Savu border unsolved, but Timor-Leste leader praises ‘amazing’ Indonesia link

Fretilin’s former Prime Minister Dr Mari Alkatiri … “we look forward to guaranteed stability, ongoing development and to bring people out of poverty” in Timor-Leste. Image: Agora Timor

By Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Dili

East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Dr Mari Alkatiri says that after almost two decades of separation from Indonesia, the country’s relations with its neighbour continue to strengthen despite some unresolved issues.

Indonesia “is our biggest supporter,” he said.

Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, celebrated the 16th anniversary of its hard-fought restoration to independence last week on May 20.

The day marked Timor-Leste regaining its independence after 24 years of Indonesia’s occupation, which invaded the country shortly following its independence from Portugal in November 1975 that political party Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (Fretilin) unilaterally declared.

In an exclusive interview at a hotel near Fretilin party’s headquarters, Dr Alkatiri, Fretilin’s secretary-general, described East Timor’s relationship with its former invader as “amazing, very good.”

“We still have some pending issues, such as maritime and land borders in Oecussi,” he said, referring to an East Timor coastal exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, which lies on the western part of Timor Island. East Timor is located on the island’s eastern half.

-Partners-

Oecussi is a special administrative zone and has been designated as special economic zone with Dr Alkatiri as its president.

Maritime border dispute
Dr Alkatiri, who also served as East Timor’s first prime minister from 2002 to 2006, said both countries need to solve the border issue soon because it would be difficult to define a maritime border on the Savu Sea without a clearly marked land border.

“But the goodwill from both governments is there,” he said, adding that successive governments of East Timor would continue to strengthen the relations between the two countries.

Dr Alkatiri described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Outgoing Timor-Leste Prime Minister Dr Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview with Arab News at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters earlier this month. Image: AN

Dr Alkatiri, who has been serving his second term as prime minister since September last year, is a Muslim leader in a predominantly Catholic country. His family on his paternal grandfather’s side came from Hadramaut in Yemen.

“They came as traders at that time and decided to stay,” he said.

Dr Alkatiri’s maternal grandparents were Timorese who came from Baucau and Liquica districts. He is married to Marina Ribeiro and has three children.

De facto leader
Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader.

Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting”.

Dr Alkatiri said that ASEAN membership is “a very long dream”.

So far, Timor-Leste has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said.

Coalition rule
Dr Alkatiri’s apparent successor Xanana Gusmao, who is poised to serve as prime minister for the third time, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) headquarters.

CNRT led a three-party coalition that beat the shortlived, Fretilin-led minority government in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Dr Alkatiri said the most pressing need for East Timor, with almost half its 1.2 million population still living in poverty, was government investment in public infrastructure, such as education and health, and spending on basic living needs, such as community housing and clean water.

“This is a 16-year-old country. We still need to build the nation; we really need to strengthen the foundation of the nation, institutional, political foundation, everyone needs to join efforts to do it,” he said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Time for Xanana Gusmao to step up and fix Timor-Leste’s problems

By Jose Belo in Dili, Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s parliamentary elections on May 12 have returned Xanana Gusmao to the Government Palace in Dili in an alliance that gives him enough votes to govern in his own right.

While Gusmao has won an election held only 10 months after the July 2017 poll, his CNRT (Party for Timorese Reconstruction Party) lost to FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) in the earlier election, albeit by a small margin. This forced him into an alliance with sometime rivals to secure the latest poll.

This suggests the people of Timor-Leste trust him, but they are not so happy with his previous government.

Timor-Leste voters sent a wake-up call to their leaders in the recent election. They are asking that the leaders, and most importantly, Gusmao, to continue governing but change their ways.

This all comes after a decade of high level government spending fueled by oil and gas riches. But questions remain. Has Timor-Leste gotten value for their money? Has the government’s spending priorities reflected the wishes and needs of ordinary Timorese voters?

Gusmao is seen as a leader with historical legitimacy, a man who has brought many good things to Timor-Leste since independence.

