TIMOR-LESTE: FACTS AND FIGURES

The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste is referred to as East-Timor is an island nation in Southeast Asia. Timor-Leste is a very young country and is listed as the second poorest country in Asia. Around one in five Timorese is unemployed and nearly one in three live below the poverty line. During the occupation by the Indonesians more than two-thirds of the economic infrastructure was destroyed in Timor-Leste.
 

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The Indonesian Invasion destroyed everything: infrastructure, private property, schools, hospitals etc. In just 10 days, around 80% of East Timor's infrastructure, including houses, shops and schools were burned, smashed or looted. One of the finest centers for education, the Polytechnic School in Dili, was totally destroyed. The destruction of education facilities and the withdrawal of most of the Indonesian teaching staff from the country have left the East Timorese education system struggling to meet the needs of its people and has created an important need in the development of local training capabilities.

East Timor is a country of children and young people, with over 45% of the 1.2 million population being less than 18 years old. The destruction of the education system has left 40% of these children unable to attend school, and the literacy rate for the whole country is only 60%.
 
Timor-Leste has 13 administrative districts, 65 sub districts, 442 sucos (villages) and 2,225 aldeias (hamlets). The population of East Timor is about 1,143,667, with an average yearly growth rate of 2.4% (between 2004 and 2010).
 
In addition to the harm done to education system, East Timor also has to contend with hunger and malnutrition, as well as other major health issues (including malaria and tuberculosis) and a low level of economic activity.

Timor-Leste counts around 1.2 million inhabitants living on around 15 thousand square kilometres. The local currency is the U.S. dollar and the official languages are Portuguese and Tetum. English is officially spoken in business and taught in schools.

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Business-opportunities in Timor Leste

By Thomas Schelling,
Board Member Swiss Asian Chamber of Commerce, Ex Director from Nestle

Background
A small delegation from the SACC visited East Timor in early May. While my visit was comparatively short, it was very revealing and led me to some clear conclusions. Note, however, that I only spent three days there (the rest of the delegation stayed eight days) and was limited to observations and discussions in Dili and Baucau only, so my conclusions should be treated with caution.

Economic and Business Situation
Over the past 10 years, the key preoccupations of the Government have, understandably, related to security issues and maintaining political and social stability. As a result, the creation and development of a basic economic structure and a private business sector have been somewhat neglected. Our discussions and “walking the streets” seemed to confirm this.

Also, much of Government’s focus and efforts In the past were put behind the development of the gas and oil industry, another reason why the private sector economy is still weak today. Thanks to the significant oil and gas revenues, the economic outlook for the period 2013–14 is quite positive, though there are quite some challenges ahead.

The GDP growth is rojected between 8–9%. Inflation should come down from the current high level of 12% to around 8%.

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Health & Nutrition Situation
From a personal talk with the Minister of Health, Dr Sérgio G.C. Lobo, it became clear that a sound health care system and providing the people with good quality nutrition is a key priority for his government.

Generally speaking, there is still a lack of good quality and sufficient nutrition, in particular in the rural areas resulting in many cases of malnutrition. According to the Minister, it is not an exception that in certain rural homes only one meal is served in a day!

To address this serious problem one needs good information on the prevailing nutritional deficiencies to see how corrective action can be taken in terms of quantity of food, but also to improve its quality, like by adding the missing micro nutrients to staple food, to school meals, to tap water etc.

The Minister informed that his country is not self-sufficient in its key staple food rice and depends much on imports from Vietnam, Cambodia etc. Surprisingly the imported rice is cheaper than local production, meaning that there is a clear need for expert agricultural assistance to increase productivity and aim for at least 2, if not 3 crops per year as is the case in most of East Timor's neighboring countries.

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Government’s Key Challenges and Priorities
In my view, based on my limited time in East Timor, the main priorities and challenges for the Government would encompass all of the following.

  • Health: Eradicate malnutrition and address nutritional deficiencies. Provide basic health/hospital care also in rural areas.
  • Fight poverty and unemployment. Create jobs. Improve education system.
  • Progress towards sustainable econonomic development to maintain social peace.
  • Exploit huge off-shore oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. This could remain a key source of revenue for years to come. See also “Timor Sea Treaty” between Australia and East Timor on joint exploration valid until 2057.
  • Develop basic economic structure and create a non-oil/gas economy.
  • Build/improve basic infrastructure (NB: rural areas) – roads, electricity, safe water,supply, new seaport, etc.
  • Achieve self-sufficiency in rice production and other key staple foods. Improve coffee growing to become major export earner and develop other natural local export crops (coconut, vanila, tropical fruit etc.).
  • Improve legal system and law enforcement. Fight corruption.
 
In conclusion, to cope with all these considerable challenges, East Timor, as one of Asia’s youngest and poorest nations, will need Foreign Assistance/Aid for a long time to come. This poses an interesting and unusual question for the SACC: Should we, and how could we make a valuable and meaningful contribution?

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIMOR-LESTE

Timor-Leste – a tropical paradise with more than 1.1mill inhabitants. As Asia’s newest nation, Timor-Leste is a country determined to rebuild itself.

From 1520 to 1914 the island of Timor was ruled by the Portuguese. Then, with regard to the division of the island, the International Court of Justice ruled. Thus, the island was divided into an eastern part, today Timor-Leste, where the Portuguese remained and a western part becoming part of the Dutch East Indies, which is today known as Indonesia.

In 1975 when Portugal became independent, Indonesian troops invaded East-Timor and occupied the country. For 24 years the Timorese suffered under this occupation until Timor-Leste did the first steps towards independence in 1999. This in turn displeased the Indonesian occupying power, which then destroyed large parts of the country. Because of these acts of violence, the United Nations acted and took over the temporary administration until 20 May 2002, when the state East-Timor was founded.

Even after the state was founded, violence would not stop forcing the UN to continue its presence in the country for several more years.

Meanwhile, this UN has completed its mission and the young state is trying to find its place in Asia.