Terça, Maio 21, 2024
Total visitors: 766366

As the end of the year approaches it’s a good time to reflect on the achievements of Timor-Leste in 2012, and to look ahead to the challenges of 2013.

At the beginning of the year, many were anxious about maintaining peace and stability during the presidential and parliamentary elections, with fears the problems following the 2007 elections would be repeated.  This was also one of the concerns of the UN, so in 2011 the UN and the Timor-Leste government agreed UNMIT should withdraw only if stability prevails, the elections are held in line with international standards and both a government and functioning political opposition are formed.
Fortunately the elections were very successful for Timor-Leste.  Hundreds of international observers came to monitor the elections and consistently praised Timor’s institutions for conducting the elections in line with international standards. Politicians on all sides of politics reiterated the need to respect each other, and relatively isolated incidents of stone throwing were contained by the national police, despite some concerns about the use of excessive force. One such case is the death of a young man in Hera allegedly killed by PNTL members the day after the announcement of a coalition between CNRT, PD and Frenti-Mudanca. The announcement and accusations of police brutality caused some unrest in the following days, but the PNTL were proactive in responding to any potential problems, and trouble spots quickly returned to normal.

The elections were important for a number of reasons. The first is obvious, a new coalition government will lead Timor-Leste for the next five years, in a critical time for development of the nation. With money flowing from the Petroleum Fund into the state budget, the current government has an opportunity to significantly change the direction of the country.

The success during the election period is also important in that the international community will have a much smaller presence in Timor-Leste in the coming years. The UNMIT withdrawal is already well underway, with the last of the staff to leave before the end of December. At the end of this process about 850 of the UN’s national staff and 1400 privately contracted security guards will lose their jobs, and more than 2000 international staff will have left Timor-Leste. This could have an impact on the local economy, especially the sectors that cater to foreigners like hotels, international schools, restaurants and landlords.

In addition the Australian and New Zealand soldiers that make up the International Stabilization Force have also announced their withdrawal, with the last of the 450 ISF troops to leave before April 2013.
With the success of the elections and the withdrawal of international forces, there are positive signs that in 2013 Timor-Leste can begin the shift from being a post-conflict nation to having a greater focus on development. But there are many challenges ahead for the next year. 

Poverty is one of the biggest challenges facing Timor-Leste in 2013. More than half of the Timorese population live below the basic needs poverty line of $0.88 per day, and Timor-Leste is likely to fail to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing this to 14% by 2015. In reality this means, especially in rural areas, malnutrition is widespread and many people still do not have access to clean water or 24-hour electricity.

The conditions within hospitals and health facilities remain poor, and many people in rural areas are unable to access these facilities. Schools often lack basics facilities like running water and toilets, and do not have desks, books and pens for children. Many children are forced to work rather than go to school because they cannot afford to buy uniforms or schoolbooks.

Another challenge for the future is many young people struggle to find jobs, especially in Dili. Estimates of unemployment vary but some suggest youth unemployment is as high as 40%. The International Monetary Fund estimates that about 15,000 to 16,000 young people enter the labour market each year, but not enough jobs are being created to keep up.

While these challenges are huge, going into 2013 Timor-Leste is in the best position it has ever been in to tackle them. The state budget has increased dramatically as money begins to flow through from the Petroleum Fund, and the government has increased spending on big infrastructure projects to stimulate growth.

Now in order to protect the peace and stability Timor has worked so hard to achieve in the first decade of independence, it’s time for Timor’s leaders and the community to put the slogan ‘goodbye conflict, welcome development’ into action.