KAITEHU – “Two hours walk, it grows there,” Bendita Ramos said, pointing back over her shoulder and beyond her pink-painted 2 room house toward mist-shrouded hills behind. She was talking about bitter bean, a poisonous legume growing wild in the Timorese countryside. The bean needs arduous and careful preparation before it can be eaten as a supplement to a corn and rice-dominated diet. “We have to boil it 7 or 8 times, and change the water each time,” Ramos said.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
HALIDOLAR, East Timor — Three years ago, Maximiliano de Sosa had neither electricity nor basic farm machinery. Now, there is power around the clock and a tractor that de Sosa can rent to plow his small plot of land about 40 minutes’ drive from Dili, the capital. Perched on a 30cm ridge between de Sosa’s mustard crop and a neighbor’s spinach plants, an electric pump sucks water from a 12-meter borehole, making it easier to irrigate crops during the searing dry season. “If we don’t have electricity, we have to carry water half a kilometer and then water the crops by hand,” said de Sosa.
JAKARTA – Beermakers Heineken and Carlsberg are showing interest in setting up operations in East Timor. Tony Duarte told The Edge Review that the proposed Heineken deal will raise the country’s profile as an investment destination. “Timor-Leste will be placed in a spotlight of countries in which world renown[ed] companies will be able to consider and may eventually attract them to look for other business opportunities for investment in the country,” Duarte said.
DILI — The party of East Timor’s prime minister won the majority of seats this weekend in peaceful parliamentary elections, paving the way for him to form another coalition government as the country faces its second major transition a decade after independence. The elections come at an important juncture for the impoverished half-island country, which celebrated its 10th birthday May 20. The United Nations mission and police are slated to withdraw by 2013, by which time Australian and New Zealand troops who have been stationed there on a separate peacekeeping mission will have departed. These changes will leave the young democracy standing on its own feet, and perhaps in a better position to pursue its goal of joining the regional bloc known as ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “The next five years are crucial for us,” says former President Jose Ramos-Horta.