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"The large influx of foreigners with different standards of comfort and greater financial capacity has meant that satisfying their needs has become a priority area: they took over the less damaged buildings and houses, and were given priority in reconstruction and supply of materials.  Meanwhile, a year after the UN's arrival, the vast majority of Timorese, especially those in Dili, are still living amidst the ruins." East Timor Observatory

East Timor Observatory/Observatório Timor Leste/Observatoire Timor-Oriental


Subject:  Reconstructing suitable sustainable infrastructures


1.  Transport
2.  Electricity
3.  Water and sanitation services
4.  Communications
5.  Public Buildings


By contributing to the WB administered Trust Fund for East Timor (TFET), either bilaterally or through UN agencies or international NGOs, many nations are backing efforts to reconstruct East Timor's infrastructures destroyed in the August-October 1999 violence.  Significant progress has been achieved, but most resources are absorbed by the international machine implementing the assistance (US$692 million for the UN mission vs. US$59 million for the Timor budget, according to the Transitional Administrator S.Vieira de Mello (Reuters, 27.6).  The aid is not enough to replace the infrastructures existing prior to September 1999, and the transition period will be insufficient to achieve the set objectives.  The purpose behind the announcement of some results appears to have been to show how much has been achieved.  However, some of the statements have been found to be contradictory:  according to the UN, electricity now reaches 85% of the territory while, according to a study undertaken by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, only 22% of homes have electricity. It is vital that the future independent East Timor is left with infrastructures that suit both the territory and its population, as well as the human and material resources that will be needed to maintain the infrastructures once in place.  This will not be done in the necessarily short political transition period.

1.  Transport

a)  land - Roads in East Timor were not prepared to cope with the heavy vehicles being used by the UN peacekeepers or international aid agencies. Many roads and bridged have not stood up to the particularly heavy rainfall during this year's rainy season (ETO, INFR01 & GOV01).  The Asian Development Bank (ADB), responsible for infrastructures within the framework of the TFET, released US$ 4.5 million for emergency road construction work (ET Update, May-June 2000), but the slow international procurement process
only commenced with the pre-qualification exercise in late August (World Bank, 31.8.2000). "More than 70 applications were received, the majority of which were from East Timorese contractors", small-scale works were given to Timorese contractors to encourage local capacity building (TFET, 6.10). Through the pre-qualification exercise, 55 civil works contractors were identified, of whom "about 40 are local contractors with experience and technical capability to undertake a significant portion of the works" (WB-TFET, 9.11). In June a "Reconstructing East Timor Conference" held in Tibar (Dili), with Timorese management cadres and foreign experts, decided on the priorities for the reconstruction period.  With regard to road transport, the Conference prioritised setting up national and regional services; development of local resources, and regulations, verification and tolls. North-South road links were also considered priorities:  from Dili to Suai with a road to Same, and from Baucau to Viqueque (Tibar Document, June
2000).  Most construction work has been carried out along these two main routes and on the central Manatuto to Natarbora axis.  Some construction in the western zone had to be halted in August for security reasons, and this could delay roads becoming usable before the rainy season (UNTAET, 24.8).

b) sea - The Tibar Conference prioritised the following ports:  Dili, and Hera/Caravela (close to Dili, for military purposes) on the northern coast; Suai, Betano (Same) and Beaço (Viqueque) on the southern coast; Oecussi in the enclave of the same name (Tibar document, 2.6).  The 3 ports on the southern coast need ports beach matting and all-terrain telescopic forklift trucks to facilitate unloading (World Bank-TFET, 9.11).  The "critical bottleneck" at the Port of Dili referred to by the UN (S/2000/938 SC) is one reason for delays in reconstruction in Timor (UNICEF, 28.8.). S. Vieira de Mello believes that developing small ports, such as those on the southern coast, will not only make it easier to ship produce and other goods around the country, but also provide additional magnets for displaced people (The Economist, 26.8.). The Tibar Conference also stressed the need for studies, regulations, international agreements, and tariffs.

