Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:47 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:47 | SYDNEY

Timor-Leste: A tale of two documents

28 November 2008 10:38

Guest blogger: Jim Della-Giacoma is an Associate Director at the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum at the Social Science Research Council in New York City.

Last week, Dili was a busy place. While not changing at the speed of Jakarta, where a new shopping mall sprouts between my annual visits, the Timor-Leste capital is not the sleepy backwater I used to know.

It keeps evolving in surprising ways. It used to be a '10-minute town', defined by the time it took to drive from anyone place to another. But as I went about my business driving a local rental car (found on a blog) I started to allocate 15-20 minutes for every journey, particularly during rush hour.

The fact that Dili does indeed have a rush hour demonstrates that its narrow and dusty roads are being filled by a level of unprecedented economic activity – not all of it driven by international largesse. The seaside capital has traffic lights, too, and when they are working I can testify that they are obeyed, with or without a police officer present. It's a sign that would have warmed my heart in days when I traveled the post-conflict world working on democratic development and rule of law.

While my inner political economist would like to see more data and conduct deeper analysis than a week-long visit allows, I feel the story behind the traffic jams is, at its heart, a tale of two documents. First, the last UNTAET budget approved on July 2001 showed a total of USD$65 million with about $23 million for wages and salaries, $32 million for goods and services and a mere $9 million for capital expenditure.

The second came into my inbox this week. Dated 24 November, the Government of Timor-Leste press release announced the Council of Ministers had approved the draft law on the State General Budget for 2009. The Government has announced it intends to allocate about USD$93 million for salaries and wages, $248m for goods and services, $35m for minor capital, $205m for capital development, and $95m for public transfers (aka handouts?). For a small country with high unemployment, this spells a lot of jobs.

The controversy still rages after three judges of the Timor-Leste Appeals Court ruled against the government in a case brought by the opposition FRETILIN party that called into question the constitutionality of the decision to exceed by $180 million the 'sustainable income' or allowable drawdown on the Petroleum Fund. The 'aid watch' group Lao Hamutuk has a comprehensive but succinct summary of the case here. Whatever the outcome of this legal, political, and fiscal battle, these days the Government of Timor-Leste seems to be in good global company when it comes to stimulating economic growth through government spending.

Photo, of a Pantai Kelapa sunrise, by the author.