[Easttimorstudies] Ramos Horta and Helen Hill on Radio National
jenster at cres10.anu.edu.au
Tue Apr 18 15:07:47 EST 2006
Transcript of an interview with Ramos Horta and
Helen Hill (Victoria University) on Radio
National (Geraldine Doogue) last Saturday morning.
Transcript can be found at
podcast url: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/feeds/satextra.xml
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interviews updating Saturdays at 11am. [NB: this interview is at the beginning]
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Its been four years since Timor-Leste, formerly
known as East Timor, gained full independence
from Indonesia. And according to a recent World
Bank assessment in Dili, this tiny nation of 1
million inhabitants is one of the only
post-conflict countries that has been able to
maintain peace and stability during that period.
But so far this stability has not translated into
an economic one. But how do you build a nation's economy from scratch?
Geraldine Doogue: Now theres a really forbidding
list around at the moment from a new United
Nations report, cataloguing all the things that
are not thriving in post-independent East Timor,
which is just celebrating its fourth birthday.
They range from poor life expectancy to high
illiteracy rates to high infant mortality rates, and so on.
But theres another list as well, of less
tangible measurements, thats available, which is
related to the relatively peaceful climate thats
quite rare in countries that have been torn by
war, and occupation, as Timor has experienced for
30 years. And that bad dispute with us,
Australia, over how royalties from big developed
and potential oil and gas fields would be used,
that has now been settled. Revenue is set to grow
to maybe $280-million this coming year, up from $80-million.
So where does the verdict come down on the fate
of East Timor? You be the judge.
On this Easter weekend, we thought wed invite
two people to join us to have a bit of a good
conversation on how best to encourage this new
nation-state to thrive, not just to survive. And
Id like to welcome now the Foreign Minister, Dr
Jose Ramos Horta, well known to Australians, and
also from Melbourne, Dr Helen Hill, from the
School of Social Sciences at Victoria University,
and also the author of an upcoming book on Timor-Leste. Welcome to you both.
Helen Hill: Thank you, Geraldine.
Jose Ramos Horta: Thank you, Geraldine.
Geraldine Doogue: Minister, youve just had the
Development Partners Conference in Dili, or the
Donors conference to shorten it, looking at the
steps taken so far to develop the county. What
would you say were the key outcomes from those talks?
Jose Ramos Horta: Well I would say that we are
all very proud of the fact that the Donors
unanimously, and that includes the World Bank and
the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, praise
our government performance in the last four
years, since the transfer of sovereignty. And
contrary to obviously what the media usually
pick, they pick on the difficulties or the
failings, the reality is that if we can make an
assessment, an evaluation of four years, much has
been achieved. Maybe not enough to compensate for
the growing population, because we have a
population growth of almost 4%, the highest in
the world, but at the same time the number of
children enrolled in schools, the number of
students going to universities here in
Timor-Leste and abroad, the number of water
supply delivery to people, electricity, or
communications like telephones, today we have a
mobile connection and land connection from that
chain almost every district and sub-district, the
first time ever in the history of this country.
Of course we do have still daunting challenges to
reduce or eliminate poverty altogether, and we
are conscious of that, and because of that, the
government for this fiscal year, 2006-2007, our
budget is now $230-million plus roughly
$100-million of Donors support, we have at our
disposal $330-million to invest across the board
including in infrastructure development, like
roads and bridges that will create thousands of jobs this year and next year.
Geraldine Doogue: Tell me, you spent so many
years going around the world trying to secure
East Timors independence. Now that you are in
government, what has been for you the most
surprising thing about that transition that you
werent expecting? Whats been hardest?
Jose Ramos Horta: Well definitely the most
and that is the lack of
qualified, trained, experienced people in the
government who can make decisions and implement
the decision when theyre made, to execute the
programs, the budget, that is available to them.
We cannot complain, we do not have a lack of
money. But until we have experience, qualified,
hardworking people in the administration who can
expeditiously, efficiently execute the budget, no
matter how much money we allocate for
development, for infrastructure development, we
will continue to face problems. Problems in that
money that has been allocated to a particular
sector has not been spent, or wisely spent.
Geraldine Doogue: And is there a fast track way you can improve personnel?
Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, we have had a number of
capacity building programs carried out with the
help of the UN or bilaterally by countries, we
are hiring international advisers to assist
through the World Bank or through the United
Nations system but also we are conscious that
because now were going to invest substantial
amounts of money in infrastructure development
such as roads and bridges, in smaller schools;
every year we will build about 100 new schools.
