Timor-Leste buys into the Sunrise Oil and Gas Project
30 October 2018. Updated 18 November 2021
Contents of this page
The Greater Sunrise oil and gas field in the Timor Sea has been the subject of exploration, controversy, and negotiations since it was discovered in 1974. In particular, the question of where to liquefy the natural gas -- converting it into LNG which can be shipped to overseas customers -- has been vociferously debated since Indonesia was forced out of Timor-Leste in 1999. La'o Hamutuk has followed the issue since 2000, publishing facts and analysis to advocate for Timor-Leste's national sovereignty and for policy decisions which advance the well-being of the people of Timor-Leste.
In 2008, La'o Hamutuk published a book Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste: Dreams, Realities and Challenges, which is on-line in English and Bahasa Indonesia, with a summary in Tetum. The report includes a history of relevant events from 1970 through 2008. In 2008 we also published a primer on LNG Basics and an article on potential benefits from Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste. Our previous web page on the Sunrise project discusses events through 2015.
The Sunrise controversy is entangled in the troubled history of maritime boundary negotiations between Timor-Leste and Australia. Follow this link for information and documents on events from 2012 to 2016, or this one for developments since then. which includes many more articles and links for the process leading up to signing the Boundary Treaty on 6 March 2018.
The Sunrise project is operated by Woodside (Australia), which has a 33.44% share in the project shared with joint venture partners ConocoPhillips (USA, 30%), Royal Dutch Shell (UK/Netherlands, 26.56%) and Osaka Gas (Japan, 10%). They estimate that the field contains 5.13 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas and 226 million barrels of condensate (oil), which some analysts believe will sell for about $50 billion. After paying for capital investment, operating costs and company profit, this might generate $5-20 billion in tax and royalty revenue to Timor-Leste. If Timor-Leste becomes a part-owner of the project, we will share in the profits, as well as in the responsibility for investment. It is not clear that the benefits to Timor-Leste will be more than the costs.
For many years, Sunrise has been stalled because Timor-Leste’s government has insisted that its natural gas be piped to Timor-Leste, where it will be cooled until it becomes a liquid (Liquefied Natural Gas or LNG; see 2008 primer) that can be loaded onto tanker ships and sold to overseas customers. However, the Joint Venture companies believe that other ways of making LNG – either through a pipeline to Australia (Darwin LNG or DLNG) or on a floating platform above the field (FLNG) – will be more profitable and less risky. ConocoPhillips wants to process the gas in Darwin, perhaps because it is the principal owner of the soon-to-be-idle LNG plant there (see box at right); they persuaded Shell, Woodside and Osaka Gas to support their position. Before that, the Joint Venture had preferred FLNG; Timor LNG was always the third choice for all the partners.
Timor-Leste’s government believes that spinoff jobs, contracts and local economic development on the Tasi Mane coast will more than compensate for the higher costs and risks of bringing the gas here, but this view is not shared by Australia, the Sunrise Joint Venture, or the UN Conciliation Commission that facilitated the Boundary Treaty. La’o Hamutuk and experts we have consulted are not convinced that the benefits to Timor-Leste are greater than the costs, and we have repeatedly asked the managers of the project for the assumptions and data that make them so optimistic (see below).
2018 Boundary Treaty changes ownership, establishes Sunrise special regime
On 3 March 2018, Forbes published Overblown Expectations for East Timor's Greater Sunrise Oil and Gas, which estimates that Timor-Leste could receive about $8 billion in revenues if the gas is processed through a pipeline to Darwin, but that a pipeline to Timor-Leste would make the project economically unviable. A few days later, the Australian Financial Review and others expected that the new treaty would support the Sunrise gas project (in Darwin).
On the eve of the 6 March signing, ABC revealed a leaked letter Xanana had written to the Conciliation Commission the week before. Mr. Gusmão blasted the Commission's "lack of impartiality" for comparing the Darwin and Timor LNG options. A few days later, The Australian wrote that Xanana Gusmao’s Timor Sea rant is an own goal [score for the other team] for his needy nation.The Treaty between Timor-Leste and Australia Establishing their Maritime Boundaries in the Timor Sea was signed in New York on 6 March 2018. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, which served as the secretariat for the conciliation process, issued a 50-page press package, including the 30 August 2017 Comprehensive Package Agreement (which has an "Approach on the Greater Sunrise Development Concept" and an action plan), the text of the treaty (with five annexes) (also Portuguese), and a Paper on the Comparative Development Benefits of Timor-LNG and Darwin-LNG.
The Treaty replaces the Timor Sea Treaty and the Sunrise International Unitization Agreement, defining the limits of the national territories of both nations for the first time. However, Sunrise is still on both sides of the border; the new line crosses the field in an arbitrary location, chosen to put approximately 70% of it in Timor-Leste's territory and 30% in Australia's. This boundary may be readjusted after Timor-Leste and Indonesia settle their maritime border and Sunrise has been emptied and decommissioned. Although negotiators were unable to reach agreement on where Sunrise gas would be processed, the Treaty establishes a Greater Sunrise Special Regime to govern its joint development.
On 21 March, La'o Hamutuk published a comprehensive article The Timor-Leste-Australia Maritime Boundary Treaty (also PDF, abridged blog and Tetum). International media covered the signing extensively, and many articles are linked to from our web page on the treaty process. Although the negotiators had hoped to resolve the Sunrise question before the Treaty was signed, they were unable to. Because Sunrise straddles the boundary established by the new treaty, Timor-Leste will receive 70% of the government revenues from extracting Sunrise oil and gas if the gas is processed in Timor-Leste, and 80% if it is processed in Australia.
In May 2018, the Conciliation Commission published a comprehensive Report with 28 Annexes, describing how the Conciliators got Timor-Leste and Australia to agree on a maritime boundary treaty. The Commission recommended "that the Parties continue their discussions regarding the development of Greater Sunrise with a view to reaching agreement on a concept for the development of the resource."
Like any treaty, this one needs to be ratified by both Parliaments. Australia began its process in late March, with a National Interest Analysis. Their Parliamentary Committee received many submissions, including from La'o Hamutuk (also Tetum), and published its report in August.
Although Timor-Leste's National Parliament has not yet begun its ratification process, La'o Hamutuk sent them an unsolicited submission (Tetum original) on 6 August recommending, among other things, that Government, Parliament and the public should conduct a rigorous and objective assessment of the Tasi Mane Project's fiscal, social, economic and environmental costs, benefits and risks before spending more money on it.
