Global Policy Forum

Funding for East Timor: Charity or Justice?

La'o Hamutuk Bulletin
July 19, 2000

At the recently concluded meeting in Lisbon of international donors to East Timor, UNTAET asked for an additional US$16 million to fund the East Timorese administration of the evolving civil service. Fortunately, a general commitment to provide the funds was forthcoming from the donor community.

Prior to the meeting's conclusion, Peter Galbraith, chief of UNTAET's Office of Political, Constitutional and Electoral Affairs, explained that donors were "prepared to be generous over the short term." But, he continued, they did not want East Timor "to be a permanent charity case, a place where they will have to be provided aid indefinitely just to sustain the basic functions of government." Donors wanted to be sure that East Timor plans to raise sufficient revenues and to adhere to a strict budget, and hopefully be "charity"-free by 2003 or 2004.

La'o Hamutuk calls upon UNTAET officials to refrain from referring to funds donated to East Timor as "charity"--especially when the vast majority of these funds come from national governments which provided significant economic, military, and diplomatic support to Jakarta and its illegal occupation of East Timor. Rather than seeing these funds as "charity", we should see them largely as a modest beginning at amends from governments who share in the responsibility for the suffering of the East Timorese and the destruction of the country--not only in September 1999, but in the almost-24-year period that preceded it.

East Timor will need substantial funding from outside the territory for the foreseeable future to be able to rebuild successfully, and to lay the foundations of a society in which the basic needs of all of East Timor's citizens are met. In this regard, the role of the international community, and UNTAET more specifically, should not be to advocate merely for a level of development that an impoverished East Timor can afford.

UNTAET and various elements of the international community, for example, frequently argue that East Timor will only be able to support a very limited public sector and, for this reason, UNTAET is constructing a rather modest infrastructure for government services. As an Australian official in Dili stated recently (as reported in The Australian), East Timor cannot afford anything more ambitious. "UNTAET knows it can only establish the basic services that East Timor is then able to maintain," said the official. "This is going to be a very poor country for a very long time and we cannot build what the East Timorese cannot then afford to run."

If, indeed, is going to be "a very poor country for a very long time," it is incumbent on us to ask why. If we ask such a question and honestly strive to find the answer, we will realize that the situation is not of the East Timorese people's making. Indonesia, and its supporters in the "international community" made it impossible for East Timor to develop, effectively laying the foundation for what economists predict will be a country of very modest economic means. Given that the responsibility for East Timor's current plight is collective, the responsibility for ensuring that the East Timor people can realize a level of development East Timor in conformity with international human rights standards must also be collective. This is not charity; it is justice.

More Articles on East Timor
More Articles on Emerging States


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.