27 December 2008

Timor Leste on Road to Progress, Says Vice-Prime Minister

Bernama KUALA LUMPUR 23 December 2008 - Timor Leste, which witnessed assassination attempts against its president and prime minister February this year, is now making good progress in the development of the country, said its Vice-Prime Minister Jose Luiz Guterres.

In a recent exclusive interview with Bernama here, Guterres said this followed the measures taken by the government under Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao which had successfully restored peace and stability and putting the economy on the right track.

On the security side, efforts are made to improve the living conditions of the police and army and laws to regulate promotions, in order to build a professional army and police force.

Guterres said the government had also started paying pensions to the liberation war veterans, thus helping to create social stability and develop a professional civil service.

"When we came to power (Aug 2007), there were about 150,000 internally displaced people in camps since 2006, but now 80 per cent of them are back in their homes," he said.

The young nation of the former Portuguese colony gained independence in May 2002 after a long and bloody struggle against Indonesia.

During the February assassination attempts led by Timor Leste top fugitive, Alfredo Reinado, President Jose Ramos-Horta was seriously injured. The country was also rocked by violent clashes between government forces and rebel soldiers in May 2006.

"The previous government (under Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri) had made several mistakes in administrating the country, resulting in problems and grouses but since we came to power, we have been making a lot of progress in solving the country's problems," he said.

According to Guterres, the previous government failed to use part of the revenue from oil and gas to invest to create jobs and carry out infrastructure development in a country where those below the poverty level had risen from 33 per cent five years ago to 46 per cent in 2007.

"We changed many things...in less than a year. We started paying monthly allowances to the elderly and handicapped people. This is the first time this is being done and about 80,000 people are benefiting," he said.

Tackling unemployment, currently at about 20 per cent, has been identified as important for social stability and to address this, besides creating job opportunities locally, the government decided to export workers where about 5,000 workers are to be sent to South Korea.

The Timor Leste government is also investing in the development of rural areas -- creating a new irrigation system where according to Guterres, the country has enough land and water to be self-sufficient in food production for its 1.2 million people.

Efforts have been geared towards developing basic infrastructure and the government will be extending the runway of Dili Airport and build two power plants.

Guterres said the government hoped to provide 24-hour electricity supply daily to town areas and villages by 2012.

On investment opportunities, Guterres pointed out that the small country, which is largely agriculture-based, was open to all investments such as in agriculture, infrastructure development, construction, manufacturing and financial services.

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