On 25 June 2018, Natural Gas Daily reported that East Timor restarts Sunrise talks after elections. On 22 July, the Australian Financial Review cited Woodside CEO Peter Coleman calling for a 'fresh start' on the Sunrise LNG negotiations. A few days later, Timor-Leste government news agency Tatoli reported that Timor-Leste was preparing to bring the Sunrise gas pipeline to its south coast. On 27 July, Timor-Leste's Parliament approved the new Government's program, which includes Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste. On 21 August, Timor-Leste's Council of Ministers reappointed Xanana Gusmão as Special Representative for concluding the treaty ratification and the Greater Sunrise agreements.
On 6 August, Interfax Natural Gas Daily reported that Timor-Leste is considering buying out the oil companies who hold the Greater Sunrise contract. On 13 September, the Australian Financial Review reported that Timor-Leste was considering bidding US $5 billion to buy out ConocoPhillips share of the Greater Sunrise field.
On 28 September, negotiators from the Timor-Leste government and ConocoPhillips agreed that Timor-Leste will pay $350 million to purchase ConocoPhillips’ share of the Joint Venture to develop the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field. Timor-Leste will own 30% of this project, together with Woodside, Shell and Osaka Gas. On behalf of the state, TimorGAP will participate in project decisions, be responsible for 30% of the investment, and be entitled to 30% of the company share of the profits. The deal was announced by ConocoPhillips and by Timor-Leste, and La'o Hamutuk wrote an article (also Tetum) explaining its significance for the nation and describing the next steps to bring the gas pipeline to Timor-Leste.
GMN TV was given exclusive access to the signing ceremony, and produced a 22-minute program (29 MB Tetum video). On 5 October, the lead story on their evening news was La'o Hamutuk and FONGTIL questioning whether the deal is good for Timor-Leste (9MB Tetum video).
The buyout was widely covered in international media, including Timor-Leste buys ConocoPhillips stake in Greater Sunrise consortium (LUSA, 28/9), East Timor buys ConocoPhillips’ Greater Sunrise share for A$484m (Australian Financial Review, 30/9), Woodside considers options as ConocoPhillips sells Sunrise LNG stake to East Timor Government (West Australian, 1/10), ConocoPhillips sells stake in Sunrise gas field to East Timor (Reuters, 1/10) and Timor-Leste buys A$484 million stake in Greater Sunrise fields and pushes for LNG pipeline (also radio broadcast) (ABC News 2/10).
The media soon became more analytical: Timor-Leste one step closer to LNG ambitions but hurdles remain (Platts S&P Global, 2/10), East Timor stake buy brings Sunrise gas field a step closer (Reuters, 2/10), Timor-Leste determined on Sunrise, (Upstream, 4/10) and Why Timor-Leste took its A$484 million Greater Sunrise gamble (Crikey, 9/10).
Timor-Leste buying participation in Greater Sunrise is one step in a long process which may eventually bring a gas pipeline to Beaçu. Although many Timorese citizens are proud of our political leaders for persuading or paying the oil companies to accept this position, the issue has financial, economic, environmental and social consequences which will be longer-lasting and more impactful than temporary patriotic emotion. It is not yet clear that the Sunrise pipeline will be good for the people of Timor-Leste. The nation needs and deserves a detailed, objective analysis, with complete public information, about the costs, benefits, risks, and impacts of the entire Greater Sunrise and Tasi Mane projects before we disburse billions of dollars of public funds to oil companies, contractors, brokers and other individuals and companies.
La’o Hamutuk has serious doubts that such an analysis will prove that the benefits of bringing the Sunrise pipeline to Timor-Leste are enough to justify its huge costs, risks and social impacts. But even if they are, the recent agreements to purchase 57% participation from ConocoPhillips and Shell are insufficient to ensure that the pipeline will come here. This list was written in September 2018, with mid-2019 updated information in [brackets] after each item.
On 20 November 2018, analyst Juvinal Dias wrote Oinsa TL bele sukat oportunidade hose sosa asoens ConocoPhillips nian iha JV Sunrise in the Neon Metin blog.
On 21 November 2018, Timor-Leste and Shell signed an agreement for the Government to purchase Shell's 26.56% of the Sunrise project for $300 million, bringing Timor-Leste's total share to 56.56%, with a corresponding obligation to pay more of the development costs. The company and government issued a joint press release, and the deal was reported by LUSA (also Tetum), Interfax and Reuters. A decade ago, Shell had hoped to develop its new Floating LNG technology with the Sunrise Project, but the availability of the Darwin LNG plant and Timor-Leste's insistence that the gas be piped to Beaçu has made that virtually impossible.
After the Shell sale was announced, Australian media ABC and the Lowy Interpreter published articles questioning the wisdom of the project. FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri called for a national debate on buying into the Joint Venture.
International financial and oil industry commentators wrote about the sale in late November 2018, including Zacks Equity Research on why Shell sold, and ENB Slugcatcher on the likelihood of Timor-Leste also buying out Woodside. In June 2019, Asia Times reported that Shell is also pulling out of the Masela (Abadi) gas field just east of Timor-Leste, expected to be Asia's largest, for similar reasons to their departure from Greater Sunrise.
The Council of Ministers approved the deal with Shell on 28 November, but Government Resolution 5/2019 didn't become effective until it was published in the Jornal da Republica on 30 January 2019. After payment in mid-April 2019, Timor-Leste became the owner of 56.56% of the Greater Sunrise joint venture.
Chief Negotiator Xanana Gusmão returned to a hero's welcome in Timor-Leste on 8 October, calling on everyone to unite to bring the Sunrise pipeline to Timor-Leste, which he said it was clear would happen.
On 22 October, Xanana was interviewed in GMN-TV's Grand Intervista program about g7+ and the Sunrise buyout (55-minute Tetum video on YouTube; Sunrise discussion starts 21 minutes in). To facilitate access, you can download a lower-resolution video (34 MB) of the Sunrise portion. GMN's evening news also broadcast a two-minute excerpt of the key points (1.5 MB video, Tetum/English transcript). In response to those who question the cost or feasibility of the project, the Chief Negotiator said "I don't care" and encouraged viewers to trust that "I will win" and prove the naysayers wrong, as he did in the struggle for Timor-Leste's independence. A few weeks later, Xanana acknowledged that Sunrise could cost Timor-Leste $2.5 billion for the upstream work that the joint venture will do, plus another $5 billion for the pipeline and LNG Plant. With the 21 November purchase of Shell's 27% share, the nation's share of the upstream costs alone could be over $4 billion.
