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East Timor - Resources Curse or Cure?

East Timor - Resources Curse or Cure?

By Ted McDonnell
April 28, 2013

East Timor is now a peaceful and happy place.

The scars of the brutal 24 year Indonesian reign still exist, but the East Timorese are forgiving people.

A decade into its independence, there are significant signs of change, the largest being, Timor Plaza, the nation's first major shopping centre, in the heart of one of Dili poorest suburbs, Comoro.

Yet, despite the opulence of Timor Plaza, very few East Timorese can actually shop there as most live on less than a dollar a day… A cup of coffee at Timor Plaza costs around $4 -- equivalent to a day's wages.

International observers now believe East Timor's petroleum riches could very well turn into a resources curse.

High unemployment, a failing education system and systemic poverty - plague East Timor.

Despite these systemic social problems, Prime Minister Gusmao, who was returned to government for s second term last year, recently gifted his 53 coalition ministers brand new Toyota four wheel drives valued at $60,000 each.

Gusmao's government has been wracked with controversy with five of his ministers having been investigated by the Corruption Commission over the past two years.

Justice Minister Lucia Lobato was jailed last year for five years. Lobbying from within the government is attempting to persuade the President Taur Matan Ruak to reduce the sentence.

Insiders say other Gusmao senior ministers will also face scrutiny from the Corruption Commissioner as the nation of one million fights corruption from within the highest ranks of government.

Observers and Opposition leaders allege the country's $10 billion resources riches is being plundered by government officials and ministers through nepotism and corruption.

Prime Minister Gusmao recently 'lectured' the local Dili media about writing stories about 'corruption. In the latest the 2013 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, East Timor was ranked 90th, down four places, out of the 172 countries. Last year, Transparency International ranked East Timor 113 out of 176 countries in the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.

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Ted McDonnell is an Australian-based journalist & photojournalist with some 30 years experience. He specialises in East Timor.

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