Well we will need to open the tender process to
international contractors. And they, the
international contractors should be able to bring
in foreign workers so that theyre able to
execute their projects in a timely and
professional fashion. As long as, obviously, they
would hire a percentage of Timorese workers, 50%
Timorese workers, and to the extent possible,
involve a local partner. But involving of local
partners is not compulsory, we can have an
entirely foreign company operating as long as
they train our people and use local workers.
So we hope that through this process we can have
a more efficient and a timely completion of tasks or projects.
Geraldine Doogue: Dr Jose Ramos Horta:, the
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation in
Timor Leste, speaking to us, and maybe I could
draw in Dr Helen Hill: here. Dr Hill is senior
lecturer at Victoria University and passionately
interested in East Timor. What sort of report
card would you give this newly-emerging country, Dr Hill?
Helen Hill: Well I think in many ways its been
quite exemplary, particularly in wanting to keep
its hands on the steering wheel you could say, of
its own economic direction, which many small
countries I think, get overwhelmed by and almost
give up on, and I think the general outline of
policymaking and the way that the Timorese
government has been able to negotiate with its
Donors, including Australia over the Timor Sea
oil and gas, and with the World Bank over whether
or not to take loans, has been quite exemplary,
because they do have a philosophy and an
understanding of how they would like to see the country develop.
But I think on the other hand, theres been a bit
of a tendency to be dragged into the discourse
which sees the money as the main thing, and as
the Minister rightly said, our problem now is not
the money, its actually human resource
development. And I think that it was a pity that
particularly during the years when the UN was
there, that there wasnt more done on actually
reorienting the education system away from being
a small remote province of Indonesia, to where
people could, when they graduate, go and get jobs
in Indonesia, to a small country which now the
people have to be multiskilled. The education
system, particularly the higher education system,
is training people at too high a level of
specialisation whereas what is really needed is a
lot of people at the middle level with some
academic skills, some organising skills, ability
to implement and also to be very multiskilled,
particularly in agriculture and food processing,
food preservation and thinking about creation of markets.
Geraldine Doogue: Its a form of really clever,
utterly clever bureaucracy, isnt it, that then
empowers others. I mean youre talking about
very, very good leadership. Can you think of
anyone who could offer that? Have you seen
providers who can offer that sort of assistance?
Should we be doing more on that front?
Helen Hill: I have seen in New Caledonia a rural
education system called the Maison Familiale
Rurale, which teaches people straight out of
junior high school, on their own farms, how to
grow crops, but teaches them science as well. It
amalgamates the academic and the practical
knowledge, and one of the things I notice in
Timor which is a bit sad in a way, is that the
education system in a sense is dragging people
out of the productive economy, because once
people reach a certain level of high school in
Timor, they more or less say to their family
says to them You dont need to come and do any
more work on the farm. Youre going to be an
urban worker. And skills that they may even have
had when they were young, they lose. And this
happens in many other countries too, of course, Timors not the only country.
Geraldine Doogue: This is a rural-city divide really.
Helen Hill: It is, and its the way that because
education came in as a colonial thing which was
to create an elite most people it was assumed
would fail and drop out, and then the elite would
be there at the top. Now its my observation that
a lot of agriculture in Timor at the moment is
actually done by people whove failed in the
formal schooling system. And therefore cant read
and write. And therefore are not a good basis for
the improving the productivity of agriculture
without a very different sort of training.
Geraldine Doogue: So do you agree with that Dr Ramos Horta?
Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, generally, yes. For
instance our national university has something
like 8,000 students, and quite a lot of them are
in the area of Humanities, and quite a lot of
them are in a particular degree that was invented
by the Indonesian side, and is almost useless,
and they call it Social Politics. Well I dont
know exactly what one does with that course. In
my own ministry I have already said, no-one with
that degree will be allowed into the Foreign Ministry.
Geraldine Doogue: Youve decided that, have you?
Jose Ramos Horta: Yes, Ive decided that as
warning to students, Dont pick this course. But
of course we have now technical college emerging
as private ones. There had been some older
technical colleges, institutions that have been
started in this country going back to the 60s
that have trained people in agriculture, in
electricity and so on. The government is now
determined to support vocational schools. Even
though right now, we have a significant
unemployment level, we believe that in the next
few years, as we develop the country with
hundreds of millions of dollars of investments,
we are now going to start talks with the Kuwait
fund, as well as with China for very soft loans
to Timor, which coupled with our own revenues, we
will be able in the next ten years to transform the country.
Geraldine Doogue: Let me ask you if you wouldnt
mind me asking this can a viable economy that
is not in effect a rent-seeking economy, or
relying on welfare from others, can a viable economy be created in Timor Leste?
