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East Timor News Digest 11 – November 1-30, 2018

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Timor Sea spy scandal

Secret Witness K brief to be debated in closed court, magistrate rules

The Guardian - November 9, 2018

Paul Karp – Bernard Collaery and Witness K have suffered a setback in their bid to have an open court hearing on protected information in the Timor-Leste spying case.

The undisclosed brief of evidence against Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery is set to be the subject of a closed court hearing to judge national security information in the prosecution of the pair for disclosing the fact Australia spied on Timor-Leste.

On Friday whistleblower Witness K and Collaery suffered a setback, with the ACT magistrates court refusing their applications to have an earlier open court hearing on whether protected information in the case is likely to prejudice Australia's national security.

Prosecutors in the case have given notice the crown's brief of evidence is expected to disclose national security information, and as a result the court and defendants are yet to see the brief pending a decision on how to handle it.

That notice is likely to trigger the attorney general, Christian Porter, to issue a certificate of non-disclosure which leads to a closed hearing for the court to make its own judgment about whether information is likely to prejudice national security.

The chief magistrate, Lorraine Walker, told the court that laws granting a closed hearing could be "clearly potentially prejudicial to the defendants" because lawyers for the defendants "may not be entitled to be present" if they do not have a security clearance.

Lawyers for Witness K have already obtained security clearances in order to learn the identity of the whistleblower, but Collaery's lawyers including counsel Christopher Ward have not obtained clearances.

The National Security Information Act also provides that the defendants may be excluded from a closed hearing.

Walker noted arguments put on behalf of Witness K and Collaery that a closed hearing would undermine public confidence in the prosecution.

But the chief magistrate concluded that national security legislation "lawfully curtails transparency". Walker also noted parties could seek a stay if the absence of legal representatives were an abuse of process likely to jeopardise a fair trial.

Walker said there was the "real potential" the brief of evidence – including potentially protected information – would be disclosed if she granted Witness K and Collaery's applications for an open hearing under section 21 of the National Security Information Act.

The chief magistrate said the notice of expected disclosure of national security information had tied her hands, as section 24(5) of the act requires her to adjourn proceedings until the attorney general's certificate is dealt with or fails to materialise.

Walker said holding an earlier open court hearing would "undermine" the notice process and would be "illogical" since it deals with the same subject matter.

Walker said she "cannot conclude" that the administration of justice would be harmed by a closed hearing, and noted the court would make its own judgment which could be appealed if the defence argues it is "productive of unfairness".

Walker noted the commonwealth had given notice of an expected disclosure of national security information to the attorney general on 1 November but had only told the court after hours on Tuesday. She had only learned of the notice on the morning of Wednesday's hearing.

She said the descriptor used in the notice was essentially "meaningless" to the defence and the court because they had not seen the brief of evidence and did not know which information in it is protected.

Walker intends to hold a three-day hearing on the national security information, with dates to be set after the attorney general issues a certificate of non-disclosure.

Walker granted an application by the ABC and other media to access to a redacted version of the summons, Collaery and Witness K's section 21 applications and related affidavits.

The Centre Alliance senator, Rex Patrick, told Guardian Australia it would be "highly prejudicial" to have a closed court hearing where Witness K, Collaery and Collaery's lawyers may not be present.

Patrick said he had "great concern" about Porter's ability to judge whether disclosure of information is likely to prejudice national security, citing separate incidents where the Senate or the office of the information commissioner had taken a different view to the attorney general.'

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/09/secret-witness-k-brief-to-be-debated-in-closed-court-magistrate-rules

Question of closed hearing in East Timor bugging case waits on attorney

Sydney Morning Herald - November 9, 2018

Alexandra Back – The case of a former spy and his lawyer accused of conspiracy to provide information about an intelligence service has been adjourned until the federal Attorney-General Christian Porter decides whether the as-yet undisclosed brief of evidence is likely to prejudice national security.

If Mr Porter deems the brief is likely to prejudice national security, as is expected, the court's ruling on Friday means a preliminary hearing to consider the material will be held in a closed court.

