“East Timor predicted to be one of the top ten fastest growing economies for 2011.” (Tempo Semanal, 2011). That news comes as the World Bank recently predicted a 15 percent growth rate and a decline in poverty by 9 percent in the foreseeable future .
Since achieving independence in 2002, and guided by its National Development Plan (NDP), East Timor has made modest progress. But, the latest predictions are seen by many as the beginning of a new journey of development. From Vision 2020:
Timorese will actively participate in economic, social and political development, promoting social equality and national unity. Good roads, transport, electricity, and communications in the towns and villages in all regions of the country will reduce isolation. Production and employment will increase in all sectors; agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
Based on sound management and sustainable utilization of natural resources, the living standards and services will improve for all Timorese, income will be fairly distributed, prices will be stable and food supplies secure. The economy and finances of the state will be managed efficiently, transparently and be free from corruption. The state will be based on the rule of law. Government, private sector and community leaders will be fully responsible to those who chose or elected them.
A fulfilment of that vision would make East Timor economically self-sufficient by 2020 with a population lifted out of poverty as it gains access to health and education and enjoys a higher per capita income.
Over the past nine years, achievements have been made in many sectors. Schools and hospitals both in the capital and the districts have been rebuilt and many government institutions for delivering goods and services have been put in place.
Markets have been opened around the country. The policy of providing direct cash transfer into the communities under the coalition government has stimulated rural economies. Loans provided by the macro finance bank helped many local businesses to thrive. The ability of the government to maintain peace and stability has helped the country to stay on its development path - despite facing a brief security crisis in 2006.
Following the 2006 security crisis, East-Timor has enjoyed a relative degree of stability which has enabled the country to move forward. Many unresolved issues such as the compensation of the former veterans and petitioners have been completed. The closing of Internal Displaced Camps towards the beginning of 2009 marked the end of a long-running conflict emanating from the 2006 crisis.
But, there are many challenges ahead. Major infrastructure such as roads, housing, power and telephone remain underdeveloped - as does the agricultural sector. The current lack of transparency and accountability generates corruption which contributes to the undermining of the country’s developmental goals set out in its NPD.
The national road network linking the capital city of Dili with most of the districts is poorly maintained and damaged by landslides and torrential rain. It takes several hours to travel from the capital to the nearest districts. Consequently, operating costs rise, rural villages are disconnected from the city and farmers are not able to transport their agricultural products to market.
Last year, a week of heavy rain cut the main road linking the capital city and the districts of Ainaro, Same and Suai. It took about two weeks to repair the damage. The road is notorious for accidents. In 2008 the East-Timor National Police reported 1,656 road accidents. Sixty percent of all reported accidents are attributed to human error, 25 percent to road conditions, 10 percent to the weather and five percent to mechanical failure. (Asian Development Bank, 2009).
The government’s failure to execute the road rehabilitation projects further exacerbates the problem. Ninety percent of projects are believed to have failed to deliver on the promise. The government must now find ways to invest in road construction as failure to do so will further undermine the country’s ability to attract foreign investments needed to create jobs and encourage economic growth.
Housing is another major issue. Unregulated property ownership creates tension in communities. Each year, more people move to the city in search of jobs and other economic opportunities. Population increases, together with a large population of UN personnel, pushes up house prices beyond the reach of those who have to settle for slums.
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