Jose Ramos Horta: Absolutely. Obviously,
precisely because the government has made as one
of its key goals, is to reduce, eliminate poverty
in ten years from now, according to the United
Nations established human development goals. And
to do that, we have to invest seriously in, for
instances, infrastructure like roads, if we want
to develop our agriculture, we have to improve
the roads and bridges, so that farmers can bring
their goods to the cities, to the markets and so
on, so that students can have an easier access to
the schools. So there is no way around one thing,
and that is we need the roads, we need better
telecommunications, and that can be achieved only through massive investment.
Geraldine Doogue: Well of course the Chinese are
putting an enormous amount of precisely this type
of money into the Laotian and the Myanmar and the
Thai economies, to build these huge highways
linking north and south Asia, and East and West
Asia, so I mean, theres the prototype for you.
Jose Ramos Horta: Well I wouldnt know whether
that is a prototype for us. Our plan, which has
been helped by different expat groups including
from India, on how to improve our road network,
that is based on our own understanding of the
needs of the country. But at the same time, these
will create thousands of jobs, and that means
money that weve injected into the pockets of
families, in the economy and so we believe, I
believe, that in five, ten years from now, you
will see unemployment significantly reduced, you
will see poverty significantly reduced. All of
this obviously with a big question mark in the
context of having to be able to produce people
with experience, with the proper degrees, but
also in conditions of peace and stability in the country.
Geraldine Doogue: Ive just to ask you: what if
Indonesians want to come in and take up some of
these jobs? Are they going to be the sort of people whom you will welcome?
Jose Ramos Horta: We do not have a policy of
discriminating against any particular country.
The law states very clearly that companies
investing here, companies that will win the bid
for building roads and other infrastructures,
will be able to bring up to 50% of labour in case
we do not have it here. And if they are to be
Indonesians, they are most welcome. We have the
best possible relationship with Indonesia, but
also we are happy to welcome from any other
country, if they are needed as I said earlier, to
execute the projects in an efficient,
professional, timely fashion. The governments
considering hiring companies that will supervise
and monitor projects. We will not tolerate
companies that have won a particular bid to build
a road and then they fake and theyre dishonest,
and introduce a very poor quality result. We are
having a very, this problem here, with a
particular foreign company, of course the project
was paid for by their own country, one major
country in Asia to build some roads, and my Prime
Minister simply refused to inaugurate that road because it was poor quality.
Geraldine Doogue: Lets just go to a couple of
specific areas, Helen Hill:, that I know that
youve looked at. Coffee, a very important crop
for the Timorese, and a great deal of work needs
to be done to revive it. I think its the third
most significant legally traded commodity around
the world after oil. Now might it be best developed in Timor, do you say?
Helen Hill: Yes, I think its interesting to note
that the Timorese learnt a lot about the
international oil marketing in doing their
negotiations with the Australians, and that
probably an equivalent amount of work needs to be
done to get on top of how exactly it is that the
Timorese can make the most out of their coffee
crop, because several things had happened over
the period of the occupation, and during most of
the occupation, the Indonesian Generals were
actually making a lot of money out of that
coffee, and it was the NCBA, the National
Co-operative Business Association, coming in from
the United States and providing a bit of
competition, which actually led to the Timorese
getting a better price for a period of time for
that coffee. But unfortunately, I think what
appears now to be happening is that there is not
really a free market in who the Timorese can sell
their coffee to, because the overwhelming
majority of it goes to this one buyer, and the
other thing, if you compare it with other small
countries that produce coffee, and the one I went
to last year and was very surprised to see, was
Norfolk Island, where they actually roast and
produce all their coffee on the island, and only
allow it out of the country as finely processed packets of coffee.
Geraldine Doogue: So they do the secondary processing as well.
Helen Hill: They do the whole thing, and the
processing of coffee is a relatively simple
technology. Its the marketing thats the
difficult thing, and because of commodity chains,
now what is happening is the primary producer who
grows the actual crop gets a much smaller
percentage of what people pay. I mean in
Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, we pay say nearly $30
for a kilo of Timorese coffee. Now the Timorese
grower gets about one of those, and all the rest
of it goes to other producers and suppliers along the commodity chain.
Geraldine Doogue: You havent mentioned the word
Starbucks, Helen Hill:, I was waiting for you.
Its a bit of a bum word, isnt it. Because isnt
in fact Starbucks - in effect the Americans
control the National Co-operative Business
Association of the USA, which is heavily - and
Starbucks buys two-thirds of that coffee, doesnt it?
Helen Hill: Starbucks is able to get a huge
amount of the Timorese coffee, partly through the
activity of the NCBA which also runs clinics. So
the Timorese who produce the coffee are enticed
to sell their coffee to NCBA in order to be able
to use the clinics. It creates a whole sort of environment.
Geraldine Doogue: What sort of clinics?