Timor-Leste's Government proposed the General State Budget for 2019. On 22 October, the acting Minister of Finance announced that the budget will be larger than expected, and TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro said it will include $350 million for Sunrise buyout from ConocoPhillips, as well as $24 million more for the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals, twice as much as MPM's average allocation during the past six years. As presented to Parliament on 8 November, the proposed budget law doesn't have much detail:
The budget proposal was sent to Parliament before the Shell deal was signed, but Parliament delayed discussing it, largely because the Government has yet to provide much of the supporting documentation. On the floor of Parliament, the budget was amended to include the $300 million for Shell's participation, which put the 2019 General State Budget over $2 billion, the largest in the nation's history. However, after a Presidential veto the entire $650 million was removed, and the government decided take it directly from the Petroleum Fund (see below).
Timor-Leste will have to invest at least 14 billion dollars more (and perhaps much more) in capital expenditures to implement the Sunrise and Tasi Mane projects, and 90% of these costs have never been mentioned in published State Budget forecasts, which go through 2023. La'o Hamutuk has roughly estimated them as shown in the table at right, in millions of U.S. dollars (an updated version is below):
Some political leaders have suggested that most of this money should be invested directly by the Petroleum Fund, rather than taken as an expenditure through the General State Budget approved by Government and Parliament. Although Article 15 of the Petroleum Fund Law (as revised) allows up to 5% of the Fund (about $800 million) to be invested in "other eligible investments" approved by the Minister of Finance (which could include petroleum projects), the article also requires that all investments must be located outside of Timor-Leste. However, the Government may ask Parliament to revise the Petroleum Fund Law to enable risky, non-traditional investments of a larger portion of it within the national territory.
During the last week of October 2018, the first LNG shipment left the new Ichthys LNG plant in Darwin, two years late and $6 billion over budget. Although Ichthys is somewhat larger than Greater Sunrise, its $40 billion capital investment cost illustrates the scale of this kind of project. With INPEX construction finished and the workers returned to their homes elsewhere, Darwin is experiencing economic problems, as exemplified by a sharp drop in house values.
Following a few days in Timor-Leste in late November, Australia's Assistant Minister for the Pacific Anne Ruston said that "this is a commercial decision for the Timor-Leste government, and we have to respect that decision" (summary, audio).
On 22 October, Timor-Leste's government asked Parliament to amend Petroleum Activities Law no. 13/2005 (official Portuguese) which was enacted after extensive consultation and has provided governance, transparency and checks and balances over the country's contracting with oil companies for the last 13 years. The proposed amendment (Portuguese and English, with explanations) would allow the State to participate in a joint venture with a share larger than 20%, as well as eliminating preventive oversight of petroleum-related contracts by the Audit Chamber of the High Administrative, Tax and Audit Court. As explained by Government, this amendment is intended to smooth the way for Timor-Leste's participation in the Greater Sunrise project.
Parliament was asked to consider it during a four-day holiday weekend, and the process is being rushed through. If it passes, it will be retroactive to 27 September, before the buyout deal was signed with ConocoPhillips.
The first five of the six new clauses in the law would remove a perceived 20% limit in the portion of a petroleum project that Timor-Leste or its public companies can own. However, this does not seem necessary, as that limit has never constrained the State from owning more than 20% of a project. TimorGAP is already a 50% partner (with Timor Resources) in two onshore Production-Sharing Contracts (PSCs), the 100% owner of PSC S0-15-01 in the exclusive maritime area, and a 24% partner (with Eni and Inpex) of PSC JPDA 11-106 in the offshore Joint Petroleum Development Area. There is no 20% limit in current law for Timor-Leste buying into a project; that number only applies to participation which must be written into a new Production-Sharing Contract to allow the State to opt-in to a petroleum project without paying.
Many believe that the real reason behind this amendment is to remove Audit Court oversight not only of petroleum contracts but of loan agreements and other "contracts ... for the conduct of [petroleum operations]" which will be signed as the Sunrise project moves forward. Some Timor-Leste politicians have become impatient with the governance and transparency requirements written in to the State's petroleum laws. In recent years, the Audit Court has knocked back the $719 million procurement contract for the Suai Supply Base (although this was overturned on appeal), and a contract to borrow $50 million from the Chinese Ex-Im Bank to rehabilitate Dili's drainage system (see original and appeal rejections). However, ZEESM's 2014 enabling legislation exempted its contracts from prior Audit Court review, so there is an unfortunate precedent.
Since Timor-Leste's current creditors are not interested in lending money for the Tasi Mane project, it is likely that Timor-Leste will seek financing of the multi-billion Sunrise and Tasi Mane investments from China, which has led to concerns about a "debt trap." In other countries, including Sri Lanka and Angola, the difficulties in repaying loans from China have increased poverty, reduced democracy and sacrificed national sovereignty -- consequences reminiscent of the global debt crisis to the IMF and World Bank in the late 1990s.
Many of the negotiations and concessions in relation to the Tasi Mane and Sunrise projects have been done without public transparency, accountability or oversight by the responsible government agencies. As Timor-Leste leaders ask to pour billions of dollars from the national treasury into projects with dubious financial, economic or social return, these checks and balances are even more essential. Many countries which depend on extracting petroleum have been cursed by squandering their people's money on ill-conceived projects, which is why it is crucial to have expert analysis of project contracts carried out by State agencies which do not have a personal stake in pursuing them regardless of the costs and benefits.
In their brief analysis of the proposed amendment, the Parliamentary Plenary Support Division (DIPLEN) wrote "On the basis of available evidence, it is not possible to identify and quantify the financial costs resulting from the approval of this law." We believe that the costs are far too great, and call on Parliament to reject the proposed changes. While we don't yet know how many billions of dollars will be spent on the Sunrise and Tasi Mane projects (including debt service and possible default), the costs to fiscal responsibility, democracy and accountability are clear.
Parliament Committees C and D began considering the proposed revision on 6 November with a four-hour, closed-door hearing with Chief Negotiator Xanana Gusmão (reported by LUSA, Tatoli, Parliament, RTTL Video), in which he reportedly threatened MPs who did not support the project. After the hearing, Xanana told journalists that the $350 million purchase should be invested directly by the Petroleum Fund, rather than included as an expenditure item in the State Budget, but cooler heads prevailed as this is not allowed under current law.
Also on 6 November, the Council of Ministers increased the total appropriations for the 2019 State Budget from $1.3 billion to nearly $1.9 billion. Government made its budget proposal to Parliament on 8 November, and the $1.827 billion they asked for includes $350 million to pay for ConocoPhillips' part of Sunrise.
La'o Hamutuk and the NGO Forum wrote a joint submission (Tetum) to Parliament on 7 November, which was reported by LUSA in Portuguese. The Core Group on Transparency also made a submission (also with FONGTIL). The civil society groups urged Parliament not to approve the law.
