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Community Building Essential for Nation Building, says East Timor's President

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Therefore I conclude that, as a long-term objective, yes, education is paramount in reducing poverty. In the Human Development Report 2002, published by UNDP, the indicators of poverty for Timor-Leste were:

  • Infant mortality rate of 80 in every 1000 live births;
  • Adult literacy rate of 43%, with 46% of the population having never attended school, resulting in a large inexperienced and unskilled work force;
  • More than two out of five people live on or less than 55 US cents a day;
  • Life expectancy is only 57 years; and
  • GDP per capita is less than USD 500, with a GDP of USD 380 million.

Today, the majority of our people still practice subsistence agriculture with extremely rudimentary means of production. Given that, there are no established mechanisms for the purchase, processing and distribution of products, villagers try to produce for their own subsistence as, in the broad sense, they overcome the need to purchase what they can produce, even though it is insufficient for their annual consumption need.

It is in this sense that, in the short and medium term, it is more important, I would even say crucial, to have a clear program for the development of the economic sector. Only the development of the economic sector can enable, per si, a gradual yet genuine and tangible advance of the social sector.

However, what type of economy does one want for Timor-Leste? What type of development does one want to achieve? Do we want one that takes a sudden leap towards the industrialisation of the country? Nowadays, another common motto is the concept of ‘sustainable development’. To what extent do we understand sustainability when it comes to economic projects in Timor-Leste? - these are some of the questions still to be answered.

Our people have already expressed their vision for 2020; an ambitious vision but very tenuous! I say very tenuous, because it was merely idealised in terms of improving living standards. So, what meaning does this vision encompass? It has an exceptional value in that it expresses the great desire of parents to change the future of their children moving away from the current range of insecurity that they still face today.

There is need for a plan of action, focussed towards agriculture based on greater diversity and quantity of production and, focussed on encouraging small and medium industries, to be the basis of Timorese economy. As from now, it is fundamental to define self-sufficiency as the objective to achieve in the medium term. Timor-Leste is a small country, we are not numerous as a people, and therefore, it is easier to have the ambition of organising from our territorial land use to the rural urbanisation and the basic infrastructures that may foster the conditions for a greater popular participation in their own development.

In this context, where can we fit in the role played by foreign investment? Potentially one can say that there is an array of opportunities: from fisheries to tourism, in the agricultural field itself, in the building of infrastructure, and so forth.

Where does the importance of foreign investment lie? In technology and, obviously, in the capital that enters the country. On the one hand, foreign investment will provide the role of giving the youth an opportunity for vocational training, thereby helping to resolve the problem of unemployment. It is said, and with reason, that our domestic market will not be an incentive factor for foreign investment. But I believe in the possibility of looking towards a market beyond Timor-Leste.

In reality, in Timor-Leste, we still lack the conditions to attract foreign investment, both in terms of infrastructure and in terms of legal framework. Likewise, there is also the need to better understand the meaning of ‘incentives for the investor’ and ‘national interests’; I believe that members of the Government and Timorese legislators are committed to clarifying such issues.

I am neither an economist nor a planner; therefore, it is within this simple framework that I also raise the issue of Australian investment. I have received business people, from all over, who have expressed their willingness to invest in Timor-Leste. I have given them all this same information, urging them to assess for themselves, the opportunities that interest them the most. They usually raise questions on security and stability and my response has been the same: Come and let us build stability together, because it cannot be imposed with the enactment of a law but rather, it is created and preserved when everyone has ensured a livelihood.