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Focus on Timor-Leste

November 2007

Rebuilding a Government

When the tiny state of Timor-Leste was born in 2002 the future was less than bright.

photoVirtually everything in Timor must be rebuilt.

Independence was preceded by decades of conflict between Indonesian military units and Timorese guerrillas which climaxed in an orgy of violence in 1999.

The United Nations carefully nursed the stricken region to statehood, but when the black, red and yellow flag was finally raised, the new country lacked virtually all of the structures necessary for nationhood.

Physical infrastructure such as schools, factories and homes lay in ruins. Education was in a shambles and the majority of the estimated 20,000 civil servants who administered the territory left.

In the intervening five years, Timor-Leste has been trying to piece itself together again.

One of the most important, if less glamorous tasks in this jigsaw, is so-called capacity building—clumsy bureaucratic jargon for a project aimed at finding and training a new body of public officials and making sure the administrative structure they inherit is effective and efficient.

JICA is helping the government rebuild itself in such areas as public administration, public works and agriculture.

The government has sent 500-600 officials overseas for training, more than half of them to various JICA training programs in Japan. (The agency runs the world's largest overseas training project).

Eriko Kameyama, who is from Osaka, is working with the tiny four-person Capacity Development Coordination Unit (CDCU) which advises the Prime Minister's office in the capital, Dili. A fluent speaker in the local Tetun language and Indonesian, she began work in March and will stay for one year.

Starting from Scratch

photoCapacity building is not glamorous, but remains vital in Timor.

"We have huge responsibilities and we need all the help we can get," says CDCU director Augusto Soares Barreto, "and JICA is a very significant partner. Given that we have so few capable people right now, this support is vital."

"We have had to start from scratch in every area, "Soares Barreto added. "Right now money is not the major problem, but our ability to absorb resources, to find the right people and build the correct structures."

Timor faces the same kind of bureaucratic problems as many other developing countries. There are so many bottlenecks and pieces of paper to sign for even the simplest requests that it can take three months to obtain a new office chair or desk.

But according to Eriko Kameyama, who majored in Indonesian studies at Osaka University of Foreign Studies, there are other, perhaps more unusual problems too.

She is researching how best to overcome the problem of the government having to work in four languages at the same time.

Because of its colonial heritage, Timor's judicial system works mainly in Portuguese. Foreign affairs and tourism increasingly are handled in the 'global' English language. The Agriculture Ministry works mainly in the local Tetun language with its farm clients. And Indonesian is widespread.

"We have to bring some rationality into this complicated situation," she said.

Soares Barreto believes that "Five years on from independence, we are still in the process of consolidating and building a solid base. But slowly, slowly we are moving to a situation where we can take over most functions."

And, he added: "Timor is a fragile state. But we are not a failed state."

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