The preliminary hearing will determine how much of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery's future trial will be held in secret. Bernard Collaery, flanked by Senators Tim Storer, Rex Patrick, Nick McKim and Andrew Wilkie, addresses the media during a press conference on the East Timor spy scandal, at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 28 June 2018.

Friday's ruling is a blow to the pair, who argued against such a finding in part because much of the information the Commonwealth claims is sensitive is already in the public domain.

They said the law that provides for closed court hearings would bar Mr Collaery's lawyers, who do not presently have the appropriate security clearances, from being present during the hearing.

They had also been ambushed, only finding out about federal prosecutors' notice of the claim on the brief the evening before Wednesday's hearing.

Witness K and Mr Collaery are accused of conspiring to provide information about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service after Witness K spoke up about Australia's spying on East Timor during negotations over an oil and gas treaty.

The then-ASIS officer Witness K had gone to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security with his complaint about the illegal bugging operation, and received approval to engage Mr Collaery to represent him.

Prosecutors have given notice that the case against the pair brings into play the National Security Information Act, which was passed in 2004 in the context of terrorism.

The law requires that the court make orders before any trial which protect how sensitive information is handled during the case. However, the Commonwealth and the defence have clashed over how the orders should be decided.

The defence applied to the court last month to hold open hearings to consider the questions of national security and work towards a set of agreed orders.

But late on Tuesday afternoon, before court on Wednesday, prosecutors sprung on the defence that they had notified the attorney-general that the entire brief of evidence could reveal sensitive information.

The notice cryptically described the information likely to prejudice national security as the information contained in the brief.

The operation of the law means the attorney-general determines whether or not the brief is likely to prejudice national security, and if he finds it does, he can issue a non-disclosure certificate over it. Such a certificate would mean the hearing would be held in closed court.

The ACT Magistrates Court heard this week that Witness K and Mr Collaery are yet to receive the brief of evidence against them and Mr Collaery cannot instruct his lawyers.

On Friday Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker found that the federal prosecutors' notice to the attorney-general overtook the section that provided for the alternative open hearing.

She ordered the defence applications be stayed until Mr Porter either gives the non-disclosure certificate over the brief or gives notice he does not intend to.

In a statement outside court, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick expressed concern about the government's ability to accurately assess what is or is not likely to prejudice national security.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/national/act/question-of-closed-hearing-in-east-timor-bugging-case-waits-on-attorney-general-20181109-p50ez2.html

Trial of former Australian spy could hear evidence in secret

Associated Press - November 7, 2018

Canberra, Australia – Lawyers prosecuting a former spy and his lawyer who accuse Australia of illegally bugging the East Timorese Cabinet while negotiating a deal to share oil and gas revenue have made an application that could lead to the court being closed during the trial.

The former Australian Secret Intelligence Service spy, who cannot be identified, and his lawyer Bernard Collaery have been charged under the Intelligence Services Act with conspiracy to communicate ASIS information. ASIS is an overseas spy agency that operates out of Australian embassies.

Collaery's lawyer Chris Ward told Australian Capital Territory Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker on Wednesday that prosecutors had told his legal team late Tuesday that Attorney General Christian Porter had been asked last week to issue a Section 24 certificate under the National Security Information Act.

Such a certificate relates to so-called national security information – which can cover international relations, defense, security, and law enforcement – likely to be disclosed in court and can lead to the court being closed.

Lawyers for Collaery and the former spy, known as Witness K, want to keep the court open and to reach agreement with prosecutors on how to manage sensitive security information.

"The information the Commonwealth claims is likely to prejudice national security is already in the public domain and therefore cannot prejudice national security if discussed in open court," Ward said.

Walker said she would rule on Friday on how the charges would proceed. She set a tentative date for the trial to be heard over three days starting Feb. 11. Prosecutor Tim Begbie said the prosecution would struggle to be ready for a trial before April.

Rex Patrick, a minor party senator who is watching the case closely, was critical of the government lawyers' late notification to the defense of their application to the attorney general.

"That's clearly a breach of model-litigant obligations on the Commonwealth," Patrick said. "You can't ambush defendants like that."