c) air - "The airports in Dili and Baucau have suffered damages owing to inadequate maintenance, destruction, theft of equipment, and heavy use over recent months" (UN, S/2000/738 SC).  The Tibar Conference established Dili airport as an immediate priority, and Baucau airport as a future priority, because of its potential for tourism and freight transport.  Development of regional airports in Oecussi, Suai, Lospalos and Same was also considered important.  The Conference recommended that studies should be conducted to identify available human and material resources, and that private sector involvement should be encouraged. Harvey World Travel Ltd. has established permanent operations in Dili, employing a dozen Timorese in providing airport servicing for Australian airlines Qantas and Air North.  According to Harvey World's Managing Director, up to 200 passengers fly in and out of Dili every day (AAP, 7.6). Indonesian airline Merpati operates 3 flights a week between Dili and Bali, while a private Asian company, Dili Express, was granted a licence by UNTAET to operate a flight link between Dili and Singapore via Bali twice a week (UNTAET, 10.7).
c) Link to the Oecussi enclave. The enclave, located within the Indonesian part of the island, 45 km from the border with East Timor, currently has 40,000 inhabitants.  Others are living as "refugees" in Indonesian Timor. Travel from the enclave to the rest of East Timor has been limited, since September 1999, to a few military flights or international aid agency flights that are rarely willing or able to carry Timorese passengers. Timorese who were formerly civil servants in the Portuguese administration cannot get to Dili to receive their pensions, or have been unable to return to Oecussi; students from Oecussi have not been able to get to Dili to register for their courses.  At meetings between UNTAET and the Indonesian authorities, there were differences of opinion on how these problems should be overcome.  UNTAET proposed the use of buses escorted by Indonesian soldiers, but the Indonesian authorities favoured sea transportation, apparently because of opposition from the military.  In September, people in the enclave held a demonstration demanding transport: "UNTAET pays for its staff to go on holidays to Bali, so why can't they buy a ferry for the people of Oecussi?" (The Age, 23.9).  Carrying passengers on boats transporting goods had been forbidden by UNTAET because of lack of proper safety and sanitary conditions but, on 27 September, the Government decided, as a temporary measure, to grant the Australian based East Timor Shipping and Supply company a subsidy to operate a passenger ferry service.  When passengers buy their tickets, they are informed that the company holds no liability towards passengers (UNTAET, 27.9)

2.  Electricity

  • In spite of statements by UNTAET (Briefing 15.5. and Update 30.6) that around 85% of East Timor was served with electricity, several other reports suggest such claims are over optimistic.  In reality, power cuts are a frequent occurrence, even in hospitals and clinics, and in Dili itself. This was recently officially acknowledged when UNTAET issued users with a rota and map showing the areas of Dili and dates on which power cuts were most likely (ETTA web page, November).  Meanwhile, a study has shown that only 22% of homes are connected to electricity networks (IFAD-International Fund for Agricultural Development).
  • The contract with the [Australian] Northern Territory's Power & Water Authority for the provision of electricity supply to Dili was extended by UNTAET in June (UNTAET, 9.6.).  The Government decided that, as from August, large consumers would have to pay for electricity that, hitherto, had been free of charge.  Payment for electricity by all consumers was postponed due to the need to install meters in family homes and to assess their ability to pay bills (IFAD).
  • Head of UNTAET's electricity department said that only 30 of the country's 60 power stations were working in August 2000 (UNTAET, 14.8.).  A project to rehabilitate 15 power stations remained on hold reportedly because of the security situation in the border area where the stations are located (TFET, 6.10). Higher fuel prices were the main reason for the increase in the territory's budget.  S. Vieira de Mello asked UNTAET staff to conserve electricity, and the Tibar Conference recommended the establishment of rules and regulations to promote efficient use of energy, including energy-efficient housing and construction.  The Conference also recommended recovering costs from users, proper training for technical staff, and diversification of energy sources (hydro-electric and alternative energy sources) in order to protect the environment and reduce long term energy costs.
  • 3.  Water and sanitation services

