16 May 2009

World Bank on defensive in East Timor over advisers' pay

Wed, May 13, 2009 AFP DILI, May 13, 2009 (AFP) - The World Bank has been forced to defend its consultants in East Timor after the salaries of those hired by the finance ministry were leaked to local media, sparking widespread anger.

Public outrage has reached boiling point over generous remuneration packages offered to foreign advisers in a country where half the population of about 1.1 million people lives below the poverty line.

The World Bank, however, says the salaries are set by the finance ministry in line with internationally accepted market rates, and calls the publication of the contract details a breach of privacy.

"I am concerned that the privacy of these individuals has been breached, in an environment in which they are by implication being identified as miscreants for accepting international market-rate salaries," World Bank country director Nigel Roberts said.

Bank communications associate Aleta Moriarty added: "The publication of the personal details of these well-qualified professionals is obviously a matter of concern.

"It could, if further fanned, have implications for their willingness to continue with their employment in (East Timor). Should this occur, the net result will undoubtedly prove negative for development."

The issue of contention is the salaries of international advisers employed as part of the Planning and Financial Management Capacity Building Programme (PFMCBP), a five-year project to strengthen East Timor's finance ministry.

On April 24, the Tempo Semanal newspaper published on its website contracts of international advisers working in the PFMCBP with annual salaries ranging from about 100,000 dollars to more than 500,000 dollars.

The opposition Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) has jumped on the issue to attack the government of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

"The main concern is the process of recruitment and transparency in the ministry of finance. We have been asking questions but received no answers at all," Fretilin member of parliament Arsenio Bano said.

"International advisers are employed on huge salaries in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line. It's irresponsible."

The PFMCBP is funded by the World Bank through its International Development Association with support from donors.

Consultants are recruited by the finance ministry but it is the World Bank, along with donors such as Australia and New Zealand, that forks out the money to the foreign experts.

An international adviser employed as part of the PFMCBP said the publication of the contracts had "put a lot of strain to our already heavy and difficult workload."

Finance Minister Emilia Pires has deflected the opposition's barbs on the grounds that the government is not liable for the advisers' salaries.

"All the foreign advisers plus some local advisers within my ministry are actually funded by the foreigners' money," she said last month, referring to the World Bank and donors.

"Sometimes we do not explain enough about what we are doing, but that is because we are just too busy trying to get the results and improve the lives of our people."

The World Bank's Moriarty said the consultants had "achieved significant results which have been of widespread benefit to the Timorese people".

"Budget execution increased from 76 million dollars in 2005-06 to 550 million in 2008," Moriarty said.

"This spending, along with increased outlays on infrastructure and goods and services, delivered an estimated 12 percent rate of economic growth. These results can be directly attributed to work by PFMCBP consultants."

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