Collaery and K each face a potential two-year prison sentence if convicted. Neither appeared in court on Wednesday.

Collaery has said that he and K were victims of a vindictive prosecution by the government because they had exposed illegal spying on the East Timor government in 2004. The bugging allegedly took place while Australia and East Timor were negotiating a deal on sharing Timor Sea energy royalties, which was signed in 2006. Australia won't comment on secret service operations.

K was to testify at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2014 in support of East Timor's challenge to the validity of the 2006 treaty. East Timor argued the alleged espionage gave Australian negotiators an unfair advantage.

Officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation's main domestic spy agency better known as ASIO, raided Collaery's offices and K's home in Canberra in late 2013. They seized documents and also K's passport, preventing him from leaving the country.

As well as conspiracy to communicate, Collaery has also been also been charged with communicating ASIS information. Collaery has said he assumed ASIO had intercepted conversations he had with journalists.

Collaery has said the charges related to K complaining about the illegal bugging to the inspector-general of intelligence and security, an independent watchdog that reviews the activities of Australia's six intelligence agencies and investigates complaints against them.

East Timor last year dropped its case against Australia in the United Nations' highest court as an act of goodwill ahead of agreeing on a new resources-sharing treaty.

In March, Australia, a wealthy nation of 25 million, signed a new treaty with its neighbor, a half-island nation of 1.5 million people who are among the poorest in the world. It gives East Timor most of the revenue from the oil and gas fields under the sea between them.

Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-6362033/Trial-former-Australian-spy-hear-evidence-secret.html

Witness K lawyers in fight to head off closed court hearing

The Guardian - November 7, 2018

Paul Karp – Lawyers for the whistleblower Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery have pushed the ACT magistrates court to make a ruling about national security information in a bid to head off a possible closed court hearing.

After weeks of negotiations, Witness K and Collaery failed to come to a comprehensive agreement with the commonwealth about handling of protected information in the prosecution of the pair for disclosing the fact Australia spied on Timor-Leste.

The director of public prosecutions has given notice the crown's brief of evidence in the case is expected to disclose national security information. That notice is likely to trigger the attorney general, Christian Porter, to issue a certificate of non-disclosure for information he judges is likely to prejudice national security.

Witness K and Collaery have applied to the ACT magistrates court to hold a hearing "as soon as possible" on national security information, before Porter can issue the certificate which would trigger a closed court hearing on the issue.

On Wednesday counsel for Witness K, Haydn Carmichael, told the court if it held a hearing on national security information the attorney general "ought not feel any concern or need" to issue a non-disclosure certificate.

Carmichael submitted the ACT chief magistrate Lorraine Walker is entitled to make an independent judgment about whether disclosure of protected information is likely to prejudice national security.

He said the possibility of a non-disclosure certificate process "must not and cannot" bypass the "alternate route" of the court holding a hearing to determine the issue of national security information for itself.

Counsel for Collaery, Christopher Ward, warned against a closed court hearing because legal representatives who had not obtained a security clearance to receive protected information – such as himself – would not be present.

He said this was a "powerful reason" not to set in train a process that would lead to a closed-court hearing, because it would cause an "almost irreparable" level of prejudice to Collaery.

Ward said the apparent intention of the prosecution to provide him with a redacted brief of prosecution and the inability of Collaery to brief him without disclosing protected information was "seriously hampering" the conduct of the defence.

Counsel for the attorney general, Tim Begbie, submitted that the general powers of the court do not displace the specific "mandatory regime" set in train by the prosecutors giving notice of expected disclosure of protected information.

Begbie said a hearing under section 21 of the National Security Information Act – requested by Witness K and Collaery – would deal with the same issues as one triggered by a non-disclosure certificate. It would be "inutile" – or pointless – to have separate hearings, he said.

Chief magistrate Walker noted that there is a process for legal representatives to obtain security clearance but it was likely to further delay the case.

She said she would determine the application for an urgent hearing on national security information on Friday, and indicated the full case was likely to be heard on 11-13 February.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/07/witness-k-lawyers-in-fight-to-head-off-closed-court-hearing

Timor spy lawyers fail to reach agreement

Australian Associated Press - November 7, 2018

Opposing barristers in a commonwealth spying case are at loggerheads over what national security information can be made public.