  • "Practically all East Timor water & sanitation services were disrupted by the Aug-Sept 1999 post-referendum violence.  Practically all management and administrative staff departed East Timor and will not return" (ETTA web site).
  • In the water sector, the US$4.5 million available for 2000-2001 are just a fraction of the total US$40 million needed, of which between 12 to 15 million are expected from the TFET (ADB, No.077/00,2-8).
  • The transitional administration had given international agencies and NGOs, particularly Oxfam, responsibility for running this sector.  When it came to handing back its support activities to UNTAET in September, Oxfam expressed its concern that staffing would be reduced from 40 to 5 per district (UNTAET, 5.7).  UNTAET confirmed this cutback, but promised to send 100 UN volunteers to ensure a smooth transition.  Meanwhile, it acknowledged that in the Dili district "one third of the outstanding water connections have now been completed; new applications for water connections are not being processed for the moment" (UNTAET, 24.8.).
  • NGOs called for additional investment in the water system, including a budget for the training of community groups and for maintenance (UNTAET, 24.8).  To create a healthy physical environment and promote hygienic practices among the population are two aspects of the work in this area being done by UNICEF and other local and international organisations (InterAction, 1.10).
  • With the US$4.5 million for 2 years, the TFET aims to rehabilitate the damaged and inadequate infrastructure and re-establish human and institutional capacity to manage, operate and maintain the water service (TFET, 6.10).
  • In October, UNTAET noted that UN Volunteers were still not in place in 3 districts: Aileu, Bobonaro and Viqueue (12.10) while, in November, it acknowledged that the trained teams were only undertaking maintenance work in the district capitals.  An additional budget was required to extend their services to outside the urban areas.  Even in Dili where, in June, the water supply was sufficient to cover "over twice the needs of the people connected to the network" (ETTA web site) "the water supply is becoming a source of

  • concern, with no solution in sight" (UNTAET, 30.11).

    4.  Communications

    High priority was given by the Tibar Conference to producing telecommunications legislation and regulations, training staff and preparing international tenders to provide full facilities to all districts.

    a) telephones -

  • The telephone network, now gradually being restored after extensive damage in September 1999, is only operational in Dili.  The mobile phone service, accessible through the Australian Telstra mobile network, is available in Dili and parts of Baucau and Suai.  In other districts, communication is only possible by satellite phone (AAP, 9.8).
  • The Transitional Administration's Information Technology, Post & Telecommunications Dept. (ITPT) launched an international call for Expression of Interest bids for a telecommunications system in East Timor (ETTA, web site, 16.8.).
  • The Chairman of Portugal Telecom has expressed interest in investing in telecommunications development in both Timor and Indonesia (Indonesian Observer, 7.7.).

  • b) radio -  UNTAET has partially repaired the old radio network that was severely damaged by withdrawing pro-Indonesia militia last year.  East Timor's mountainous topography has made the task difficult.  In November 1999, UNTAET began broadcasting Radio UNTAET in English and Tetum, but it is available to only about 50% of the population.  The pledge made last April by the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yohei Kono, to donate 8,000 solar-powered radio receivers has met with numerous delays;  in early September, only 500 had been delivered.  In an interview with Kyodo News, S. Vieira de Mello regretted these delays and described communication with the East Timorese as UNTAET's "biggest failure" (Kyodo News, 1.9).  [Was this due only to the shortage of radio receivers?

    c) Internet - According to ETTA's web site, the lack of a public communication network is a major obstacle to reconstruction.  The estimated cost of the project to link all districts and central government in Dili via Internet, which should be operational within a year, is US$1.45 million.

