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Ambition in a bottle – The Edge Review

Inside Be'e Mor's factory in Dili (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DILI – Bendita Fraga, a 40-year-old housewife living on a farm near Dili, said that electrification had allowed her family access to new sources of clean groundwater. Pooling with neighbours, the farmers in the village bought an electric pump to extract water from a newly drilled 12-metre well. “With the pump, we can drink cleaner water and grow more crops with the extra water,” Fraga said. That would have been impossible before the government’s recent expansion of the power supply, which now covers around 60 per cent of the population.

Conflict prevention group plays key role in tiny southeast Asian nation – The Christian Science Monitor

Cornelio Gama, aka 'L7. in conversation in Dili (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DILI – Cornelio Gama, aka “Elle Sette” (L7), a former member of parliament in East Timor and leader of a murky clandestine group called Sagrada Familia, had just come home from a peacemaking mission at the University of Dili in the country’s capital. “There is a dispute between the rector and the students,” he says, “so I went there to try and resolve.” Peacemaker for a morning, Gama and his brother Paulino, better known as “Mauk Moruk,” are in fact at odds with the East Timor government, which they see as illegitimate.

In the footsteps of Gusmao – Nikkei Asian Review

Xanana Gusmao before voting in 2012 parliamentary elections in East Timor (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DILI – Gusmao’s continuing presence in government means that new PM Araujo, who spent recent years as an adviser to various Timorese ministries, could find himself overshadowed. “That could be the impression from outside, but everybody in the government agrees with the concept of teamwork, and so far he [Gusmao] has been a very good team player,” Araujo said when asked if Gusmao’s presence in government might be a distraction.

New East Timor prime minister seeks to diversify oil-reliant economy – Nikkei Asian Review

East Timor Prime Minister Rui Araujo speaks to the Nikkei Asian Review at East Timor's government head office (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

DILI – East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, faces bleak economic prospects, amid predictions that the oil and gas that account for three-quarters of the country’s gross domestic product could run out in less than a decade. “We are aware of the risks and we working toward managing those risks,” Araujo said, discussing the vital but finite oil and gas reserves. The government has almost $17 billion saved in a petroleum fund, but estimates based on current spending and energy price forecasts suggest the fund will be depleted less than a decade after the last of the oil and gas has been extracted.

A tough act to follow – The Edge Review/RTÉ World Report

A father and son look for seashells along Dili Harbor. (Simon Roughneen)

DILI – Gusmao’s administration was tarnished with corruption allegations against two of his highest-profile ministers. And despite eye-popping growth, oil and gas extraction have not generated jobs for the hundreds of thousands of Timorese who eke out a living as subsistence farmers or are jobless. Moreover, the oil and gas revenue that comprises around three-quarters of GDP will run out in around a decade, meaning there is an urgent need to develop other sectors of the economy. But Araujo does not have long to implement his policies, as elections are due in 2017. Tourism and agriculture will be two priority areas, he said: “At least we could set some foundation for the next government to follow on these.”

Pulp fiction – The Edge Review

Forest preservationist Mardiana Deren speaking on Bali in early August  2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s vast but much-plundered forests are likely to be further degraded in coming years as the country’s pulp and paper sector expands. That’s according to new research suggesting that 30 per cent of timber used in industry comes from illegal and unsustainable sources. The analysis suggests that if Indonesia’s pulp and paper mills were to operate at full capacity, and if companies were to go forward with plans for multi-billion dollar investments in new mills, the industry would need to double its legal supply of wood to meet demand.

Suu Kyi’s party drops first hints on plans – Nikkei Asian Review

Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at June 2013 World Economic Forum debate in Naypyidaw (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – In a rare discussion of the party’s economic thinking, Han Tha Myint said the NLD wants to press on with the liberalization of the banking sector. In October 2014, nine foreign banks were awarded restricted licenses to operate in Myanmar as part of a gradual opening up to foreign investment. Foreign banks are limited to a single branch each, cannot serve individuals or locally owned companies, and are prohibited from making loans in kyat, the local currency. Han Tha Myint maintained the NLD would loosen these restrictions, saying, “It will be much better for the economy.”

Malarial malady in Myanmar – The Edge Review

Mae La refugee camp, north of Mae Sot in Thailand, and home to tens of thousands of Burmese refugees from a region where drug resistant malaria is re-emerging (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – The emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin could put hundreds of millions of people are at risk, according to new research in The Lancet. Drug-resistant malaria was found just 25km from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar, a country that is now considered “the frontline in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world,” according to Dr. Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, senior author of the new study.

Myanmar education battleground sees a rare compromise – Nikkei Asian Review

Protestor seeking education reform marching in Yangon on Feb. 8 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

YANGON – After 3 months of protest, a Feb. 10 deal on education reform allows activists help revise a divisive education law passed last year. Zaw Htay, a senior officer in President Thein Sein’s administration, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the deal between the government and the protestors was historic. “There has never been a compromise like this between the government and students in our history,” said Zaw Htay. But whether or not the education stand-off is over will depend on how parliamentarians react to the revised law. “So far, this is just a paper agreement, so we will wait and see what the parliament does,” lawyer Robert San Aung told the Nikkei Asia Review.