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Statement by Emilia Pires,

Head, National Planning and Development Agency, ETTA

at the Conference on Sustainable Development, 25-31 January 2001


Thank you for this opportunity to speak on the very important issue of sustainable development in East Timor. I would like to start with some brief observations on how we can ensure this conference can make a practical and lasting impact on development planning and implementation in East Timor. Then I will comment on sustainable development and the role of the National Planning and Development Agency.

This conference is a very timely opportunity to draw together a range of development thinkers from within East Timor and outside. We are at a critical moment in which we must focus on working better together to ensure that directions being set now can be built upon in the future. It is vital that today's development work is not unpicked and re-invented, but rather that we can consolidate progress post-independence.

We must strengthen our working relations to overcome shared problems. This means talking with one another constructively and analytically, and sharing information on what has been done and what is planned. As partners in development, the government administration, civil society and international experts in East Timor should all listen and talk to each other. We must not make judgments based on assumptions, perceptions and hearsay.

In a country the size of East Timor, we have to ensure that we are all working together to address some of the considerable development hurdles before us. No one group has the ability to achieve optimal development results in isolation from the others. To do so would be counterproductive to our own endeavours, but more importantly, to the people of East Timor. To achieve a stronger partnership, we need to improve communication and coordination between us all. I hope this will be a significant outcome of this conference - an opportunity to talk to one another, share experiences and discuss future directions.

Another key focus should be to ensure that we develop practical and relevant recommendations on sustainable development for East Timor. Simply illuminating problems is no longer enough. We do not have the luxury of time to engage in highly academic or abstract discourse on development theory. In exercises such as this, linking our deliberations to achieving development results and solving problems on the ground should be uppermost. It is incumbent on us all to find the appropriate balance of developing sound planning principles and ensuring effective implementation.

I would like to ask the delegates of this conference to help the administration and the development process in East Timor, as development partners, to find practical, relevant and lasting solutions to our development problems. And there are plenty of problems for us to focus on - be they rapid urbanization, deforestation, refugee returns, civic education, infrastructure rehabilitation or building an effective public administration. The key is to prioritize those that are critical to East Timor's sustainable development, and to target our efforts and limited financial resources on only the most important. We must be realistic about what can be done and then achieve these as efficiently as possible.

Sustainable Development

I will now turn briefly to the issue of sustainable development in the context of work being done by ETTA, and more specifically, the National Planning and Development Agency.

In a period of enormous pressure to get things done rapidly, and to make the most of the valuable resources currently available, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. However, we must make sustainability the fundamental principle governing development planning in East Timor.

When considering development programs, be they through the national budget, donor programs or NGO support, one critical question must be asked - Can the government, the people and the natural environment of East Timor sustain this over the medium to long term? Some would say this is an obvious question to ask. But it can be hard to answer in an environment where so much has been destroyed, where the needs are tremendous and where donors are providing generous, immediate, support for reconstruction and development.

In such an environment, short term results can cause long term, large scale problems in the future. For example, heavy re-investment to restore large-scale infrastructure like roads or power generators to a level that cannot be sustained will cripple future budgets for East Timor's independent government. Another example might be building or re-building an excessive number of schools when future governments will be unable to fund wages for teachers and equipment for classrooms. It would be a waste of money in the short-term and could lock the government into unsustainable recurrent costs in the longer term. To guard against this, closely examining the sustainability of all development interventions must be our highest priority.

In designing development programs, all government departments, donors, NGOs and others should always make a careful assessment of the future burdens any development spending could place on the government, the people and the natural environment. If any one of these cannot sustain the activity in the longer term, be it through degradation of natural resources, lack of recurrent government spending or low community support then I would question carefully whether it should be pursued.

While there have been efforts to ensure that programs in East Timor do reflect these fundamental sustainable development principles, there have also been certain inadequacies in the way that development is being planned and delivered, which impact on sustainability. Key among these are:

Inadequate community consultation, which leads to a lack of East Timorese participation in some instances;

The absence of good baseline data to support policy formulation and programme design and development;

Too few East Timorese in key positions in government as well as in programme management and project implementation positions; and

A lack of well-defined, integrated, national development priorities

To improve the sustainability of development activities, these key problems points must be addressed as a matter of priority.

Role of the NPDA

Within the East Timor Transitional Administration, the National Planning and Development Agency has been established to oversee a program of activities to support good development planning and practice in East Timor. I would like to highlight a few examples of how the NPDA's work plan will seek to address some of the inadequacies I just mentioned and improve planning for sustainable development outcomes. These include the improvement of:

1. Community consultation and local planning;

2. Data collection and analysis;

3. East Timorese involvement; and

4. National Development Prioritization


1. Community Consultation

For development activities to be sustainable, it is fundamental that they reflect the views and concerns of the East Timorese people about the kind of future we want for our communities and our country. This is critical to bottom-up development planning, which will help ensure sustainability. Local communities must be actively involved in analyzing development needs and determining the allocation of resources. This will help ensure greater, sustained, East Timorese participation.

Strengthening local capacity for development planning is a high priority for us. To support this approach we will need to reach agreement on a model for local governance. This will have to include a corresponding shift in responsibility from central decision making to the local level, as well as the devolution of appropriate financial support.