The case of a former spy, known as Witness K, and Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery was back for its second appearance in ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

The pair are charged with revealing information about Australia bugging East Timor's cabinet rooms in 2004 during negotiations over a gas and oil treaty.

Despite the charges being laid in June, the defence is yet to receive a full brief of evidence. Witness K and Mr Collaery did not attend court, but were represented by their respective lawyers Haydn Carmichael and Christopher Ward SC.

The prosecution and defence have been trying to negotiate what orders and information can be put forward, but they have failed to come to an agreement.

The trial, or parts of it, could be held in a closed court as the prosecution believes national security could be compromised if certain information is made public.

The defence has argued for as much of the trial as possible to be open. Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker says the parties are a long way apart.

One of the provisions in the National Security Information Act relates to the attorney-general, which leaves the option open for him to attend the trial and be heard.

Attorney-General Christian Porter gave consent to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to lay charges this year after receiving "very thorough advice".

Mr Porter has come under fire from some MPs and senators for giving that permission, with Centre Alliance's Rex Patrick one to criticise his conduct. Senator Patrick addressed a number of protesters outside the court and sat in on the hearing.

"I have no faith in the attorney-general making any reasonable decision in relation to this matter," he said. "He simply doesn't have the experience or the fortitude to stand up to those advising him who are pushing their own dark agendas."

A proposed three-day hearing to consider national security applications was put forward for February, but the prosecution said that would not leave enough time for them to prepare, frustrating Mr Ward.

The case has been adjourned until Friday morning as Ms Walker considers information from both parties, as well as a request from the ABC to access court documents.

Source: https://www.9news.com.au/2018/11/07/11/20/timor-spy-case-back-before-act-court

Political parties & elections

East Timor president slams parliament for blocking trip to meet pope

Reuters - November 7, 2018

Nelson de la Cruz, Jakarta – East Timor's ruling coalition in parliament has voted to block a planned trip by President Francisco Guterres to the Vatican, where he was due to meet Pope Francis, saying the president must first break a political deadlock at home.

The predominantly Roman Catholic nation has struggled to achieve stable government, and the stalemate has persisted since Guterres rejected some ministers proposed by Prime Minister Jose Maria de Vasconcelos after May elections over graft inquiries.

In a statement on Wednesday, Guterres said he deeply regretted this week's vote by the ruling Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) coalition in parliament "blocking this excellent opportunity".

The AMP won 34 of the 65 seats up for grabs in May's parliamentary election, the fifth since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The AMP coalition includes the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao. Guterres is from the opposition Fretilin party.

"I was greatly honored and proud to receive news that the Vatican State had approved my request for an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis," Guterres said, adding that the meeting had been set for November 23.

Guterres said that parliament's vote had prevented him from personally inviting Pope Francis to visit the country in 2019, to mark the 30th anniversary of a visit by Pope John Paul II and also the 20th anniversary of its independence referendum.

"The visit of the Pope in 1989 drew international attention to the suffering of the people of Timor Leste (East Timor) and brought more support to our national liberation struggle," said Guterres.

Asia's youngest democracy, which became independent from Indonesia in 2002, has struggled to alleviate poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources.

Arao Noe, the president of parliament, said by telephone the rejection decision was taken because the appointment of cabinet ministers had been delayed by more than four months.

As well as visiting the Vatican, the president had also sought approval from parliament for a state visit to former colonial ruler Portugal, the United Nations and Indonesia before the end of the year.

[Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez.]

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-timor-politics-pope/east-timor-president-slams-parliament-for-blocking-trip-to-meet-pope-idUSKCN1NC11K

Environment & natural disasters

El Nino impacting Timor-Leste's rains until December

Dili Weekly - November 14, 2018

Paulina Quintao – The National Director for Meteorology at the Ministry of Transport and Communication, Terencio Fernandes Moniz, said based on the changing weather patterns in Timor-Leste and the effects of El Nino, even though weaker than in previous years, rain fall will be affected until December 2018.