On 7 November, Parliament held another hearing with representatives of the Central Bank and the Audit Court (Tatoli). On 13 November, Parliament Committees C and D issued a report recommending approval of the law. Their report included annexes with submissions from the Petroleum Fund Consultative Council, FONGTIL/CGT, La'o Hamutuk and TimorGAP.
During the Parliamentary plenary, an additional clause was added to the law, stating that "The Petroleum Fund may be applied (invested) directly in Petroleum Operations, in the national territory or abroad, through the execution of commercial transactions, through Timor Gap, EP, pursuant to Article 15.4 of [the Petroleum Fund Law]." This clause in the Revision of the Petroleum Activities Law potentially contradicts several clauses in Article 15 of the Petroleum Fund Law, which states that it can only be invested abroad, that no more than 5% can be in non-financial instruments, and that no more than 3% can be invested in any one company. The last-minute changes are highlighted in yellow in this final version, which was not publicly available until La'o Hamutuk obtained and published it several weeks later.
On 14 November, the Parliamentary plenary completed the process of debate and approval of the law, with 37 votes in favor, 22 against and no abstentions. FRETILIN issued a press release explaining why they voted against it.
The proposed law was sent to the President of the Republic, who had 30 days to decide whether to promulgate or veto it. A delegation from La'o Hamutuk and the NGO Forum met with the President on 27 November to encourage him to veto. The meeting was reported by the President's office, Tatoli, RTTL-TV, GMN TV and other media. The next day, the President said he was still studying the issue.
On 30 November, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said that this is not an easy decision for the President, but that the Timorese people must be brave enough to accept the risk (Tetum audio).
On Saturday, 8 December, Chief Negotiator Xanana Gusmão, accompanied by ANPM President Gualdino da Silva and TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro, gave an all day 'seminar' to a capacity crowd at Dili Convention Center. They explained the history of the maritime boundary dispute with Australia, the legal implications of the new boundary treaty, and their optimistic projections for the economic benefits from the Greater Sunrise pipeline and the Tasi Mane Project. No questions or discussion were allowed, although most of the presentations are linked to from the previous sentence.
On 11 December, President Francisco Guterres 'Lú Olo' vetoed the proposed amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law and sent it back to Parliament. Skip down for information on the veto and Parliament's efforts to override it.
Parliament began debating the 2019 State Budget in plenary on 6 December with a speech by the Prime Minister and a consolidated Committee Report, and the debate will continue until the 22nd. The Sunrise project is one of the most controversial issues. In its Recommendations to Government, Parliament's Economic Committee D suggested: "Committee D and all Members of Parliament still have no access to independent studies of recognized quality on the feasibility of the Timor-Leste petrochemical pipeline project (pipeline, LNG plant and refinery). In the light of conflicting information on its feasibility, the Committee appeals once again for the Government to provide, albeit with conditions due to the special sensitivity of the subject, any credible, independent studies about the subject. On the other hand, the Committee - and certainly all Members of the National Parliament - would like to have access to any cost-benefit studies (including periods of production and deadlines) for alternative strategies for the exploitation of Greater Sunrise (at least those originally proposed by the oil companies -- referring to the pipeline to Darwin or the floating platform -- and the one proposed by the Government) since up to now such a comparative study has not been available to us -- which would greatly help us make a decision on the present and future allocations of resources."
La'o Hamutuk observes that the two reports by ACIL Allen are based on assumptions provided by TimorGAP, and that their incomplete, simplistic methodology reached the conclusions that TimorGAP knew in advance that they wanted. We urge Timor-Leste to hire independent experts to conduct a comprehensive, objective study of the costs, benefits and risks of the Greater Sunrise and Tasi Mane projects before making irreversible commitments.
On 20 December, Parliament approved an amendment to add $300 million to the 2019 budget for purchasing Shell's participation in the Sunrise Joint Venture, bringing the total to more than $2.1 billion. The budget was approved by a 40-25 vote in Parliament on 22 December. The President consulted widely, as described on our budget page, before he vetoed the proposed budget on 23 January, explaining his reasons to Parliament.
On 31 January, Parliament amended the budget law by removing the $650 million to buy participation in the Sunrise joint venture, and passed the revised $1.48 billion budget by 40-25. The President promulgated the new version on 7 February.
On 11 December 2018, President Francisco Guterres 'Lú Olo' vetoed the proposed amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law, as provided in article 88.1 of Timor-Leste's Constitution. He sent the law back to Parliament for reappraisal with a five-page letter (text, including English), citing as the fundamental reason to avoid distorting and diluting the investment rules of the Petroleum Fund by allowing direct investment in broadly-defined 'Petroleum operations" carried out through commercial transactions, reducing its liquidity. The President told Parliament that this would jeopardize financial and institutional stability of the sovereign wealth fund, opening the way for whatever political force is in power to use the Fund as it chooses.
His public explanation (Tetum and Portuguese) gave the following reasons:
The veto stimulated vociferous, often uninformed, debate among Timorese politicians and local media. On 14 December, Xanana Gusmão responded in a two-hour interview on GMN TV, which you can watch on YouTube.
Parliament finished debate and voting on the 2019 State Budget before discussing the Presidential veto.
International media continued to report on the Sunrise buy-in, including Macauhub (Dili takes control of Greater Sunrise project in huge gamble), Upstream (Legislative delay slows progress on Sunrise) and Argus media (Viewpoint: PNG, East Timor face different LNG outlooks).
On 8 January 2019, Special Representative Xanana Gusmão, accompanied by the Prime Minister and representatives from ANPM and TimorGAP, went to Parliament to explain the Sunrise buyout (Parliament press release). The presentation and handouts largely repeated the public presentation on 8 December, although this time questions were permitted, and the opposition asked many. Gusmão "guaranteed" that the $13 billion necessary to build the in-field infrastructure, pipeline and LNG plant would not come from the Petroleum Fund, but may be borrowed.
Following sharp questioning from the opposition, he angrily offered to cancel the project (video excerpt). FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri responded in the media that his party is not against developing Greater Sunrise, but wants to do it sustainably.
On 10 January, Parliament discussed the Presidential veto of the amendment to the Petroleum Activities Law (debate rules), with statements from CNRT and FRETILIN, and Fretilin walked out. The remaining Deputies voted 41-1 to override the veto, as described by Parliament, LUSA and Tatoli (Tetum). Adriano do Nascimento from Partidu Demokratiku cast the only vote to uphold the veto, and gave three reasons:
The Timor-Leste Media Development Center publishes daily English summaries of articles in the local media. Here are a few recent summaries relating to Greater Sunrise project.
La'o Hamutuk is concerned that many public statements by politicians and articles in the media on the Sunrise project contain errors and/or disinformation, or omit important issues. Therefore, we have published Misinformation and facts about the Greater Sunrise project (PDF or blog) and Informasaun sala no faktu sira kona-ba projetu Greater Sunrise (PDF ka blog) to help improve understanding of this complex topic.
