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Country celebrates its 10th anniversary: Macau has been supporting East Timor
Macau has been helping Asia’s youngest country in its efforts to gain autonomy, according to Rui Flores, a professor at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) and former Political Adviser for the United Nations in East Timor. The country has just elected its third president, Taur Matan Ruak, who took over during a weekend characterized by numerous events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the restoration of independence after a quarter-century of Indonesian occupation.
“The MSAR government has been giving support, as an example, through sending local civil servants (many of Timorese origin) that go there with all expenses paid by Macau. They go there to develop the abilities of the Timorese civil servants,” Rui Flores told to the Macau Daily Times. He added that some local businessmen are investing in the small country, known by its pristine beaches.
Despite the tourism potential, Rui Flores considers that a commercial flight between East Timor’s capital Dili and Macau “would hardly be profitable.”, despite the idea being suggested in Macau by representatives of the country’s Civil Aviation Department.
And what can Macau do in order to further help East Timor? “The country still needs a lot of support in human resources development. If Macau can provide that to East-Timor, Macau will recognize that eternally. It’s not possible to set up an efficient civil service in ten years, it takes twenty or twenty five years,” he answered.
A Senior Lecturer at the School of Management, Leadership and Government of the USJ, Rui Flores has worked for the United Nations (UN) as a Political Adviser in Sierra Leone, East-Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Chad and the Central African Republic. He was a professional journalist in Portugal for 13 years. He holds a Masters in Government Studies and a Degree in Law. On Thursday he gave a public lecture in USJ about the latest events in East Timor.
During the 90-minute lecture, Flores focused on the ten agitated years that have passed since East Timor was internationally recognized as an independent country in May 2002. Four months later, the country would become the 191st member state recognized by the UN, after ferocious resistance against Indonesian occupation lead by Xanana Gusmão (imprisoned in Jakarta from 1992 to 1999) on the military front and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta on the diplomatic front.
Both resistance leaders became the most prominent players in the young democracy, established with the help of the UN and international advisers. Gusmão is currently the country’s prime-minister with Ramos Horta having just now vacated the presidency, which he assumed in 2007. Ramos Horta had been prime-minister in 2006 and 2007. But other social forces also played an important role, as Rui Flores mentioned to an audience composed of academics and East Timorese living in Macau.
“The catholic church has had a crucial role in the nation building of East Timor. It contributed to forge the identity of East Timor as a nation. It continues to influence the political panorama in East Timor,” he stressed.
There are also “external actors” that played an important role, from which Rui Flores highlights four countries and one intergovernmental organization (the UN, whose staff comprises of 2,816 persons, including 33 military observers and 1,242 uniformed police). The mentioned countries are Indonesia (the neighbor and major trade partner) Australia, with a role very much related with oil and stability in the region,” China, a nation “very much involved in infrastructure building,” and Portugal, the former colonial power that is localized “very far away” and “without a major direct role.”
by oil revenues
Rui Flores showed a map displaying the Greater Sunrise field in the Timor Sea, just eight kilometers off the Timorese coast and notable for its oil and gas reserves. “Sunrise is known to be one of the largest natural gas fields in the world and is much nearer to East Timor than to Australia. In 2005 the two countries agreed on working jointly for 50 years, and later discuss the border issue,” he said, adding that oil revenues “accounts for 95% of the state budget.” With a population of 1.2 million, East Timor has a gross domestic product per capita of USD 3,100 (2011 estimate).
In order to manage the oil profits, in 2005 East Timor established an USD 9.9 billion Oil Fund and currently there are ongoing negotiations with Australia to link a pipeline between Sunrise and Dili.
The pipeline is considered a move of strategic importance in the small country (slightly larger than the US state of Connecticut), that in recent years has been affected by violence and political instability. A major crisis occurred between 2006 and 2008, when about 600 officers were sacked from the Army and “East Timor was on the edge of a civil war.”
“The first nation of the 21st century is a very vivid democracy. The new government will have to be able to manage the expectations of the population” - Rui Flores
At that time, there were clashes between the civilian police and the army, with Interior Minister Rogério Lobato distributing guns to the civilian population before an international peacekeeping force entered the country.
After tense post-elections negotiations, in 2007 the president Ramos Horta invited Xanana Gusmão to form a government, supported by a post-electoral coalition of five political parties. “The decision caused serious violence, opening a precedent: the winner of the parliamentary election might not be called to form government,” recalled Rui Flores. Soon after, on 11 February 2008, he was shot in an assassination attempt which left him seriously injured. He was evacuated to Australia were he fully recovered.
Public spending on the rise
During the last five years, things have been more peaceful and some economic developments have been accomplished. The USJ lecturer calculates that the expansion of public spending reached 346 percent during the period between 2008 and 2012. Civil servants employed by the state grew from 18,528 to 27,000, and popular cash transfer schemes were introduced, particularly in benefit of the elderly and resistance veterans.
East Timor is facing corruption and developmental challenges (the first household corruption survey indicates that 56.9 percent of the population is seriously concerned with the subject) such as training new civil servants, given that most former servants were Indonesian, or fled during the occupation.
The youngest Asian nation is at a crossroads, and parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in July, when 24 political parties will run for office. “It’s very difficult to predict what the results will be. The stakes are higher than ever. Probably, Fretilin will improve its electoral result. It’s unlikely that one political party alone will be able to secure a majority of seats in the parliament,” states Rui Flores.
Acknowledging there are “too many political parties and political actors in such a small country” where “politics remain far more personality-driven than ideologically-driven,” the former UN advisor shows some optimism about East Timor’s future: “The first nation of the 21st century is a very vivid democracy. The new government will have to be able to manage the expectations of the population.”
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