Financial Times "Mr. Gusmao and his peers, with international help, should now let a new generation take over."
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From: Craig Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>Date: August 30, 2009 4:44:04 PM EDTSubject: FT: East Timor's first decade of freedom
Published: August 30 2009 19:11
East Timor's first decade of freedom
Ten years ago yesterday the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from a singularly brutal Indonesian occupation. A showcase for humanitarian intervention and state-building, the country has much left to do.
The international military intervention was without question justified. In reaction to the vote, Indonesian military and irregular forces ran amok in an orgy of violence, killing more than a thousand Timorese. The intervention achieved the narrow goal of restoring order, as did the 2006 return of international forces after fighting between police and army factions.
The country's broader experience is a mix of success and failure. Serious security problems notwithstanding, East Timor has not descended into anarchy. Nor has it congealed into authoritarianism: elections in 2007 led to a peaceful transfer of power. Large oil income has not been squandered or looted.
These are no mean feats. But if the worst has been avoided, the best has not been achieved. Most of the million-strong population – growing at one of the world's fastest rates – still live in awful conditions: half are illiterate; two-thirds have no access to electricity; many are still refugees. Poverty has risen sharply in spite of recent economic growth.
The cause is a failure of state-building. East Timor's oil means it has money; but it dismally fails to spend the funds allocated to public investments. This basic incapacity has predictable effects: politicians have new cars but the roads are crumbling. Without real development, the state resorts to policies such as food subsidies – with obvious potential for abuse – or cash handouts for favoured groups.
The blame falls on both the international community and East Timor's leaders. The UN gave itself far-reaching powers under the late Sergio Vieira de Mello's imperious direction. His excessive centralisation and reliance on personal relationships marked the skeletal state that former resistance leaders took over. Popular though they were, state-building suffered from the mindsets of exile or guerilla war. The elite's old grudges contributed to splits within the security forces.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão remains a unifying figure, but personalised politics and the patronage it encourages is a problem, not a solution. The only institutional success has been in areas – such as oil management – run by younger officials and foreign experts.
It is difficult to yield power. But Mr Gusmão and his peers, with international help, should now let a new generation take over.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009.
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