10/12/2008 UNDP DILI - Shortly after seven in the morning, the Hali Laram market in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, a small island nation in South-East Asia, is bustling with activity. The temperature is already 37 degrees Celsius and the humidity approaches 100%. Customers shop for fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as rice, beans and other basic household items. Life is coming back to normal after a period of social unrest that included burnings, looting, and an assassination attempt on the president José Ramos-Horta and PM Xanana Gusmão.
Fernanda Borges however walks through the market not with the eyes of a customer, but with the concern of an elected official. She is a member of the national parliament and comes regularly to places like Hali Laram to get a grassroots sense of the needs of the population. In the market she meets people like Domingas Soares, one of the local vendors: "I am 28 years old and a have a family of fifteen people. I worry about the sanitary conditions of the market, especially now in the rainy season". Fernanda Borges listens carefully to her constituency and points out: " The poor hygienic conditions of the market frighten customers and are also a liability for many of the vendors who sleep here. We need to prioritize health, education and the creation of jobs."
However, in order for priorities to be implemented, a thorough discussion of the national budget happens in parliament. This process includes public hearings, as well as extensive work in the nine parliamentary committees. To promote effective democratic governance in Timor-Leste, UNDP has established a project to support the national parliament. This US$ 6.5 million initiative is funded by Australia, Norway and Sweden to foster capacity building to MPs and the secretariat. In addition to this, UNDP provides high-skilled advisers who assist the parliament members in their technical work. According to Apolinar Veloz, UNDP adviser for budget oversight: "The work with the national budget is crucial to maintain welfare equality among generations of Timorese".
The groundwork with community participation allows the parliament to vote a consistent budget into law, which is then implemented by the government through the delivery of goods and services to the population. This hands-on approach is supported by UNDP and includes meticulous labor at the parliamentary committees. MP Pedro Mártires da Costa, chairman of one of them says: "The work of the committees is crucial to analyze the technical aspects of proposals and to incorporate input from the citizens into the deliberations of the parliament, as well as to perform the oversight of government activities."
Meanwhile, resilient Timorese like Domingas keep on their daily struggle for survival. While ordinary people like her may not fully understand the intricacies of economic models or party coalitions, they place high hopes that the parliament of Timor-Leste will able to play its essential role in the world's newest democracy.