DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home
officials have consistently marginalised the Conselho
Nacional de Resistencia Timorense (CNRT), insisting it be accorded
consultative rather than partnership status. The CNRT insists it is a national
council, not simply a political party, or ‘the biggest NGO in East Timor’.
It brings together a range of political forces, and the CNRT argues it
should have been recognised as the Timorese-run transitional government
from the outset. Nonetheless, the CNRT reluctantly agreed to participate
in the UN’s ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC), although several prominent
CNRT figures refused to join. Reflecting the NCC’s consultative status,
the UN retains the ability to rule by decree, rendering the council toothless
on key issues. Policies such as the introduction of sales taxes and the
introduction of the US dollar as the local currency, have simply been imposed."
James Goodman, academic, activist, member Committee of Management of AID/WATCH
Partnership versus ‘consultation’
in East Timor
by James Goodman
The reconstruction of
East Timor is a test case for the role of International Non-Government
Organisations (INGOs) in global politics. INGOs are often seen as vehicles
for ‘peoples power’ in the global era - as sources of participatory democracy
and normative renewal. If they can successfully facilitate the realisation
of self-determination in East Timor then perhaps there should be greater
recognition of their emerging role in global politics.
In East Timor, the
United Nations (UN) is seeking to prove it can manage a process of reconstruction
and reconciliation, and secure a smooth transition to statehood. It has
been particularly sensitive to accusations - from Indonesian diplomats
- that it is biased against pro-Indonesian groups. Reflecting this, the
UN has sought to exert maximum control over political relations in the
country. Ironically, this has meant minimising the involvement of the East
Timorese in decision-making.
UN officials have
consistently marginalised the Conselho Nacional
de Resistencia Timorense (CNRT), insisting it be accorded consultative
rather than partnership status. The CNRT insists it is a national council,
not simply a political party, or ‘the biggest NGO in East Timor’. It brings
together a range of political forces, and the CNRT argues it should have
been recognised as the Timorese-run transitional government from the outset.
CNRT reluctantly agreed to participate in the UN’s ‘National Consultative
Council’ (NCC), although several prominent CNRT figures refused to join.
Reflecting the NCC’s consultative status, the UN retains the ability to
rule by decree, rendering the council toothless on key issues. Policies
such as the introduction of sales taxes and the introduction of the US
dollar as the local currency, have simply been imposed.
The CNRT has a clear
policy position on the role of NGOs in East Timor. In April 1999 it released
a document outlining the relationships it expected to develop with NGOs
in the event of East Timorese independence. The policy emphasised that
NGOs should be transparent, accountable and orientated to the empowerment
of civil society. Furthermore, NGOs should adhere to the country’s ‘Magna
Carta Concerning Freedoms, Rights, Duties and Guarantees for the People
of East Timor’, adopted by the CNRT in 1998.
include not-for-profit status, transparent decision-making, free and fair
election of office bearers and orientation to public interests, specifically
to the promotion of long-term environmental and social sustainability.
NGOs are expected to adhere to these requirements, as a condition of operating
in East Timor.
Despite their self-proclaimed
status as representatives of ‘civil society’, very few INGOs have sought
to achieve this. On the contrary, in their efforts to appear non-political
and professional, many INGOs have tended to decide for themselves what
the Timorese people need, and how they are going to get it. Efficient planning,
and accountability to ‘home’ INGO executives have been prioritised over
sensitivity to needs on the ground and accountability to the East Timorese
people. In many cases INGOs have marginalised local NGOs, undermining their
capacity to respond to the continuing crisis and resulting in the waste
of precious aid.
The CNRT argues that
INGOs wishing to operate in East Timor should establish partnerships with
local NGOs, as only through such partnerships can INGOs establish some
degree of local accountability. Yet INGO partnerships with East
Timorese NGOs remain the exception.
As INGOs have sought
to implement UN priorities in East Timor there have been repeated errors
and misunderstandings. INGOs distributing food aid on behalf of the World
Food Program, for instance, initially failed to operate through locally-based
groups, only to be confronted with intense political disputes at the local
The few INGOs that
have established local partnerships are setting the pace of change. The
Australia-based Trade Union Aid Abroad (Apheda),
for instance, has a consistent record of working with the CNRT to realise
meaningful self-determination in East Timor, and should be seen as a model
for the partnership approach. [See: APHEDA
Union Aid Abroad: East Timor Update January 2001
Recently the World
Bank successfully forced the UN to accept a community empowerment program
for East Timor -
that will see Community Aid Abroad [Oxfam in
Australia] working with local NGOs, including the CNRT, to form 11
elected community development councils. This will create a local channel
for political involvement, perhaps enabling a bottom-up process of development.
[See editorial: 'Democracy and the World Bank
in East Timor' and an evaluation
of the World Bank’s East Timor Community Empowerment and Local Governance
Project (CEP) by La'o
Hamutuk: East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
The general pattern
persists though. With some exceptions, INGOs have generally accepted the
UN’s top-down model. This lack of resolve betrays a deeper structural dependency.
INGOs are dependent on government aid bureaucracies, and on the goodwill
of inter-governmental agencies.
Regardless of the
principles at stake, they are often too willing to do the bidding of these
agencies, at the expense of the peoples they claim to serve. This should
raise serious questions about the role of INGOs as agents for ‘globalisation
James Goodman, is an academic, activist, and on
the Committee of Management of AID/WATCH.
Monitoring the Development Dollar
AID/WATCH is a community-based, not for
profit, activist group that campaigns on Australian involvement in overseas
aid and development projects, programs and policies. AID/WATCH works with
partners in low-income countries, including East Timor, where people are
adversely affected by Australian development activities. This may occur
through bilateral aid programs, multilateral development banks and Australian
corporations. AID/WATCH also aims to inform the Australian community of
how their aid dollar is being spent and what impact it is having, believing
that increased awareness of the reality of international aid will lead
to aid programs that truly benefit the local population.
Purpose: To support people and
communities in low-income countries to determine their own development
futures; to ensure that aid money reaches the right people, communities
and their environments, and that aid projects are implemented with stringent
environmental, ethical, social and cultural guidelines
Telephone from within Australia: (02)
9387-5210 Telephone from overseas: +61 2 9387 5210
July 1999 East Timor: Australia's accountability:
July 1999 Viva Timor L'este: Beyond Silence,
Betrayal, Cowardice & Murder: http://www.pcug.org.au~wildwood/earlyviva.htm
August 2000 Partnership
versus ‘consultation’ in East Timor: http://www.pcug.org.au~wildwood/earlypartner.htm
August 2000 The Rebuilding of ETimor and
November 2000 Project Proposal: Timor
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