At the same time, by putting greater effort into public information campaigns about sustainable development planning and prioritization we will help to convey messages about sustainability to local communities. It is my hope that this will also promote a more realistic understanding about a future independent government's ability to deliver services in East Timor, at least in the medium term. This will contribute to the broader understanding of what is sustainable and what is not.

2. Data collection and analysis

Another prerequisite to improved sustainable development in East Timor is high quality data collection to support effective policy and programme design and implementation. Currently, major capital investment programmes are being designed and appraised without the benefit of sufficient consistent and reliable data. This information is critical at this moment in time when major decisions are being made or will shortly need to be made that will affect the future directions of the country.

I am thinking here of decisions such as re-setting wage structures which will have lasting impacts on the market economy, or on establishing constitutional structures, or on models for economic development. These decisions should not be made without giving East Timorese access to background data and some comparative analysis on what options are available. Equipped with this information, we can then make our own assessments on which options are more fundamentally suited to East Timor, and the character and nature of East Timorese society - for example whether East Timorese prefer a model of a protectionist economy, liberal free market or perhaps other models based on cooperative principles. Once decisions are taken then we ourselves need to work out how to transition our society to achieve the desired end result. This approach, based on empowering East Timorese, will help ensure sustainability.

Consequently, a priority for the NPDA has been to develop a work program to build the capacity of East Timorese staff to manage data collection for the whole of government. The NPDA will also be the government counterpart for the joint World Bank, ADB and UNDP funded Poverty Assessment study which will conduct a household income survey early this year. This information will be critical to improving the overall quality of development planning and implementation in East Timor.

3. East Timorese Involvement

It is important also that East Timorese are more fully involved in the process of development. To ensure sustainability, East Timorese must own the process of development and not be reliant on others. While it is true that, in a number of areas, we can learn a great deal from our international friends and colleagues. Wherever possible this specialized assistance should be provided by international experts in the role of 'advisors', but with Timorese in the driver's seat. This is in all areas of development work, be it in government or in development program design and management in civil society. This needs to happen immediately so that East Timorese are in decision-making positions now, supported by advisors who can advise on potential courses of action and help mitigate the impact of mistakes that we all make in learning something new. This is at the heart of capacity building.

In the government sector, we are seeking to achieve greater East Timorese involvement through more rapid recruitment of East Timorese, particularly at senior management levels. In the NPDA, I intend to have East Timorese in all the senior management positions of the agency as soon as possible. In some units in my agency, such as the Environment Protection Unit, East Timorese staff are already playing a lead role in formulating policy and planning on important environmental issues that sit at the heart of sustainable development. You will be hearing from a staff member of the Environment Protection Unit in the course of this conference regarding their work on pollution and waste.

To further support East Timorese involvement in government, the NPDA is seeking to recruit East Timorese as government consultants who will work on an inventory of all programs and projects currently planned and being undertaken in East Timor. A key aspect of their work will be to present this data in a way that is easy to understand for all East Timorese, so that the broader populace has an understanding of the support that is coming to them. This will ensure they are better informed about, and more actively involved in, directing the use of this assistance.

Outside of government, we would like to see a similar increase in East Timorese involvement in the design and delivery of development programs. I would like to see East Timorese NGOs and community groups more fully integrated into development work. This approach may require more up front work from our international NGOs and civil society counterparts, but so be it. It is critical that, as major international assistance draws down, the sustainability of all the work being done can be assumed through a trained and skilled Timorese development workforce. This is at the center of ensuring that development in East Timor today is sustainable tomorrow.

4. Prioritization

Finally, let me touch on work that is being done to ensure that national development priorities are at the heart of government programs.

The three major forms of public spending on development are through the national budget of East Timor, the Trust Fund for East Timor and bilateral development assistance from donor governments. All of which are primarily funded through donor assistance.

The national budget process for the coming financial year will soon commence. This second annual budget for East Timor will, for 2001-02, incorporate all three major sources of funding in the one process. This will better align development priorities for East Timor and should ensure greater cohesion between all public financing programs. The Cabinet will assess budget proposals in the lead up to the new financial year and a budget appropriation regulation will be submitted to the National Council for approval prior to a major donors conference to be held in Canberra in June. Through this process, ETTA will set out its key development priorities for the administration and for East Timor.

At the same time, the Cabinet has developed a list of unfunded development priorities, which will be used by the NPDA to seek donor financing for high priority activities that cannot be funded out of existing programs. This list will help ensure that, as much as possible, donor assistance is in full accordance with the development priorities of East Timor. The role of the NPDA will be to ensure that ETTA proposals to donors address all relevant environmental, financial and social sustainability factors.

This is just a brief overview of the activities in which the NPDA and ETTA will be working to improve the delivery of sustainable development outcomes in East Timor. I trust that my staff and I will have the opportunity to work with many of you to achieve this.

I would like to conclude by wishing you well in your discussions and deliberations over the coming days. I believe this conference has the potential to take the discourse on sustainable development in East Timor to a broader public arena. We should strive to ensure that the results of the conference are accessible to all the people of East Timor and that we use this chance to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure that all development practitioners can work together to develop a sustainable future for East Timor.