laws ban the sales across from the Palacio do Governo, or Government Palace, and the police are targeting poor people just trying to make ends meet, politicians and vendors complained.

Until two days ago, dozens of small carts loaded with drinks and snacks were stationed across from the government offices in a picnic area under shade trees that sits on the sea. On evenings and weekends, the picnic tables in one of the most popular public areas in Dili are usually jammed with couples and families, and business for vendors boomed there.

But on Saturday, only one cart dared show up for fear of the police.

“They chased me away a few days ago, but I have come back,” said Tios Sila. As the sole vendor, Sila was doing a brisk business in soft drinks, biscuits and cigarettes.

In East Timor, unemployment hangs around 60 per cent, and most people make less than 1 dollar per day. Sila said he could make 5 to 10 dollars from the crowds in front of the Palacio do Governo. He said he couldn’t make that much anywhere else in the city.

Jose Texeira, a member of East Timor’s Parliament, said he was unaware of any law prohibiting the carts.

“I don’t care if there’s a law or not,” he said. “The fact is they have just started doing this without telling anyone. It’s nonsense, cracking down on people who just want to make a living.”

Acting commander of the national police, Alfonso de Jesus, said no law had been passed but, nonetheless, he ordered his officers to shoo away the vendors last week after government workers complained to him about traffic congestion in front of their offices.

Police patrolling the area said they have not yet arrested anyone but if they saw any snack carts, they would ask them to move elsewhere.

“This isn’t government property,” Sila said. “Lots of people come here. If you want to sell anything, you have got to find a place that’s popular.”

Australia won’t withdraw troops until E Timor remains stable: Minister

Radio Australia

Updated September 19, 2008 21:26:52

Australia’s defence minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, says his government won’t pull troops out of East Timor until it’s certain the current level of stability will continue.

Our reporter in Dili, Stephanie March, says during a whistle-stop visit to East Timor Mr Fitzgibbon met with East Timor’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao.

Both leaders agreed the security situation in the country is fragile, and further economic development is required to create lasting peace.

Prime Minister Gusmao said the state agreed international forces should remain throughout 2009, but didn’t rule out the possibility of a reduction in numbers.

Minister Fitzgibbon said troop numbers are constantly under review.

“So the time will come when we can start to reduce numbers, but we will be guided by the government of Timor-Leste and we certainly won’t be reducing until we can be absolutely confident that a reduction in numbers won’t lead to a reduction in [the] stability we have enjoyed,” he said.

Australia currently has 750 troops deployed in East Timor.

Unearthed E Timor bodies ‘victims of military murder’

By the 7.30 Report’s Mark Willacy and ABC staff

* Video: Gruesome grave discovery near Dili airport (7.30 Report)

A number of bodies have been uncovered in eroded soil on the boundary of the international airport in East Timor’s capital, Dili, with human rights campaigners claiming they are victims of murder by the Indonesian military.

But East Timor’s president says while the dead must be remembered, it is time to let go of the past and reconcile with Indonesia, a stance that is causing some anger.

The first clue to the airport’s grisly secret was pieces of clothing exposed along the fence-line.

Photographs obtained by the ABC show that investigations at the site uncovered the remains of at least five people were exhumed from the site.

“From the initial reports, the only thing we assume is that these remains have been there for many years,” acting United Nations police commissioner Juan Carlos Arevalo said.

The cause of death was easier to establish; two bullets had been delivered to the back of the head. Some victims were bound.

Human rights campaigners blame the former Indonesian occupiers of East Timor.

“The whole world knows Indonesia acted against human rights at this time, but the Indonesian Government does not take responsibility for their crimes,” human rights campaigner Joes Luis Oliviera said.

Jose Ramos Horta says the victims found next to Dili airport should be honoured, but he has told the ABC that reconciliation with Indonesia is more important than dredging up its former crimes.

“We must not allow ourselves to be hostage of the past no matter how ugly that past was with relation to the Indonesian occupation,” he said.

The case is now in the hands of East Timor’s prosecutor-general.

Only he can order more exhumations and answer questions about whether more bodies lie under Dili’s airport.

But even the country’s President acknowledges that the mystery is unlikely to be solved, pointing out that the prosecutor already has 4,000 unresolved cases on his desk.

“I think for the families they’ve expressed frustration at the government’s lack of support to progress the investigation,” Australian forensic pathologist Dr Soren Blau said.

Mark Willacy’s full report can be found at The 7.30 Report website.

Lake Iralalaru update

The HydroTimor weBlog

Iralalaru update

September 17, 2008 @ 10:21 · Filed under Iralalaru

Some progress has been made for the Iralalaru project: The environmental report has been accepted by the government, and we may proceed with the planning and preparations.

It has been a long time since the project documents were presented back in 2006, so the next step now is to update some technical and financial data – including the latest hydrology data and adjusting the technical specifications, as well as updating the financial data to reflect today’s construction cost and oil prices.

You may have heard that there are some misunderstandings with regards to the construction of the project, causing one representative for the government to claim that it is taking too long to construct it, as it has been under construction since 2003. This surprises us, as the construction not yet has started, and that a lack of follow-up from the government is one reason for this. We also hear that there is a lack of political will to start construction of Iralalaru, and that the government prefers to produce power based on burning heavy fuel oil. We hope and believe these rumours are wrong, as it is difficult to imagine that the leaders of this country should prefer to develop polluting and expensive energy in favour of clean and cheap hydropower…