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Timor-Leste: Public unhappy with government in improving living conditions - NGO

Lusa - March 8, 2024

The Timor-Leste non-governmental organisation Mahein Foundation on Thursday alerted the government to the public's discontent with the lack of "seriousness and urgency" in improving people's living conditions since it took office.

"Instead of seeing dramatic changes in the style and system of governance, the public continues to witness a lack of accountability, a misuse of public office and resources for personal gain and partisan interests, and a neglect of people's most urgent and basic needs," the Mahein Foundation (MF) said in a publicised analysis.

The analysis, which aims to contribute to public debate, warned that Timor-Leste is currently experiencing several "interconnected social, economic and political" crises, coupled with a "stagnant economy, a young population, dysfunctional public services, a weak rule of law and fragile security institutions".

"Although Timor-Leste's political leaders claim to be committed to solving the country's deepest and most urgent problems, many of their actions point to a lack of urgency and seriousness," warned the non-governmental organisation (NGO).

For the NGO, since taking office in mid-2023, the government has been "plagued by issues of corruption, abuse of power and a flagrant lack of transparency and adherence to the rule of law".

MF exemplified the warnings with the crises and controversies registered in the ministries of health and education.

In the Health sector, the NGO referred to the "shortage of medicines that led to the closure of several health centres across the country", the termination of contracts with experienced doctors who were replaced by "less experienced" colleagues and the hiring of an inexperienced company to import medicines, which, in the end, did not import them, but bought them from a "private pharmacy affiliated to another high-ranking public official".

In the education sector, the NGO referred to the sacking of "many teachers", who "worked voluntarily for years, with some contributing their time and personal resources to the construction of schools" without government support.

The MF also said that "another ongoing source of public controversy" is the exorbitant spending trips abroad by state officials, referring to the entourage of more than 70 people, according to government figures, who travelled to the United Arab Emirates to attend Timor-Leste's accession to the World Trade Organisation.

"In addition, the regular updates published on social media showing the international involvement of the leaders contrast sharply with the depressing realities of people's lives on the ground, as a large proportion of the Timorese population continues to live in insecure conditions, with inadequate sanitation, nutrition and income," it emphasised.

The NGO also warned of the "politicisation of security institutions", a "trend that undermines the institutional integrity and popular legitimacy of the state, but also increases the risk of corruption in state structures".

For the MF, the government's decision to make US$12 million (Euro 11 million) available for Pope Francis' possible visit to Timor-Leste "suggests that the state is prioritising its own image with foreign dignitaries to the detriment of the well-being and livelihoods" of the general public.

"By way of comparison, this amount represents about half of the amount allocated in the 2024 state budget to improve access to water and sanitation for the entire population," it pointed out.

The MF warned that in the face of "flagrant abuses of public office, extravagant government spending on travelling and vanity projects and a lack of improvement in people's living conditions" "public frustration and anger are growing".

Source: https://www.macaubusiness.com/timor-leste-public-unhappy-with-government-in-improving-living-conditions-ngo