As a majority of MPs voted to override the veto, the President was required to promulgate the law within eight days. He did so on 17 January, noting that "This promulgation does not mean a political or legal judgment favorable to said Decree and, even less, that it can be interpreted as an inhibitor of any claim for abstract review of its constitutionality and legality, under the terms provided for by Article 150 of the Constitution of the Republic." The law was published in the Jornal da República as Law No. 1/2019 of 18 January.
On 30 January, 23 Members of Parliament asked the Court of Appeals for an abstract review of the constitutionality and legality of Law No. 1/2019, amending the Petroleum Activities Law. Their 180-paragraph petition (Portuguese original) raised several concerns, including:
While the court is deciding the case, the amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law are technically in force. After the President of Parliament said that Petroleum Fund withdrawals would happen soon, Fretilin's Parliamentary delegation stated the move would be in "bad faith." After some confusion over the Government's position, on 15 February the Prime Minister's office clarified that the process of purchasing Sunrise participation would proceed before the court has decided: "Until the Court says stop!, the Government's activities will continue normally."
On 8 March, the Court of Appeals made a decision. Their opinion, provided to Parliament on 12 March with a dissent from judge Maria Natercia Gusmão, said that incorporation of the non-ratified Maritime Boundary Treaty was unconstitutional, but that the other amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law could stand, and could override provisions in the Petroleum Fund Law. It was covered by Tatoli (also Parliamentary reaction), LUSA, and RTTL TV (videos of newscast and interview with Court President). Two days later, the President of the Court acknowledged some errors in editing and clarity, but the substance of the decision is unchanged, and a corrected version will be released next week. After rumors of an appeal, Fretilin announced on 18 March that they had filed one, and CNRT accused Fretilin of opposing the pipeline. The President of the Court told journalists a decision was expected soon. On 3 April, LUSA reported that the Court of Appeal had denied the appeal of their initial upholding of the changes to the Petroleum Activities Law, so those amendments remain in effect.
This process was reopened in July -- see below.
Money transferred from the Petroleum Fund to TimorGAP and then to Shell and ConocoPhillips
However, the Government acted to remove legal protections which would prevent the Petroleum Fund from being used to buy into the Greater Sunrise Joint Venture. On 18 February, the Prime Minister asked to present a new Petroleum Fund investment policy to Parliament. On 20 February, the Council of Ministers approved a resolution on rules and criteria for the selection, management and evaluation of Petroleum Fund investments, which would enable investing in domestic petroleum operations through TimorGap. Government Resolution 10/2019 was published on 27 February.
On 21 February, the acting Minister of Finance presented the new Petroleum Fund investment policy (original Portuguese) to the Parliamentary plenary, with extensive questions and debate (Part 1 and part 2 on YouTube, over two hours), as reported by RTTL-TV and GMN-TV. The new policy would allow 5% of the Petroleum Fund (about $800 million) to be invested in TimorGAP, while reducing the percentage of the PF invested in stocks from 40% to 35%. TimorGAP must use the investment to exploit known oil and gas fields which are commercially competitive and will contribute to development and diversification of the national economy. TimorGAP will pay 4.5% interest on the investment (LUSA reported that this can be paid eight years late, although that's not in the policy) and comply with reporting requirements.
A few days later, legal experts urged the government not to implement the new policy before the court rules on the changes the Petroleum Activities Law.
On 7 March, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak told journalists that Timor-Leste would pay ConocoPhillips and Shell before 18 March (also RTTL video). To doubters, he said "The biggest risk for Timorese people is death. Why did we confront death? For Independence! Why can't we take on risk? One who isn't brave enough, they will never succeed in their life, neither as an individual or a people."
On 13 March, the day after the Court's ruling was announced, the acting Minister of Finance told journalists that she had already instructed the Central Bank (BCTL) to transfer the $650 million to TimorGAP. The Central Bank said they are working on it, and the Minister said that TimorGAP and BCTL had already signed a protocol to enable the transfer.
Two aspects of the deals, and the haste to pay for them, have not received much public attention:
On 24 March, Independente reported that the payment was being delayed because of coordination issues between the central banks of Timor-Leste and the USA, and would be made on 30 March. The next day, LUSA reported that Timor-Leste's participation in the Sunrise joint venture would be delayed until 5 April or later, to give the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board time to approve it, as they must evaluate every foreign investment in Australia.
TimorGAP said that no fine would be assessed because the delay is not their fault, and offered to explain the situation to Parliament. Local media, including Independente, reported the development with varying degrees of accuracy. On April Fools Day, the interim Minister for Finance told journalists the payment would be made on 5 April. However, on 4 April the Prime Minister told local media that a "technical problem" had further delayed approval. On 9 April, TimorGAP told LUSA that the FIRB had approved their investment, and that the money would be transferred on 16 April in Singapore. The following day, Timor-Leste's Central Bank transferred $650 million from the Petroleum Fund to the TimorGAP subsidiaries which will own Timor-Leste's 56.56% share of the Sunrise project.
The sales were closed on 16 April at a law firm's office in Singapore, as announced by ConocoPhillips, Shell, and the Timor-Leste Government. The event was reported by LUSA, Macauhub, Tempo Timor, The West Australian and RTTL-TV (3 MB Tetum MP4). Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said that oil from Greater Sunrise could be sold as early as 2025 or 2026.
After the signing, Xanana Gusmão told LUSA that this situation reminds him of the fight against Indonesia's occupation, and encouraged the Fretilin opposition to get behind Sunrise. He also challenged ANPM and TimorGAP to work hard in this new, more critical phase of developing the Sunrise project. ANPM President Gualdino da Silva described the next steps to LUSA.
TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro is confident that his company has the capacity to respond to these new challenges, and explained that TimorGAP will pay 4.5% interest into the Petroleum Fund, after an eight-year grace period. More documents and information are on the Petroleum Fund page of this website.
In June, La'o Hamutuk presented to the Timor-Leste Studies association on Implications of recent changes to Timor-Leste’s Petroleum Fund (also PDF). The presentation relates the recent legislative history and lack of transparency, consultation, and deliberation, and identifies likely imminent developments. We also presented on Implikasaun husi Projetu Greater Sunrise no Projetu Tasi Mane ba Sustentabilidade Finansa Estadu (mos PDF no artigu). In May 2020, La'o Hamutuk published a paper Implications of recent changes to Timor-Leste’s Petroleum Fund, updating our earlier presentation to the Timor-Leste Studies Association.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers Australia, which advised Timor-Leste during the buyout process, celebrated its participation in Australasian Lawyer.