-Partners-

He resolved the 2006 political crisis, albeit despite being complicit in precipitating it, compensated petitioners, gave pensions to the veterans, initiated the beginnings of a social safety net for the poor, brought rural businesses into the private sector, brought electricity to the villages, and made many other positive changes.

Maritime victory
Most recently he won a victory for Timor-Leste’s maritime sovereignty with a boundary agreement with Australia although some see the deal as rushed for political expediency ahead of the recent poll.

But, there are complaints that the new government needs to address, and do so quickly in the first year of the new AMP (Alliance of Change and Progress) government.

Firstly, trust must be restored in the country’s leadership and to do that the lifetime pension for politicians needs to end. Office holders must likewise be held accountable through an annual declaration of assets.

Any forms of corruption must be stamped out among the country’s politicians and civil servants.

The people think, rightly, that leaders seek positions in order to make big salaries and look after themselves. Salaries and benefits need to be cut to reasonable levels. If the leaders give up benefits and stop corrupt activities then only then can the leaders ask people to work hard, sweat, and build a better country.

Secondly, the government must strengthen anti-corruption laws and pursue corruptors at all levels in Timorese society, from the remotest mountain village to Government Palace.

Looking ahead, Timor-Leste needs to move beyond its reliance on oil and gas and the government needs to prioritize the needs of the people who also need to become a community that can create wealth rather than just consume it.

Fund getting smaller
The Petroleum Fund was large but it is getting smaller and it will not last forever. Revenues from it could cease as early as 2026.

After ten years the country has built many things, but not enough for the land, human resources and environment. It is no small feat required of the people. We need to change focus.

Timorese are an agricultural people and it is a strength that needs to be prioritised and improved. More resources must be driven into building up the agricultural productivity and diversification. Funds need to be allocated to improving our farmers’ skills and their output so they can move from subsistence agriculture to agri-business.

Ordinary Timorese are not educated enough. Millions and millions have been spent on government scholarships to build the skills of technical experts, but the chiLdren have been left behind. The primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions are underfunded and under prioritised.

The country would rather pay high tuition fees for international universities than improve the education of the 10-year-olds. This needs to stop or there will be a generation of Timorese who cannot contribute to the nation.

The country must change ways in the education sector to protect the future. School feeding programmes need improvement: a hungry child is not a child that can learn well.

The health of the people is poor, they are eating too much sugar and drinking too much beer. Timor-Leste need to dramatically improve public and preventative healthcare. The voters are asking for it.

Better health care
Rural clinics are an embarrassment. The country would rather send the rich and leaders to hospitals in Indonesia and Singapore than improve the standards of the children’s healthcare. It is not right nor is it wise. There can be no prosperity without good healthcare.

Timor-Leste needs to focus on its people in the rural areas. They need improved electricity access, improved rural roads, water and sanitation facilities. Improving these important assets will improve the ability of farmers and rural people to do business, the healthcare standards of people in the mountains and for schools to be where they should.

For sure, highways airports and bridges are important, but there needs to be a refocus on rural communities and their basic infrastructure needs such as water and sanitation.

About 65 percent of Timorese live next to or within sight of the sea. Timor-Leste has been negotiating maritime boundaries with Indonesia and managing new boundaries with Australia. With these boundaries come opportunities and challenges.

Future oil and gas resources need to be protected and developed very carefully. The fisheries can and should be an important source of sustainable income for Timorese for generations to come. The sea can also attract tourists to the coastal regions.

If Timor-Leste can protect and enhance its coastlines, tourists will be enticed to the villages creating jobs and income in a sustainable manner. But the sea can also bring problems. Rising sea levels, disasters, and smuggling. A coordinating ministry of maritime affairs is needed, just as Indonesia has done.

Again, there is much the Timorese need to do and they need to begin work today. The country just needs a trustworthy government to lead the way.

Jose Belo is an investigative journalist, publisher of Tempo Semanal and a commentator based in Dili, Timor-Leste. This article was first published by UCA News.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media