04 April 2012

LH reply to comments on ANP/Health Care posting

Last week, La’o Hamutuk posted a one-page blog article (also Tetum) about a tender by the Timor-Leste National Petroleum Authority (ANP) for health care for its staff and families. We understood the ANP’s desire, shared by everyone in this country, for better health care than the public system currently provides, However, we pointed out that two-thirds of ANP’s funding ($4 out of $6 million during 2011) comes directly from oil companies and is outside of the State Budget, Parliamentary decision-making, and the Petroleum Fund process which is designed to manage all petroleum-related revenues to Timor-Leste.

The article closed with the paragraph: “In many resource-curse afflicted countries, people with the opportunity to skim money from oil and gas activities become a privileged, corrupt class. We do not think this has happened yet in Timor-Leste, and hope it never will.” We encouraged readers to pay more attention, as ANP’s tender announcement had already been printed in many newspapers, but almost none of the citizens, Parliamentarians or public officials we mentioned it to had noticed it or realized its implications.

Our short article stimulated coverage on local television and newspapers, commentary by Parliamentarians, editorial writers and others, and lively discussions on Facebook, email lists, and La’o Hamutuk’s blog. Many reactions were substantive, and we appreciate people with thoughtful views on all sides of the issue, as our intention in writing the article was to encourage debate. Unfortunately, some respondents – especially those unwilling to give their names in comments on our blog – chose to make personal attacks against La’o Hamutuk, our motivations, or our staff.
This response tries to explain some facts and ideas that we left out of the initial article to keep it short and to the point. Although we will address some side issues, we hope that the discussion will continue to focus on the principal issue – democratic processes for allocating natural resources belonging to the people of Timor-Leste.

According to media reports, ANP President Gualdino da Silva considers La’o Hamutuk’s article “defamation,” says that we are “without ethics,” and that we should have contacted ANP before writing the article.  In fact, we spoke on the telephone with ANP staff three times before writing the article, and visited their office, but nobody was available and/or willing to provide any information beyond what had been in the newspaper ad. We also emailed President Gualdino at the same time we posted the article, encouraging him to respond either on the blog or to us directly, and promising to publish his response. We have not heard from him.

The facts in our article come from documents published by the ANP (their newspaper advertisement and quarterly report), the ANP’s Decree-Law and Bylaws, the Central Bank (Petroleum Fund quarterly report), and the RDTL State Budget.* If any of these are wrong, we are ready to correct them. This was not a deep investigation on La’o Hamutuk’s part – except for the time spent trying to contact ANP, we spent about three hours researching and writing this article. It is not a complicated issue.

We join with some blog commentators in appreciating ANP's transparency. We have long welcomed the Authority’s openness and willingness to dialogue, as well as the information it makes available on its website and elsewhere, which is often more transparent than the law requires. We hope that this experience does not intimidate ANP into secrecy – one consequence of transparency is that people will read what is made public, sometimes resulting in uncomfortable, if useful, public discussions.

As La’o Hamutuk encourages transparency for state institutions, we try to practice it ourselves. Information about our programs, funding sources, expenditures and other activities is in the six-month and annual reports available on our website. You can read that we provide health insurance for our staff, partially subsidizing international insurance for those who prefer it or reimbursing medical costs through a self-insurance fund maintained by the organization. This is explained in the proposals we make to the three generous donors who support La’o Hamutuk’s work, and they agree by granting us money. That is all we are asking of ANP: to allow the ‘funders’ of their activities – the citizens of Timor-Leste through their elected representatives – to approve their budget and revenues.

La’o Hamutuk is an independent organization which does not accept funding from any institution with a significant interest in Timor-Leste – including those named by anonymous blog commentators alleging guilt by association. For 12 years, we have tried to practice equality and participation – our national and international staff have the same salary and responsibilities; we have no director and work as a non-hierarchical collective. We are not perfect, but we try hard to avoid many of the negative patterns mentioned by some commentators. We welcome more informed discussion.

Some defenders of health care privileges argue that ANP staff play a key role in Timor-Leste (petroleum projects under their regulation bring in most state revenues), and therefore need good health care. We agree, and believe that this principle also applies to police officers, teachers, nurses, public servants and others working for the State of Timor-Leste, which is why we have long encouraged Government and Parliament to allocate more money to the public health care system, including prevention. In addition to longer lives and less sickness, this will have many benefits: better school attendance, more effective public institutions, a more productive private sector, increased tourism and better health for everyone.

[As an aside, the one La’o Hamutuk staff who comes from the United States urges people NOT to look to the USA as a model for health care, as it has failed miserably in this area, with special interests (insurance companies and private health-care companies) driving up health care costs and making it unaffordable for many people. Timor-Leste, which is more democratic, should do much better.]

In the spirit of free speech and open exchange of ideas, La’o Hamutuk will continue to publish all comments to our blog, even if they are anonymous. However, if you believe in what you are writing, we hope you will be brave enough to sign it. Thank you.

* These links go to the websites of these institutions, which don't always work. For links to the same documents on La'o Hamutuk's website, please refer to the original blog posting.


  1. I think it is a good response. I personally, agreed with Laohamutuk that the healthcare system should be fair to all Timorese not a single pubic institution that having such benefit. In my understand, ANP is one of the public institution that created to regulate E & P in Oil and Gas in Timor territory and at JPDA , as public institution they should be treated equally among other public institutions exist in Timor Leste. However, as career in oil and gas and its related fields in a virgin country like Timor Leste is facing difficulties in attracting and retaining good people. Therefore, it is very good idea the ANP management picked up the solution to provide healthcare incentive/package to its staff and their family members. This is not only able to retain good people that already working with ANP but also it will be able attract more people to join the institution. It is very good that Laohamutuk picked up this issue and post it in its blog to invite more people to give their views. Well done, Laohamutuk. keep it up.

    Best Regards,

  2. it is very good idea the ANP management picked up the solution to provide healthcare incentive/package to its staff and their family members.