Transcript of UNMIT Press Conference
11 June 2008, 12:00 hrs
UNMIT Headquarters, Obrigado Barracks, Dili, Timor-Leste
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of a press conference by Mr Edward Rees, Peace Dividend Trust Country Director.
Ed Rees: I would like to thank UNMIT for taking the initiative to support our Buy Local; Build Timor-Leste campaign. The background on this particular initiative started off in July/August 2000. Myself and some other people who started Peace Dividend Trust a few years ago worked for UNTAET and we observed that UNTAET came here with a budget of approximately half a billion dollars per year. We also observed that very little of that money actually entered the local economy. And there are some reasons for that and I won't go into that in great detail.
Several years later, Scott Gilmore (who also started Peace Dividend Trust), approached the UN to study the economic impact of peacekeeping operations. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York engaged Peace Dividend Trust with funding from the Australian Government to study the economic impact of approximately 10 peacekeeping operations. There were three issues that came from this study. First of all, peacekeeping missions do more good than harm from an economic perspective. However, while they do more good than harm, there are opportunities that are lost. One of those opportunities is the subject of local procurement. UN peacekeeping missions, in this case UNTAET and UNMISET spent millions of dollars in Timor-Leste.
For example, in the 2004-2005 Economic Impact of Peackeeping Study, discovered 94 million dollars was spent locally during the UNTATET/UNMISET time. And that's a lot of money, particularly when you consider that the first budget of this country in 2000/2001 was 8 million dollars. And so, if 94 million dollars compared to 8 million dollars is considered to be a lot of money, one can also look at the overall budget of UNTATET and UNMISET and it was 1.7 billion dollars. And so 94 million may be a lot compared to 8 million, but it isn't that much when you compare it to 1.7 billion. And so, basically, the issue is that there is room for improvement. And proportionally, UNMIT spends more inside Timor-Leste today than what UTATET did in 2000/2001. And what we are here to do is to help UNMIT and UNMIT partners- UNDP, UNICEF, ISF, World Bank, and international in general- we're here to provide services, to facilitate these organizations to spend more of their money locally.
We provide 5 services: The first service is the development of an online database of all active businesses in Timor-Leste and so far we have covered 7 districts and have over 1,000 businesses online. We will finish the remaining 5 districts probably by the middle of August. That website is www.buildingmarkets.org. To date, 8,600 pages on that website have been viewed in 44 countries around the world. And so that provides a platform where people can find out who provides cement, or who provides a VSAT or who rents a car, and get a useful number- ie. an accurate number- and some background information - it's essentially a business profile online. While it's accessible to the public, it's really designed for procurement officers.
The second service that we offer is the Tender Distribution Service. And this service is a service whereby we distribute tenders from international agencies, in some cases from Government where it's co-funded by a donor, tenders from rehabilitating a prison to obtaining jerry cans for IDPs. To date, we have distributed about 120 tenders from about 30 different international organizations. Our largest client is UNDP. Eduardo de Costa runs the Tender Distribution Service.
The third service we have is a match-making service. And it's sort of like a brokerage- if someone wants to find something, they call us and we will help them find it. So, if you are sitting in Dili and want to rent a car in Same, we will help you find someone in Same to rent you a car. If you are an oil and gas company sitting in Perth- and this is a real example- and you want to open up an office here, we will find you everything you need to open up an office. To date, we have received approximately 250 match-making requests from approximately 30 different organizations and a number of individuals and the man who runs that is Salio Alves.
Our fourth service is a micro match-making service which is similar to the match-making service but occurs in six districts, Lautem, Baucau, Ainaro, Covalima, Bobenaro and Oecusse. And that basically deals with international staff and agencies operating in those districts. If an NGO wants to buy hand tools, we will find them hand tools. If an UNPOL or UNMIT staff member wants to rent a house or find a chicken, we will help them find a house and a chicken. Our biggest client to date in the districts in terms of numbers of requests is UNMIT staff. One third of the 390 requests have come from UNMIT staff. And that's primarily in places that UNMIT has regional centers- Baucau, Covalima and Bobenaro. However I will say that in Luatem, UNMIT staff tend to spend a lot of money. Oecusse we haven't been able to engage UNMIT so well yet, but that's probably our fault because we just started there.
Then our final service is a training service. And the training is essentially for local businesses who are finding it difficult to compete on bids with international agencies. For example, in February we helped UNDP run a training service for a long-term agreement for the supply of computers and maintenance of those computers. So essentially, we're a service-oriented NGO interested in helping people spend as much of their money locally as possible. It has got to the point where we are being approached instead of having to approach people. A good UN example recently is that UNDP and UNICEF have approached us to look into how we can help source local contractors to help build schools in Oecusse District.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Are there any questions?
Q: I don't have a question. This is just to inform that I work for Peace Dividend Trust for the match-making program. I wanted to say that the biggest clients we have come from UNMIT and UNPol, so I would ask them to spread the word to their colleagues in the districts about this program and about the importance of buying locally.
Spokesperson Allison Cooper: Can we have an example of what some of the requests are?