The 2018 maritime boundary treaty will not be ratified until the new Australian government takes office after the 18 May election, so interim corporations and contracts are being set up to handle the Sunrise project during the transitional period. The Timorese Parliamentary President told GMN that the two countries will ratify it at the same time. See our other web page for more details on the ratification process and the Treaty's entry into force at the end of August.
See below for the management and construction of the Greater Sunrise project after the purchase of participation was completed.
Woodside is willing to operate an LNG plant in Beaçu, but not to invest in it
On 13 February, Woodside released its Annual Report for 2018, listing Greater Sunrise in its 2027+ "Horizon III" timeframe. The report describes last year's events relating to Sunrise:
In a conference call with journalists the same day, CEO Peter Coleman was asked if Woodside was going to sell their stake in Sunrise. He responded
On 5 March, Woodside COO Meg O'Neill said that now is the time to build new LNG projects. Three days later, Woodside CEO Peter Coleman explained that LNG prices are currently very low, but that he expected them to pick up in a few years. Although he described a number of LNG projects the company is planning for the next several years, he did not mention Greater Sunrise.
On 28 March, the trade paper Upstream reported that low LNG prices, especially in Asia, were bringing "pause for thought" even as companies pushed ahead with various projects.
On 7 May, Upstream reported that Woodside plans to develop the Sunrise field with a floating production, storage and offtake vessel (FPSO). Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said he supports the plan to pipe Sunrise gas to an LNG plant in Timor-Leste, but that Woodside will not invest in the onshore facility. Instead, it will operate the plant on behalf of the government on a transitional basis while the Timorese develop their own expertise to take over the operation, like a similar model in Indonesia.
In July and August, Woodside made their Second Quarter report to ASX and held a teleconference with their half-year results, and neither mentioned Sunrise. Unlike other companies involved in the area, they did not issue a press release when the Boundary Treaty came into force at the end of August. Woodside's Half-Year report for 2019 has only two brief paragraphs on Sunrise:
In an interview with LUSA on 8 March, TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro explained that much of the up to $12 billion to develop the wells at the Sunrise field would not come from the Petroleum Fund, but from undisclosed other financing. He also argued for faith: “As a young country without experience in many areas, including this one, if there is no trust, we will never do anything.” A second article based on the same interview described the process by which TimorGAP will take over the Sunrise project.
On 11 March, Timorese jurist Manuel Tilman explained to GMN that developing the Sunrise project could cost $18 billion, and that the $0.65 billion to be paid for ConocoPhillips' and Shell's shares of the joint venture was not sufficient to bring the pipeline to Timor-Leste.
On 11 March, Timor-Leste's Ambassador to Australia Abel Guterres said that Timor-Leste would look to China for capital if Australia, the U.S., Japan and Korea were unwilling to finance the project. On 15 March, ANPM President Gualdino da Silva and Ambassador Guterres addressed a $99/person "Timor-Leste Breakfast" at the Australasian Oil & Gas (AOG) conference in Perth, accompanied by TL Cement's James Rhee and Mateus da Costa of ANPM. They told industry participants that the buyouts from Shell and ConocoPhillips would be completed soon, and invited investors in the upstream project and the Beacu LNG plant.
On 20 March, Fitch Solutions called Sunrise a Long-Term Opportunity with Significant Risks.
On 7 May 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued its Article IV report on Timor-Leste, with many references to Timor-Leste's declining oil revenues, the need for diversification and the "significant upside risk" (possibility of better outcomes than the IMF baseline projections, which don't include Sunrise) from Greater Sunrise which is "conditional on technical and economic viability and proper safeguards being taken to minimize funding risks." LUSA reported on the IMF's Sunrise commentary.
Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Timor-Leste on 9 April, and La'o Hamutuk gave her a letter on Impacts of the Tasi Mane Project on the environment, land, and future sustainability of community people’s lives.
After the 16 April 2019 purchase of Sunrise participation, TimorGAP moved rapidly to implement the project, spurred on by politician's awareness that Bayu-Undan will stop production in three years and the country needs Sunrise revenues soon after that. Nevertheless, two Fretilin former Prime Ministers, while supporting the project in general, urged caution and accuracy in public discussions -- see Tetum TV interviews with Rui Araùjo (9 MB MP4) on 29 April and Mari Alkatiri (8 MB) on 1 May.
On 26 April, Lusa reported that the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) had notified the Shanghai stock exchange that it will design and construct a port in Beaçu to enable building of the pipeline and LNG plant, for $943 million. CCECC's website does not yet mention the project, and does not describe any other ports constructed by this company. CCECC is a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), which is not the same company from China Railway Group Limited (whose COVEC subsidiary built the first segment of the Suai-Beacu highway).
On 6 May, Tatoli reported that TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro and "representative of the Petroleum Ministry" Alfredo Pires informed the Prime Minister that TimorGAP had signed a contract with China International Capital Corporation (CICC) to finance part of the Beacu project, including the port. However, TimorGAP subsequently informed La'o Hamutuk that this is not correct, and CICC's website does not mention the project. Tatoli also reported that the precise location of the port is not yet decided, and that the pipeline will cost around $826 million (which may be borrowed from Germany or the Netherlands), in addition to the $943 million for the port. Monteiro estimates that total Sunrise downstream capital costs will be $5.5-$6 billion, with another $5-$6 billion for upstream capital expenditure.
Timor-Leste did not conduct any public tender or formal announcement of these contracts, and they have not been submitted to the Council of Ministers or posted on the Procurement Portal. Although the recent amendment to the Petroleum Activities Law removes the power of the Audit Chamber to review the agreements prior to implementation, other procurement laws still apply. Although TimorGAP is currently conducting a public tender for a computer worth $0.014 million (RFQ), their website has no information on the contracts for Beaçu LNG. On 10 May, the Fretilin Parliamentary caucus asked for more transparency about Sunrise contracting.
Timor-Leste television broadcast several reports on the project during the first week of May, all featuring TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro. You can watch a 2 May RTTL news report on the planned Beaçu port (7MB), an hour-long GMN interview with Monteiro and UNPAZ economist Lucas da Costa (95 MB), or reports on the 6 May meeting with the Prime Minister on RTTL (4 MB) or GMN (13MB).
On 7 May, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak asked Minister of Defense and Security Filomeno Paixao to prepare for a permanent military post to provide security for international companies during the construction of the Beaçu petroleum facilities. The requested plan will be presented to the Council of Ministers. We hope this is not an omen of the hostile community relations that La'o Hamutuk warned about in our 2008 book on Sunrise LNG.
