15 August 2008, 11:00 hrs
UNMIT Headquarters, Obrigado Barracks, Dili, Timor-Leste
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a press conference by Senior UN Advisor Dr. Hafiz Pasha and the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-Gernal for Timor-Leste Mr. Finn Reske-Nielsen.
Finn Reske-Nielsen: Dr Pasha is here to discuss with the Timorese authorities various options for macroeconomic policies for poverty reduction. He has had meetings with the Prime Minister, other Government members and members of academia and civil society. Yesterday afternoon, the PM had organized a special meeting of the Council of Ministers for Dr Pasha to address the Ministers and a very lively discussion ensued.
Hafiz Pasha: My visit to Timor-Leste comes at a very important time in the history of this country. While there have been difficulties in the past, I see the country has made a strong democratic transition and particularly now, with the flow of very large oil revenues, is poised to make a big push towards development. Currently, the country has a number of challenges: a high level of poverty, very low human development ranking, and serious limitations of human resource capacity and infrastructure. So the challenge is to use this opportunity to try and achieve the Millennium Development Goals which focus particularly on reducing poverty and on improving standards of health, education and gender equality.
In yesterday’s meeting with the Council of Ministers, we offered the support of the UN Development Agencies to assist with the preparation of a Millennium Development Goals based development plan for Timor-Leste up to the year 2015. UNDP is also proposing to support the establishment of a Human Development Centre. This facility is proposed to be located in the National University of Timor-Leste and the objective is to involve national experts in the preparation of human development reports for Timor-Leste. We have had very useful meetings with Government and civil society and discussed the key elements of the future development strategy for Timor-Leste, particularly on the macro-economic framework. Some of these discussions are contained in the press release.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Are there any questions?
Q: In your meetings with the Government, did you discuss the issue of corruption and did see any indication of corruption? What do you think the Government has to do to combat corruption? Finally, how can Timor-Leste avoid the ‘resource curse’ of oil that has afflicted other nations?
Hafiz Pasha: These questions are related. There has been a feeling that many countries that have an oil income experienced a resource curse. The common view of the resource curse is that when you have a lot of money, there is a danger that it will be misused or that there will be more corruption. We have seen this happen in Nigeria for example. But I must say that Timor-Leste has drafted an extremely strong and good petroleum law. And the Petroleum Fund is very well managed, especially with the funds being invested offshore with the help of professional investment managers. In fact, there is indication that a high level of fiscal prudence and management is being shown. The policy with regard to the withdrawal of the Fund also appears to be conservative, focusing on sustainable income and it is very important that this policy continues to ensure that money accumulate in the Fund and evidence is that accumulation is taking place very rapidly- the Fund now exceeds 3 billion dollars.
To the more general issue of corruption, I have been told that the PM has declared the year of 2008 as the Year of Administrative Reform. One of the key pillars of this reform is the emphasis on anti-corruption. So, various inputs are being provided on the drafting of appropriate laws and setting up of the institutional framework, and both multilateral and bilateral agencies are assisting in this process. I’ve also spoken to the Speaker of the Parliament on how the Parliament can become more effective in ensuring accountability in Parliament. So I believe that the Government is serious about ensuring that corruption does not increase as more funds flow into the country.
Q: Timor-Leste is known as one of the poorest countries in Asia. How can the Government help improve the poverty situation in Timor-Leste?
Hafiz Pasha: My views on the issue of poverty reduction are detailed in a PowerPoint presentation of a public lecture I just gave. This PowerPoint will be provided to you.
Q: The UN has provided a great deal of assistance to Timor-Leste. How transparent do you believe the process of funds provided by the UN to the Government has been? What does the UN think about drawing the oil pipeline to Timor-Leste in order to increase the human recourses of the country?
Hafiz Pasha: All UN expenditures are authorized at the level of the UN Security Council and there is a very intensive program of auditing which is available to all member countries. This information can be provided to you by the mission.
Finn Reske-Nielsen: The UN expenditures are very tightly controlled by the member states and in all peacekeeping missions there is a resident auditor which looks at all the expenditures on a daily basis. We also have a team of external auditors which arrived a few days ago who will look at the ways the programs are being conducted. There is very tight scrutiny of the way the UN spends its money.
Hafiz Pasha: Regarding the development of human resources, given the situation of Timor-Leste the development plan will have to focus particularly on ‘manpower’ planning- let me assure you it’s both man and woman power planning. In the short to medium term, this will also focus on how some of the gaps in human resources can be met. This will include exploring the possibility of outsourcing and temporarily hiring expertise in critical areas. One very good example is the employment of Cuban doctors to manage some of the rural health services. This has to be accompanied by substituting over time with locally trained personnel. For the Timorese population, we will have to vastly expand the scholarship program to other counties. The Government has ambitious plans for sending a large number of Timorese to South Korea and The Philippines. In addition, priority will have to be attached to the development of national training institutions. In this context particularly, training of faculty will be very important. The Fellowship Program will also include new graduates as well as people who are in-service.
Q: What are the UN’s observations on corruption and does the UN agree with the Government’s planned anti-corruption commission?
Finn Reske-Nielsen: The UN works very closely with the PM on his initiatives to implement the measures under the heading of the Year of Administrative Reform. A key element of this reform process is to establish an anti-corruption commission. This is an initiative that we support and we are providing technical advisory assistance to the PM in collaboration with Mr. Steven Bracks (former Victorian Premier) who is an advisor to the PM on this issue. The proposals are still under development, but it will be very important to ensure the independence of the commission, to ensure that it is properly staffed and resourced in terms of annual budget allocations and to ensure that it has the necessary powers to prosecute. One proposal is that one of the prosecutors from the Prosecutor-General’s office be seconded to the commission to ensure that there is full accountability and that anyone who has committed a criminal offence in terms of corruption is prosecuted under the law.
Q: What will be the preparation of the UN when the UN Police leaves? What will be the plan to enhance the capacity of the PNTL particularly in the area of intelligence? Regarding the letter sent by the SRSG to the PM and President detailing information about the two PNTL officers- has this letter been responded to?
Finn Reske-Nielsen: There are a series of discussions taking place between the UN and Timorese authorities regarding the transition from the current situation where UNPol is responsible for executive policing. As we all know, there is agreement that the power to conduct executive policing needs to be transferred back to the PNTL and we are engaged in a series of consultations to define when exactly that should take place and according to what criteria. It’s very important to ensure that this has the full support of the Government and to ensure that the PNTL are fully capable of taking on this responsibility nationwide. The UN Security Council will meet next week to discuss the latest report of the Secretary-General (SG) on Timor-Leste. In this report, the SG does not recommend any drawdown of UN Police during the current mandate set to end in February 2009. The SG also recommends in the period after the gradual handover of policing authorities to the PNTL that UNPol would still maintain a robust presence in Timor-Leste and have the mandate to monitor the activities of the PNTL and to report on those activities. Secondly, it is proposed that the UN would retain a presence in the form of Formed Police Units that would act a back-up force that the national authorities could call upon to provide support to them in the case of a security situation that the national security forces could not deal with.
On the second question, not sure about the letter you are referring to and we will get back to you. Let me make one general comment and that is that the position of the UN is that the reconstituted PNTL should not include any officer that has a serious integrity issue against him or her.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Thank you everyone. That concludes the press conference.