Ed Rees: Our first micro-matching request came from a Malaysian UNPol in Bobonora. He was interested in catering and he didn't know where to go to get this service and our match-making staff put him in touch with the necessary people. He essentially agreed to a catering service for about USD 1000.00 per year. Renting houses is another good example. Small generators, water supply, painting houses, laundry, bread, fresh fruit, fresh fish, basically whatever it is you might want.
Q: Does it cost to access your services?
Ed Rees: No. Our services are free thanks to the Australian Government and AusAID. We are funded entirely by the Australian Government.
Q: You say you're helping local businesses face international competition- what are their main difficulties in actually trying to compete with international companies? And how do you rate Timor in terms of global business and Timor's health in terms of business.
Ed Rees: Well, in 1999 there wasn't much of a private sector here and what private sector there was ran away. Part of it came back in 1999 and 2000, but there still wasn't much of it. The Department of Commerce has 2,700 businesses registered in their country- there certainly wasn't anywhere near 2,700 companies registered in 1999/2000. How do they compete, to be honest, not very well yet. The vast majority of large companies are owned and operated by people who are not Timorese. However they employ far more people than any other organization. If you look at the construction industry, most serious construction companies here are international. But they employ, full time, something in the vicinity of 1,500 Timorese. And what you find is that the Timorese are slowly but surely reaching positions of supervision in these companies.
And to further answer your question- who wins tenders here? The people who tend to win tenders from international agencies are companies which are foreign owned but employ large numbers of Timorese. And they presumably pay tax and they presumably provide all sorts of economic impacts. But I'll give you an interesting example. UNMIT recently awarded, I think it was last year, a contract to a company called CV Mokun Timor Diak. And if you speak to the owner of CV Mokun Timor Diak he will say that it was very difficult to win that contract but the process whereby he won that contract taught him a lot. And he will say further that five years ago, he would never have been able to win that contract. So, yeah, it's a slow process clearly and people have been working on governance issues and they've been working on them for eight years so economic development is another long, slow-moving process.
But you asked about obstacles to business as well. As part of our survey, we asked what the obstacles to doing business in Timor are. And the survey isn't finished so I don't have the final results, but basically the answers that are coming back are expensive electricity, the high cost of Timor Telecom, the fact that the labour market is very expensive- Timorese labour is very expensive regionally- land tenure is a problem, or lack of land tenure, some people say corruption is an issue, some people talk about the lack of stability, people in the border will say it has something to do with the border, people in Atauro will say it has something to do with smuggling, so it's a different response depending on where the business is and what the business does. But it's an interesting issue because so far, there are a lot of constituencies in this country- there are constituencies associated with veteran groups, or the constituencies associated with a language group, or a student's organization, but to date, the business community here is not particularly cohesive. And the future of this country ultimately depends on the ability of the business community to provide jobs and create wealth. And so in our small way, we will try and contribute to that.
Allison Cooper: I just want to make a correction to the press advisory we handed out- the seventh paragraph, beginning most recently, that should actually read, "UNMIT is considering if it can nominate an officer."
Q: [question inaudible] ...How do you find the businesses?
Ed Rees: How do we look for them, literally, well we get in a car and we go looking. We have some benchmark information like for example we just finished surveying the businesses in Liquica yesterday. So the guys went to Liquica with the business registration list from the Department of Commence from the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry. So we've got a list of businesses we think are there and we just show up and start looking for them. And presumably one of our staff knows someone from there or might come from there and so well they already know all the business there anyway. In Liquica, we counted 32 businesses- that's not many, so it's easy to find 32 businesses. But you discover interesting things on each trip. For example there's a 500 hectare tobacco plantation in Bazartete- I didn't know that, and now I do and they will be on the World Wide Web as of next week. There's a guy in Suai who has been making rattan furniture for the better part of 20 years and apparently makes a lot of them when he has the orders. There's a guy in Alieu who actually exports bamboo furniture to Australia. But on quality issues, it comes and goes I guess.
Q: [question inaudible] ...What's on the agenda for the SRSG's visit to Australia?
Allison Cooper: The itinerary is still being finalized, but at the moment he's meeting with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence, with the Australian Federal Police, with the Department of Defence, AusAID and when he travels onto New Zealand he'll be meeting the Prime Minister Helen Clarke as well as military and police officials.
Q: I was looking for an update on Roque Rodriguez- does he still have a UNDP contract and if not, why not? Was that a UN decision?
Allison Cooper: The question of the SSA contract between Roque Rodriguez and the UNDP has been a matter of internal consultation within the UN. Based on these consultations, the SRSG Atul Khare has discussed the matter with President Ramos-Horta. I can confirm that appropriate steps are being taken by Roque Rodriguez to terminate the contract keeping in view the best interests of the UN.
Q: Would Atul Khare support a bid by Ramos-Horta to head the UN Human Rights Commission.
Allison Cooper: I'm not sure on that- we haven't talked about that.
Allison Cooper: Thank you everyone. That concludes the press conference.