On 13 May, LUSA interviewed TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro about the negotiations with China. The possibility of Chinese financing also attracted international media attention, including from Interfax and Bloomberg. Jose Ramos-Horta defended working with China as he returned from a meeting of the Global Council for the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative there.
On 14 May, the Government convened an interministerial meeting with TimorGAP to discuss the proposed Beaçu construction project, especially the land it will require. On 24 May, the Government met with officials from Trafigura and their local partner Sacom to discuss the project.
At the end of May, several analysts discussed relevant issues. Timorese researcher 'Mauroko' wrote a Business Analysis of TimorGAP, concluding that "Timor Gap, E.P segment is not performing well as it has been running on a loss for the past seven years. Even though the industry it's operating in has seen some fluctuations in terms of stability, the company itself has struggled to make reasonable profits despite being subsidised by the government. The financial date reveals no hope for future profitable business. The company has clearly failed to draw profits even during the time the industry is profitable and growing." From a different perspective, Teodoro Mota wrote Analiza Risku no Benefisiu Pipeline Gas Kampu Greater Sunrise mai Timor-Leste, discussing ten risks and nine benefits without reaching a conclusion. Bardia Rahmani's lengthy article in The Diplomat, The Looting of Timor-Leste’s Oil Wealth, provoked heated discussion on Facebook.
More broadly, Wood Mackenzie research director Angus Rodger discussed the challenging financial context for LNG projects in Australia during the next five years.
On 25 June, The Australian reported that an $11 billion loan from China to TimorGAP "could result in the Chinese military gaining access to a port 500 km off Darwin." However, the report was refuted in The Guardian the next day and TimorGAP issued a press release denying it, but Stratfor still published a Situation Report. Nevertheless, on 2 July The Australian published Alan Dupont's opinion piece Australia must not lose East Timor to China which sees Timor-Leste as a battleground for "geopolitical rivalry," worryingly reminiscent of 1942 and 1975. The comments to the article raise doubts about the education and intelligence of Timor-Leste's southern neighbors.
On 1 July, LUSA published information about plans to rapidly amend several laws to enable ratification of the Maritime Boundary Treaty before the 20th anniversary of the referendum on 30 August. The package includes amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law and to the Petroleum Fund Law, and laws relating to Bayu-Undan taxes, workers and migration. La'o Hamutuk made a submission, but Parliament enacted these changes in haste on the dubious claim that they were necessary for the Maritime Boundaries Treaty.
La'o Hamutuk, FONGTIL and other civil society organizations met with President Lu Olo on 8 August, asking him to promulgate the Maritime Boundary Treaty but to veto the amendments to the Petroleum Fund Law and Petroleum Activities Law. The President asked the Court of Appeals about the changes to the Petroleum Activities Law and the Petroleum Fund Law. On 22 August, President Lu Olo announced that he was promulgating legislation related to the Maritime Boundary Treaty, while explaining that the proposed revisions to the Petroleum Fund Law and Petroleum Activities Law are not related to the treaty. See below for information on his veto of the PFL and PAL changes the following week.
On 23 August, the President promulgated legislation necessary to implement the treaty. The promulgated documents were published in the Jornal da Republica for 27 August, including Parliamentary Resolution 15/2019 ratifying the treaty, Laws 4/2019 and 5/2019 on the labor, migration and tax regimes for Bayu-Undan, Decree-Laws 24/2019, 25/2019 and 26/2019 transitioning the ownership of oil fields now in Timor-Leste territory, Decree-Law 27/2019 amending the ANPM decree-law, and Government resolutions 22/2019 and 23/2019 approving the cooperation Timor-Leste and Australia on relevant issues.
As Treaty ratification moved ahead and the 20th anniversary of Interfet (and the referendum) approached, international media published a number of articles raising difficult questions about Greater Sunrise and the Tasi Mane Project, including Darragh Murphy's Timor-Leste grapples with stark Greater Sunrise oilfield decision in the Irish Times, Viji Menon's Timor-Leste’s Challenges: Year After The May 2018 Elections in Eurasia Review, Michael Rose's A tale of four airports: aviation in Timor-Leste in DevPolicy, and Australian Broadcasting's (ABC) Oil and gas is Timor-Leste's ticket to prosperity. Is this impoverished nation blowing its one chance? and Critics concerned about viability of Timor Leste oil project (also audio).
A more positive view was put forth by former President Jose-Ramos Horta, who said that many investors, including from Europe, are interested in Greater Sunrise. Military Chief of Staff Major Gen. Lere Anan Timur urged national leaders to sit together to reach consensus on the risks and benefits of a pipeline from Sunrise to Timor-Leste.
After a meeting of the Sunrise Commission in Dili on 15 August, the Australian Lead Negotiator for Timor Treaty Implementation, Lisa Schofield, told Timorese journalists that Australia will continue to provide whatever support is needed to develop Greater Sunrise.
On 19 August, Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo Soares told the South China Morning Post that the rumor of a $16 billion loan from China was a politically-motivated hoax.
On 27 August, the Court of Appeal advised the President that the amendments to the Petroleum Activities Law (LAP) and Petroleum Fund Law (LFP) violate Timor-Leste's Constitution. The following day, the President announced that he was vetoing these amendments, and wrote two letters to Parliament (LAP and LFP), attaching the Court's decisions (LAP and LFP).
On 4 October, TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro and ANPM President Gualdino da Silva told journalists that the vetoed changes to the Petroleum Fund Law and the Petroleum Activities Law are not required for petroleum investment to go forward. On 8 October, Parliament heard from them and other Government officials, and then voted 34-24 to pass both bills over the presidential veto (also Tetum and Tatoli) without significant changes. Download the decrees passed by Parliament (LAP, LFP) and La'o Hamutuk's annotated versions showing the latest trivial modifications (LAP, LFP). As these decrees were enacted under Article 95 of the Constitution, and Parliament approved them by less than a 2/3 vote, President Lu Olo has to decide whether to veto again or to promulgate. On 11 October, the President explained the importance of obeying Timor-Leste's Constitution (Tetum), and on 11 November, he asked the Court of Appeal to evaluate the constitutionality of these two laws. After receiving the Court's opinion, President Lu Olo announced (online video) on 26 November that he is vetoing the changes to the Petroleum Fund Law, while promulgating the changes to the Petroleum Activities Law, which was published as Law No. 6/2019 of 4 December. As this undoes the legislative kludge to the LAP that enabled the Petroleum Fund to be invested through TimorGAP in Greater Sunrise last April, the legality of that investment is now in doubt, as explained by the President of Parliament.
In May 2020, La'o Hamutuk published a updated paper Implications of recent changes to Timor-Leste’s Petroleum Fund, updating our earlier presentation to the Timor-Leste Studies Association.