He said this situation has raised cause for warning the public about a 70% chance of a weak El Nino affecting rain patterns in Timor-Leste, with the government also preparing conditions to respond to any adverse impacts that may occur.

He said his directorate will continue to update information about weather conditions due to the possibility of an extended dry season until 2019.

"A weak El Nino means low volume and inconsistent rainfall, and those areas experiencing low rainfall will feel the impact of this situation," he said in his office, in Kaikoli, Dili.

He said El Nino will have the greatest impact in the areas of the North Coast, including Oe-Cusse, Liquisa, Dili, Manatuto, and the coastal areas from Baucau to Lautem.

He said El Nino will likely not affect the mountain or high range areas because these areas are able to create their own local climate conditions including rainfall.

He added low levels of rainfall will also affect areas of neighbouring Indonesia.

He added, the El Nino weather pattern is caused because the sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to above-normal levels causing weak rain production and affecting winds direction causing heavy rain fall in certain areas of the pacific and east pacific, including potential flooding, while other areas, including Timor-Leste, will experience limited rainfall.

Poor rainfall affects greatly farmers who will experience water shortages for their crops and livestock so he urges the relevant ministries to create a water conservation programs to mitigate impacts to food security in Timor-Leste.

He also asked the government to invest in the meteorology and geophysics areas, with systems and the equipment to facilitate their services, to analyse world weather patterns including the weather across Timor-Leste.

On the other hand, the Minister of Agriculture and Fishery (MAF), Joaquim Gusmao dos Reis Martins, said the government intends to increase the country's food production and reduce the need to import goods, but warns the government continues to face several challenges.

He warned the El Nino will have a strong impact on the country's food production, and will contribute to food insecurity.

He added that data already shows that Timor-Leste with a population of 1,167,242 inhabitants, that some 430,000 or 36% of the total population already suffers from food insecurity.

"We have the data of the community who is suffering from food insecurity and are making integrated interventions," he said.

He said the country's production is affected by climate change, and this extended dry season caused by the El Nino will influence the country's food production.

On the other hand, the President of Authority for Ermera Municipality, Jose Martinho said the community in Ermera has felt the impact of climate change, with water shortages during the dry season.

"In this dry season, we have experienced water shortages and we need high volumes of water," he said.

He added all the sukus in Ermera municipality have access to the clean water, but in the dry season only some people have access because of water shortages.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/16421-el-nino-impacting-timor-leste-s-rains-until-december

Governance & public services

Sustainable public finances 'key to Timor-Leste's future'

Public Finance International - November 19, 2018

Simone Rensch – Timor-Leste needs to "sustainably manage" its public finances to ensure it doesn't spend too much too quickly as its natural resources run low, the World Bank has warned.

The country has a sizable financial reserve to support economic development, thanks to natural resources, especially oil. But the bank warned that the government faces risks and "difficult decisions" on how to spend the money to support sustainable development.

"With limited institutional capacity, there are risks that spending too much money too quickly will lead to wasteful spending which does not have the intended impact," the World Bank said in a report published on 16 November.

It added the country could develop a sustainable economy by increasing investment in 'human capital', service delivery and "sustainably managing the environment and public finances".

Timor-Leste is one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world. At its peak, oil made up over 90% of exports and 95% of the government's revenues.

But the country's natural resources are running out and the government should look at other ways to raise revenue, the bank said.

This echoes advice from the International Monetary Fund last year, which told Timor-Leste to make its public spending more efficient as its oil resources are expected to run out in a few years.

Against this backdrop, past governments have scaled up spending to accelerate development, which means there will be a revenue gap when oil runs out. The World Bank said the country should "manage public finances carefully to avoid a damaging fiscal cliff".

Most public services in the country have been financed by development funds from overseas donors and petroleum resources – both of which are in decline. Between 2002 and 2006 donor grants made up an average of 75% of government expenditure, but as the country has developed, it gets less overseas assistance.

"Even with very strong economic growth, Timor-Leste must start to develop revenue mobilisation systems now to avoid a hard landing, while leveraging private sector development financing may help to reduce fiscal pressure as well," the World Bank said.

