24 June 2012

UN discusses poverty in Timor-Leste

Everyone knows that many people in Timor-Leste are impoverished -- and the rural poor know it far better than the economists and policy-makers in Dili and around the globe. Last week, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the world got a glimpse of Timor-Leste's reality. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, invited by Government to visit here last November, discussed her findings with the Council and with people all over the world. Here in Dili, civil society, Government and UN staff watched it via UN webcast (photo at right).

La'o Hamutuk worked with three international NGOs to make written and video statements to the Council, supporting the Rapporteur's report and explaining that poverty here could get much worse in about ten years, when Timor-Leste's oil runs out, our youth population doubles and debt repayments escalate. For more information on the Special Rapporteur and Timor-Leste, including other documents, see http://www.laohamutuk.org/econ/SRPoverty/12SREP.htm.

Timor-Leste's Government gave qualified support to the Rapporteur's recommendations: While certain premises in the report could have taken current reality of Timor-Leste into account, we appreciate the analysis and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur."  In that regard, La'o Hamutuk encourages the Government to publish the results of the Household Income and Expenditure Survey conducted last year. According to the just-released Ministry of Finance Handover Report, "the recent Household Income and Expenditure Survey combined with others will yield new insights into poverty."

The video testimony presented by La'o Hamutuk's Ines Martins on behalf of Madre was the first time ever that an NGO participated by video in an Interactive Dialogue with a Special Rapporteur at the Human Rights Council. Below is a transcript, which is a shortened version of our written statement:

I speak for MADRE and for La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.

We agree with the Special Rapporteur’s report.

Half of Timor-Leste’s population lives in poverty, with little productive economy. With more than 95% of state revenues from oil and gas exports, Timor-Leste is afflicted by the “resource curse” -- inflation, waste, corruption, poor planning, neglect of human resources, import dependency and inattention to non-oil development.

Timor-Leste plans to borrow billions of dollars. Debt repayments will start small, escalating when the oil is used up in about 12 years. At the same time, our post-war “baby boom” will reach working age.
If the country has not built a strong, sustainable economy by then, it will be unable to support its huge trade deficit or provide basic services. When there is no oil money for subsidies or to trickle down, people will starve.

We ask you to help us:
  • Reduce 40% annual growth in State expenditures, while improving basic services for vulnerable people, especially women and children.
  • Invest in health care, education, water and rural roads to let people raise themselves out of poverty.
  • Stop borrowing and wasting money on huge infrastructure projects without much economic or social return.
  • Strengthen the non-oil economy, especially agriculture and light industry, to reduce imports and provide livelihoods and basic needs.
  • Help Timor-Leste take responsibility for its own development.
We thank the Special Rapporteur and the Council for your support.

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