As East Timor moves towards full independence under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the obligations and conduct of the UN, international aid organisations and foreign governments continue to come under scrutiny.
In late June, UNTAET head Sergio de Mello informed the UN Security Council that he expects elections for an East Timorese constituent assembly to take place between August and December next year.
For several months after the establishment of UNTAET last October, a major criticism from East Timorese political and community organisations was the lack of consultation by UNTAET and the large international aid organisations. The recent Timorisation of UNTAET through the creation of the National Council, an expansion of the existing National Consultative Council, and the Transitional Cabinet give the East Timorese greater participation in the administration of East Timor during the transition period.
It is envisaged that the National Council and the cabinet will be involved in establishing an East Timorese civil administration and in discussions about what type of government and constitution East Timor will adopt (detailed discussion on the constitution is unlikely to begin until after the National Council for Timorese Resistance conference scheduled for late August).
Since April, UNTAET officials have been stating that East Timor is passing from the emergency phase to the reconstruction and development phase. But the conditions throughout many parts of East Timor indicate that there are many problems left over from the emergency phase yet to be resolved. The insufficient infrastructure development and inadequate health, education, housing and employment programs are fuelling social tensions.
A recent UNTAET report that evaluates the humanitarian aid process from September to May detailed some of its achievements and failures. An appraisal of the UNTAET report by the Dili-based Lao Hamutuk (the East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis) on July 17 noted that the report fails to link its various findings. The Phase I report, for example, states that 98 per cent of primary school children are back in school. It later notes, however, that in many areas of the territory, most school buildings still lack roofing. But it never asks how the lack of roofing would serve to undermine the validity of its earlier claim.
Lao Hamutuk adds that the UNTAET report says nothing about actual means of transportation. In many areas of the country, there is still an almost total lack of local public transportation. Such a lack is not only a reflection of the East Timors difficult state, but also contributes to it as it inhibits economic recovery.
According to Lao Hamutuk, One of the most significant issues raised was the lack of sufficient communication between the United Nations system, international aid agencies and the East Timorese people. Unrealised promises made by some of the humanitarian agencies only served to aggravate the resulting tensions. It is for this reason, among others, that the report calls upon UNTAET `to monitor intensely every activity of humanitarian assistance.
Amazingly, according to the report, UNTAET did not monitor aid distribution at all (although there were coordination efforts through the Humanitarian Pillar). This contributed to duplication of aid delivery in some areas, while other areas were left lacking.
The Lao Hamutuk article highlights, Neither the Humanitarian Assistance and Emergency Relief nor the Government and Political Administration `pillars of UNTAET, the report states, `have assumed responsibility over an overall transition plan from relief to development. Similarly, the assessment contends that most United Nations agencies have no exit or transition strategy.
Unless these and other issues are addressed -- such as the slow pace with the release of funds from the Trust Fund for East Timor administered by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank -- the new East Timor administration will inherit political and social crises which have their roots in the current transitional phase.
Official briefs from UNTAET reveal worrying statistics. The UNTAET Humanitarian Pillar Situation Report for June 30-July 5 revealed that: the World Health Organisation reported that there were 1000 cases of malaria each week, and one death from dengue haemorrhagic fever, indicating an estimated unseen caseload of 200;
Oxfam, a British non-government organisation, will hand over its urban water and sanitation support activities to the transitional administration at the end of September. Oxfam is concerned that, as a result, water and sanitation staff will be reduced from 40 to five for each district (almost all water sanitation and irrigation projects have been handled by NGOs); and Dili-based NGOs are gravely concerned about the public health risk emanating from the vast quantity of rubble in Dili contaminated with deadly asbestos. NGOs are calling for a halt to the clean-up programs until a public information campaign is launched and the internationally ratified practice for the safe handling and removing of asbestos is adhered to.
The UN peacekeeping force in East Timor has begun downsizing. This will affect its capacity to support reconstruction programs. The departure of the forces logistics support group will affect the peacekeeping forces ability to support UN agencies and NGOs with transport and material handling by an estimated 80%. The additional expense will be borne by aid organisations.
While the security situation throughout East Timor is stable, the pillar report noted that the border [with West Timor] is still tense with more sporadic activity expected. Humanitarian agencies have been advised not to travel after dark.
The push for the reduction in the peacekeeping force has been led by the US and Australian governments. They claim it is necessary to reduce the expense of maintaining forces in East Timor and that security is no longer a problem.
Their true motive is to enable Washington and Canberra to re-engage with the Indonesian military. Similarly, both governments remain reluctant to place real pressure on the Indonesian government and military over the crisis facing 120,000 refugees in West Timor and the activities of the pro-Jakarta militia who operate in West Timor with impunity.