Church agency calls on East Timor government to back reform

By staff writers
10 Jul 2007

The development agency of the English and Welsh Catholic bishops, CAFOD, says that the world’s newest nation in the 21st century, East Timor, has been successful in running its first election . Now the Timorese Government must start delivering for the poor.

Following the peaceful election last Sunday, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) declares itself cautiously optimistic about the future for the nation's people, provided the government is unified with development at its heart.

East Timor is the poorest country in Asia, having gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a long and bloody struggle.

United Nations monitored elections in 2002 saw the country on the path to democracy. Last Sunday, 8 July 2007, another step forward was taken as half of the one million population voted peacefully in their own free and fair election.

Joaozito Viana, from Luta Hamunk (Struggle Together) organisation, is currently visiting in the UK. Viana declared: “There is still room for improvement in the electoral process both technically and in educating voters. However, we’re delighted it was calm and peaceful with minimal problems."

He continued: “Now we must have a strong government, united and working in harmony to bring the nation together and provide a good future for the people.“

The CAFOD programme officer for East Timor, Andrew Wardle, commented: “The people of East Timor have fought long and hard for their independence. They know what they want and it’s now up to the politicians to follow their lead and get on with the job of providing a healthy and productive future for this country that has huge potential.”

CAFOD has worked in East Timor for over 20 years, supporting the people during the hardest of times in their bid for independence. Throughout the turbulent 1990s, CAFOD’s partners played an important role in the social and economic development of East Timor.

When Indonesia withdrew in 1999, the retreating Indonesian soldiers and pro-Indonesian militias destroyed everything in their path. They left a huge range of development problems, including a shattered road network and poor electricity and water supplies.

Since independence, part of CAFOD’s focus is on monitoring government spending particularly in relation to revenue from the country’s rich oil and gas fields. Viana is part of a team keeping an eye on how oil and gas revenue is being used by the government.

Luta Hamunk's Viana said: “There is a real danger of East Timor falling into what’s known as the resource curse. We have the potential to be very wealthy, but the Government must manage this wisely and make sure it’s not wasted by corruption or bad policies but benefits people in the future."

He went on: "We’ll continue to monitor all government spending and keep informing the people about how our government is doing.”

Grassroots Christians and leading Catholic Bishop Belo were among those who corageously lobbied for change when East Timor was occupied by Indonesia.

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