APSN Banner

Fears Timor-Leste could face economic collapse

News Hub - September 30, 2017

Caitlin McGee – Fifteen years since Timor-Leste gained its independence, there are growing fears it could face economic collapse.

Its main oil and gas reserve is nearly depleted and the government of the country formerly known as East Timor is pumping its savings into grand infrastructure schemes that critics say are wasteful.

In association with the Asia New Zealand Foundation, Newshub reporter Caitlin McGee went to Timor-Leste's capital city of Dili to report on the situation.

With rugged mountains hugging a pristine coastline, Timor-Leste is one of the world's unsung natural beauties. But for people living in the slums surrounding the capital, life is anything but idyllic.

"We have been abandoned by the government. For the veterans they were heroes in the past but now they have betrayed us," says Timor-Leste man Fortunado D'Costa.

"We supported the resistance movement but those who supported the Indonesian government are still living a good life. Today we have independence but we have nothing else. Just the peace and stability."

About 42 percent of Timorese live in poverty and the people picking through rubbish dump scraps are among the most desperate.

This year marks 15 years since Timor-Leste gained its independence after 25 years of oppressive Indonesian occupation. Since then, its leaders have stitched together a stable democracy and brought electricity to remote villages.

But they've struggled to reduce widespread poverty among the 1.1 million Timorese. Money – or the lack of it – is not the problem.

Timor-Leste has been blessed with oil and gas reserves. But they're now running out – and the income they generate is set to vanish in the next 10 years because the government is pumping most of the money it's making from petroleum into grand development schemes.

The government has already spent about $300 million on the Tasi Mane Project – a petroleum infrastructure project on the south-west of the country.

As well as the Tasi Mane Project the government is pumping hundreds of millions into developing an enclave called Oecusse and turning it into a special economic zone it hopes will attract foreign investment.

Again, it's proving controversial because the financial plans are vague. But the government says these big projects are necessary and money won't run out.

"People think that money is going to run out in 10 years' time but this is a prediction," says Timor-Leste politician Estanislau da Silva.

"We are developing the economy and I don't think that we will be left empty handed in 10 years' time. And this is the best bet that we are doing at the moment to diversify our economy."

The government admits it needs to invest more in education and health. Timor-Leste has the highest rate of leprosy in Southeast Asia and 50 percent of children are stunted from malnutrition.

Source: http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/world/2017/09/fears-timor-leste-could-face-economic-collapse.html