The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) has announced that it will be implementing measures to increase Timorese participation in the executive bodies of UNTAET. Speaking to the media in Dili on July 2, Sergio de Mello, the UN secretary-general's special representative and head of UNTAET, said UNTAET would soon expand the 15-member National Consultative Council (NCC) to 33 members, all of them Timorese.
The body would be much more representative and function more like a legislature. Cabinet portfolios would be offered to Timorese, who would share responsibility for running the transitional administration until independence. Elections are likely to take place in the second half of 2001. De Mello said the changes would mean that UNTAET would not "continue to be the punching bag", but would "share the punches" with the Timorese.
Rigid UN practices, coupled with delays in the distribution of World Bank funds, are hampering the reconstruction of East Timor. LUSA news quoted de Mello as saying: "Something's not right when UNTAET can cost $692 million and the budget of East Timor is little more than $59 million. It should come as no surprise that the United Nations is targeted for so much criticism, while the East Timorese continue to suffer."
De Mello's announcement follows a debate in June after the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT) submitted proposals for the "Timorisation" of the administration. The main issues of controversy were the role of Xanana Gusmao and the method of appointing Timorese to senior positions in the UNTAET administration.
The Socialist Party of Timor (PST) made a submission to UNTAET commenting on a speech made by UN official Peter Galbraith on June 23 and on the CNRT proposals. The PST stated that it supported the general thrust of the proposals for more Timorese people in the administration and raised the concept of "one table, two chairs", meaning that a Timorese should be appointed to sit alongside every UN official, as early as December. The PST also argued that executive authority should be exercised jointly by de Mello and Gusmao, a proposal that was rejected.
However, the PST's submission opposed a CNRT recommendation that Timorese be appointed to cabinet or other senior positions by the UN solely on the nomination of the CNRT. Instead, the PST recommended either a civil service examination for appropriate positions or that the NCC select the appointees. The PST emphasised the need to reform the NCC to make it more representative, and called for an increase in representation for political parties in proportion to their size.
The PST's argument is based on the fact that East Timor's political spectrum has expanded beyond that represented by the CNRT. The PST itself is not a member of the CNRT and a wide range of political opinion is now being represented by community and social organisations that are not integrated into the CNRT decision-making processes. Fretilin and the Timorese Democratic Union, plus Jose Ramos Horta and Mario Carrascalao, the governor of East Timor under Indonesian military rule, remain in the CNRT.
The PST's position is that there should be no transfer of governmental power to any political organisation except through general elections.
The PST also argued that as the NCC takes on a more "deliberative and legislative role", members of the NCC should not also hold executive positions. This would ensure a separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary.
The PST called for the reformed NCC to have the power to elect its own chairperson, and to summon and question the highest executive authority in UNTAET, as well as Timorese ministers and departmental heads.
On June 14, the PST organised a demonstration of 300 people, mainly farmers, outside UNTAET headquarters to demand the lowering of oil prices, importation of agricultural implements and a wage increase. The protest was organised in the context of discussions beginning around the next budget and of growing dissatisfaction with some key UNTAET policies.
In the June 21-28 issue of Vanguarda, published by the Maubere Cooperatives Foundation, Acao Freitas reported on the PST's policy concerns.
First, the PST disagrees with the very low budget appropriations for agriculture development. Initial reports indicated that this area would receive less than 5% of the budget allocations, in a country where more than 80% of the population relies on agriculture.
Second, the PST questions whether the maximum salary for grade one government employees of US$85 per month is adequate and calls for a review of this standard. The large number of expatriate personnel employed on very high dollar salaries in East Timor has fuelled inflation, resulting in a situation where $85 is insufficient to maintain a decent standard of living.
Third, the PST is calling for regulations to protect small- and medium-scale Timorese-owned businesses. It argues that because many of these were devastated by the pro-Indonesian militia and Indonesian army violence last year, they cannot compete with the Australian, Indonesian and Singaporean businesses now entering East Timor unhindered and establishing partnerships with a new local elite.
Vanguarda also reported on the increasingly bitter feelings of frustration among East Timorese about the emerging social differences among Timorese. In particular, the report noted the increasing dominance of those East Timorese who are returning from overseas and whose access to finance and education put them ahead of those based in East Timor during the hard times of struggle and suffering.
The report also noted a widespread perception that the decision-making levels of the CNRT are dominated by East Timorese returning from overseas, along with most of the better-funded non-government organisations.
It is widely believed that many CNRT personnel are being paid an annual salary averaging US$2000 per year by Australian Volunteers International. This is about twice the rate that the CNRT proposed as the top of the range for grade one civil servants.
The CNRT has argued that wages must be kept low for the great bulk of government workers because it is unlikely that a future government could maintain a higher wage.
BY MAX LANE