    5.  Public buildings

  • The Central Payments Office is "the first major reconstruction project on a public building carried out by UNTAET", said the transitional administration's spokeswoman.  An Australian company would be restoring the building.  For the 2-month project, costing US$416,000, which began in June, 38 of the 50 workers employed were Timorese.  "Other buildings in Dili to be reconstructed in the transitional period with money from the trust fund include a judicial affairs office, the Court of Appeal and an employment service centre.  In Baucau, ET's second largest city, rehabilitation works are to be conducted on the prison, district court, public prosecutor's office and market ()UNTAET officials said rehabilitation of buildings through local contractors will not be possible in the short term since the contracting industry was in the hands of Indonesian firms, all of which have left ET and taken their equipment with them () Xanana Gusmao had earlier questioned some of the world body's priorities in reconstructing public buildings, calling for a more balanced approach to be taken between public buildings in Dili and those in the outlying districts." (Kyodo News Service, 16.6).
  • Companies were selected to compete for the reconstruction of 4 public buildings in Dili and 3 in Baucau.  For the work in Dili, 13 of the 18 companies selected were Timorese-owned, while 9 of the 11 companies chosen to compete for the works in Baucau were Timorese.  "The companies have now two weeks to prepare their proposals.  The works will start before 24 July" (UNTAET, 3.7).  Renovation work on Baucau prison was adjudicated to a Timorese construction company (UNTAET, 28.11).
  • Reconstruction work on 6 public buildings in Dili will take 3 to 7 months. They will provide new office space for 12 agencies of the ETTA (UNTAET, 9.8).
  • The newly renovated markets in Dili, Becora and Comoro, have each provided 180 vendor stalls; some 2,600 vendors will be housed in an open area next to the market buildings (UNTAET 31.10).
  • Funds:

    1. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a US$29.8 million emergency project, to be financed by the TFET, for roads, ports and electricity networks rehabilitation.  Immediate benefits will be felt in food distribution work to areas hit by shortages, distribution of agricultural materials, relocation of refugees, and in UN peacekeeping force movements (ADB web page, 10.7).
    2. Funding agreements worth US$27.5 million were signed between the Japanese Government, UNTAET and the UNDP for 6 urgent projects. The projects include work on Dili's water supply, the Dili-Ainaro road, power stations and distribution networks in Dili and rural areas, and irrigation systems). "This is the largest contribution made so far for the rehabilitation of infrastructure in East Timor" (UNTAET and Government of Japan, 14.7).  The Japanese Government pledged US$100 million in December 1999.


    1. The slow pace of reconstruction was inevitable for several reasons: 2. The Timorese are accustomed to having to make do with little, and to wait patiently.  However, what makes the current situation less acceptable are: the pledges of massive aid that take so very long to materialise on the ground; the starkly contrasting life styles of the Timorese and foreigners - far more shocking than in the time of the Indonesian administration; the feeling among the Timorese that, with the same resources, they would have done more and better than UNTAET has managed to do, and, finally, that UNTAET's own bureaucracy is more of a hindrance than a help to the reconstruction process.

    3. Whether or not they are justified, these feelings will only disappear when the foreign presence has substantially decreased and Timorese see that they have gained control over their own affairs.  However, this may not happen when the UN withdraws if key enterprises are left in the hands of foreigners.

    4. As UNTAET officials have admitted "the contracting industry was in the hands of Indonesian firms, all of which have left East Timor and taken their equipment with them".  The fact that procurement is open to Timorese companies as well as to foreign firms is not enough.  Unless positive discrimination is practised, the Timorese cannot compete. A key consideration in the procurement process ought to be the creation of human and material resources that will ensure the future maintenance of work now under construction.  The Timorese themselves are the party most interested in that future.

    5. Half the territory's villages still have no roads.  The fact that 80% of Timorese work in agriculture, and that it is on agriculture that the development of East Timor's economy depends in the short and medium term, cannot be overstated.

    6. The main objective behind the installation, with international aid, of infrastructures ought to be local capacity building, both for the purposes of boosting production and training workers, so as to ensure that, when international aid ceases, development will continue.

    Note: Documents and information relating to this subject have been compiled by the East Timor Observatory in a 44-page thematic Dossier entitled "Infrasructures - ref. INFR02". The Dossier and/or further information may be ordered from the East Timor Observatory.

    Observatory for the monitoring of East Timor's transition process a programme by the 'Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere'
    Coordinator: Cláudia Santos

    East Timor Observatory / Observatório Timor Leste / Observatoire Timor-Oriental
    ETO was set up by two Portuguese NGOs - the Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People (CDPM) and the ecumenical group Peace is Possible in East Timor,  which have been involved in East Timor solidarity work since the early eighties. The aim of the Observatory is to monitor East Timor's transition process, as well as the negotiating process and its repercussions at international level, and the developments in the situation inside the territory itself.
    "We should all understand that Liberation of the Fatherland is only half the objective of independence.

    After independence, Liberation of the People constitutes the other half of the objective of independence."
    Xanana Gusmão, 1999
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