Helen Hill: Medical clinics. But of course
theyre now less needed, because the Timorese
Ministry of Health has built a lot of clinics,
and is beginning to provide a good service.
Geraldine Doogue: Now I think Ramos Horta, you
supported, didnt you, this why? What sort of
benefits would you say that co-operation has delivered the Timorese?
Jose Ramos Horta: Well going back to the past,
during the Indonesian time, it was important to
have some independent entity that would break the
monopoly on the coffee by the Indonesian
military. And I have to say over the years, this
was tremendously helpful to the Timorese farmers.
Now of course, our Ministry of Agriculture, our
government is looking at ways. First we have to
renovate the coffee plantations. Our coffee
plantations are old. In the course of 24 years of
Indonesian occupation there was no new planting.
The coffee was left, up and gone. And now we have
to look at, and the government is already working
with support from Brazil and scientists from
Australia and the US looking at ways to renovate
not only the coffee trees, but also the trees
that provide shade to our coffee. Our coffee is
unique in the world, in that it does not have
fertilizers. All the generations it produced a
very special flavour, a very special taste,
because of the soil and because of the shade
provided by these gigantic trees. But these
trees, in themselves, lately have been targeted
by a particular fungus. So now we are struggling
how to attack this fungus that can destroy the trees that provide the shade.
Geraldine Doogue: Youre such a good salesman
Jose Ramos Horta:, truly you are, I can almost
taste this coffee. But look, can I just move on
to one more example, because Im afraid were
running out of time. What about banks? This is
another very basic, filthy lucre and all that.
Your banking system was essentially destroyed
wasnt it, after independence, and a lot of
people lost their savings. Now theres a real
sense that you need a rural development bank, you
need the capacity to allow people to transfer
money, even from Dili to the provinces.
Now Helen, before I come to you for a final
remark, Helen Hill:, how important is this rather basic need?
Helen Hill: Look I think this is really basic.
One of the things that Im always amused by:
economists way of talking about creating wealth
is that almost none of them seem to mention the
need for the two important things to create
markets, are communications, ability to get money
around the place, and a transport system to get
the goods about the place. And all three of these
were sadly destroyed by the Indonesians and in a
sense ignored in the UNTAET period. There is no
cheap, easy place for, as there was under the
Indonesians actually, a Post Office savings bank.
And there is in most Pacific Island countries,
people can go to the local Post Office and send
money to their relatives around the countryside.
There is a phone system and there are discussions
about prices so that the creation of markets
requires an awareness that you need a Parcel Post
system based on a Post Office, that goes to all
the districts. You need money to be able to be
transferred, such as through the Post Office
bank, and then you need a good phone and radio
system. You need wider knowledge of people so
that they can get a feeling for the nature of the market in various products.
Geraldine Doogue: Ill give you the final word Dr
Jose Ramos Horta:, by way of summary. What do you
think is the top priority in all that weve
talked about, so that we can see a difference in ten years time?
Jose Ramos Horta: Well if I were to talk on the
basis of what our government program is for the
next five, ten years. It is a very, very
ambitious one, and I believe it is do-able. And
that is massive investment in infrastructure
development, in education, in health, benefiting
from the oil and gas revenues from Bayu-Undan as
well as from development assistance, as well as
from some new possibilities of assistance from
the United States. Because of a very good
performance on our side, the US so-called
millennium challenge account, this is a very
innovative far-reaching program that was
established by the Bush Administration to assist
countries in transition, countries who had good
governance, respect for human rights and
democracy, to get out of poverty. So Timor Leste
is now fully eligible to this account, which we
can obtain up to $300-million in the next two
years from the United States to develop the
country. So in all of this, I believe that in the
next five, ten years, in conditions of peace and
stability, we will see this country radically
transformed from today one of the poorest in the
world, to I believe one that will be modestly
prosperous, where you will see much, much less
poverty, much, much less malnutrition, much less
illiteracy and much less malaria, dengue and so
on. And Im very optimistic, and Im not saying
this as a government official doing propaganda,
but Im very independent-minded as you know, and
Im optimistic from what I see my government
doing and from what I observe in the country so far.
Geraldine Doogue: Well look, we all wish you
luck. thank you very much indeed. I think there
are all sorts of facts there that none of us in
this country knew readily, so Dr Jose Ramos
Horta, thank you for joining us from Timor.
Jose Ramos Horta: Thank you, Geraldine, its very kind of you.
Geraldine Doogue: And Dr Helen Hill from the
School of Social Sciences at Victoria University,
thank you very much for joining us too.
Helen Hill: Thank you, Geraldine.
Guests on this program:
Dr Jose Ramos-Horta
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation
Dr Helen Hill
School of Sociology
Story Producer: Dai Le
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