More details about this process are on our web page on ratifying the Treaty.
After many Australian journalists expressed alarm about perceived Chinese involvement (see below), The Australian reported on 18 September that the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific is discussing funding the Sunrise pipeline.
The entry into force of the Boundary Treaty and revised Production-Sharing Contracts opened the door for further oil and gas development. The National Petroleum and Minerals Authority is again discussing bidding rounds for new areas, and the industry organized an Oil and Gas Summit conference in Dili on 3-4 October 2019, which was addressed by Taur Matan Ruak (also Tetum) and Xanana Gusmão (also Portuguese). At the Summit, ANPM President Gualdino da Silva said that Timor-Leste and Australia are negotiating to finalize the Sunrise development concept, and Timor-Leste opened its first licensing round for new onshore and offshore areas, as reported by the Timor-Leste government, Energy News Bulletin, and Offshore Energy. Local press articles from the Summit included ION's bullish report on seismic exploration, TimorGAP optimistic that Sunrise will provide good lives for the population, and TimorGAP and Timor Resources planning to start drilling on-shore in 2020. The organizers of last year's Summit conference will hold another in July 2020 -- this time over the internet. Details at https://www.in-vr.co/timor-leste-online.
On 23 October, Southeast Asia Globe published Sophie Raynor's Betting on Black, explaining that even though Timor-Leste has won the battle to control Sunrise development, it may lose the war.
As Parliament considered the Government's proposed 2020 budget (which was withdrawn in early December), TimorGAP testified on 31 October, presenting a report on their current activities and a proposal for 2020. They are asking for $75 million in public transfers from the state budget (more than four times what they got in 2019), most of which is for the Sunrise project:
Residents of the Beaçu community will be moved inland to make space for the harbor and LNG plant. In early November they asked for compensation, and TimorGAP President Francisco Monteiro said that an inter-ministerial committee will study how to 'liberate' 600 hectares from them. A month later, Xanana Gusmão responded to their request by saying that if Beaçu wants too much money the plant will be built in Natarbora (to the west, in Manatuto municipality) (Independente, Timor Post, Tempo Timor). Xanana announced that he was going to Natarbora to meet with the local community, but returned to Dili instead to testify in a corruption trial.
In January 2020, the CNRT members of Parliament decided not to vote for the proposed 2020 budget, so it failed and Timor-Leste will be under a duodecimal spending regime for at least eight months. TimorGAP is only receiving $1.4 million in transfers each month, far less than the $6.2 million they had been expecting. The budget was finally approved in October after a partisan restructure.
La'o Hamutuk encourages decision-makers, Members of Parliament and citizens to decide about the Sunrise project based on facts and verified information, rather than political assertions, disinformation or wishful thinking. We are circulating information through various media to improve public understanding, including:
On 30 August 2019, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Timor-Leste to join the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the referendum which ended Indonesia's occupation, as well as the entry into force of the maritime boundary Treaty with Australia. The two governments exchanged notes to complete the ratification process for the Maritime Boundary Treaty, but Australia's prosecution of whistleblowers Bernard Collaery and Witness K overshadowed the visit, as described elsewhere on this website.
With the Boundary Treaty now in force, several writers discussed Timor-Leste's future and the Tasi Mane project, including Viji Menon (Timor-Leste and its Neighbours: Consolidating Ties, Eurasia Review), Damon Evans (Big decisions for East Timor as treaty is ratified, Interfax Global Energy), Amanda Hodge (Dili’s golden sunrise dream: Too much, too soon for Timor?, Weekend Australian) and Craig Guthrie (The great game for Greater Sunrise, Petroleum Economist).
Many foreign reporters made their first visits to Timor-Leste. Among other things, they saw Chinese contractors building infrastructure projects, but didn't realize that they were paid for by Timor-Leste. China has not provided any financing, although during the past decade approximately two billion dollars has flowed from Timor-Leste to China, mostly for roads, power lines and ports. With escalating global and political tensions between the West and China, they perceived Timor-Leste as a front line in this new Cold War, including East Timor invites Chinese investment in 'risky' oil project (James Massola, The Age), This Tiny Nation Should Beware China’s Belt and Road (David Fickling, Bloomberg), China Eyes Stake In Southeast Asia’s Newest Oil Frontier (Tsvetana Paraskova, Oilprice.com), China work camps reveal influence at heart of Timor (Greg Brown in The Australian), Big-spending China Inc waits patiently in East Timor, on Australia's doorstep (James Massola, The Sydney Morning Herald), A $12 Billion Gas Project Could Make or Break This Young Nation (Jason Scott, Bloomberg) and Will a “New Phase” in the Australia/Timor-Leste Relationship Counter China? (Jarryd de Haan, Future Directions International). On 23 October, Mark Dodd wrote China’s navy is making friends in Dili in the ASPI Strategist, and on 28 November, FDI published another de Haan article, Chinese and Australian Interests in Timor-Leste: At Odds or Mutually Beneficial?
La'o Hamutuk shares the concern about the potential impact of future loans for the Tasi Mane project from China on Timor-Leste's financial security or political sovereignty, but this is not an Australian or global issue. In 2021, we prepared a presentation on China's involvement in Timor-Leste. During World War II and again in the last Cold War, Timor-Leste was turned into a battleground in global political conflicts that had nothing to do with it, resulting in the killing of tens, and then hundreds, of thousands of Timorese people. It must not happen again.
During first half of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and simultaneous fall in global oil and gas prices, made many companies and investors more cautious about financially marginal petroleum projects, such as those in Timor-Leste. TimorGAP continues to look for partners to share the investment costs of Greater Sunrise and the Tasi Mane Project, but none have been found. ConocoPhillips, which was the first and largest investor in the country, sold its stake in Bayu-Undan and Darwin LNG, and the company has pulled out of Timor-Leste.
At the end of 2020, TimorGAP revalued its Greater Sunrise holding from $673 million to zero, although this was only revealed the following October, on page 38 of Book 1 of the proposed 2022 State Budget, because the 2020 Annual Reports of TimorGAP and of the Petroleum Fund have not been published months after the legal deadines. The Finance Ministry explained the write-down: "According to the notes in [TimorGAP's unpublished] consolidated financial statements, the impairment loss was triggered by: uncertainty about the fiscal and regulatory regime of the Greater Sunrise Special Regime; uncertainty about the Joint Venture partners agreed development concept; revisions to mid and long‐term oil/gas price forecasts; and expected effects on margins from the macro‐environment, COVID‐19 pandemic and energy market demand and supply fundamentals."
In November, Lusa reported on the devaluation.
For more information, see these relevant web pages:
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)