Annual average growth in Timor-Leste is between 5% and 6%, which the government should aim to maintain, the report said.

The Southeast Asian country has high levels of extreme poverty, hunger and child malnutrition as well as low levels of formal education.

The bank estimated that 40% of the population in Timor-Leste lack the minimum resources needed to satisfy basic needs and 30% still live below the $1.90 a day international poverty line.

But as a young country – Timor-Leste is the newest country in Asia – there are gaps in its policy and institutional frameworks. The World Bank said the country "faces a long task of building institutional capacity and policy frameworks".

The report, Pathways for a New Economy and Sustainable Livelihoods, is an assessment of the development challenges facing the country.

Source: https://www.publicfinanceinternational.org/news/2018/11/sustainable-public-finances-key-timor-lestes-future

Development & infrastructure

Government-partners to review SDGs implementation in TL

Dili Weekly - November 19, 2018

Paulina Quintao – The government of Timor-Leste and its partners including the United Nations and its agencies in Timor-Leste, Diplomatic Corps, and representatives of the private sector and civil society organizations will revise the implementation of the commitments, policies and the programs of government to achieve the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Minister for Legislative Reforms and Parliamentary Affairs, Fidelis Magalhaes, said this is very important to review the policies and programs made by the government of Timor-Leste to achieve the SDGs goals by 2030.

He said, the revision will look at the general implementations, the involvement of the stakeholders in the process, the challenges (related to data, policy, and programs) and the joint actions for the future.

He said as a new country, Timor-Leste will face major challenges, but we continue to have a commitment and will make efforts to achieve the SDGs by the set date of 2030.

"We are a new and developing country with limitations on financial and human resources to achieve these objectives. It is clear that we will continue to face the challenges, but we need to revise the SDGs implementation continually to see our performance and efforts," he said while opening a Workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals "Voluntary National Review (VNR)" at Timor Plaza, in Dili.

He informed that the VNR will note progress during the revision, but generally the human growth and physical development progress has been significant, which is also receiving appreciation from other countries, and the government will continue to try to strengthen and be ambitious to be able to create more positive results.

"The challenge for the government is to choose the priorities, because as a new country everything is our priority," he said.

He added the source of this government program is the National Strategic Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals, therefore the government, especially the line ministries need to work hard to realize the commitments that have been put in the priorities, and that have been mentioned in the SDGs to guarantee their implementation.

He informed, the workshop is a step for the government of Timor-Leste to prepare and elaborate its voluntary national review report on the SDGs implementation in Timor-Leste to be presented at the UN Headquarters in July 2019.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 3. Good Health and Well-being, 4. Quality Education, 5. Gender Equality, 6. Clean Water and Sanitation, 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, 10.Reduced Inequality, 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities, 12. Responsible Consumption and Production, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land, 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, and 17. Partnerships For the Goals.

The government of Timor-Leste was the first country in the world to adopt the goals through a government resolution no. 34/2015 on September 2015 and instrumental in ensuring Goal 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions was included in the list of global goals. On the other hand, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Timor-Leste, Roy Trivedy said the UN has a key role in supporting Timor-Leste's government to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

He said the UN and its agencies have provided technical, financial and professional support, especially to bring experts from different countries to Timor-Leste to share ideas and experiences on how to respond to the challenges to achieve the 17 goals.

"These global goals are ambitious, but when there is no ambition we will not achieve these goals; therefore, we need to have ambition," he said.

He said that there are global funds for development, but these are limited, therefore opportunities need to be opened for support from the private sector and the government needs to fund the programs.

He added, if there are no concrete achievements by 2030, the world will face difficult situations, including hunger, conflict, climate change and other challenges.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/16459-government-partners-to-review-sdgs-implementation-in-tl

Police & law enforcement

Taskforce reactivated to identify illegal water connections

Dili Weekly - November 26, 2018

Paulina Quintao – The Minister of Public Works, Salvador Soares dos Reis Pires, said the government has reestablished a taskforce to control and identify members of the community who destroy public water pipes to establish illegal connections to the water grid.

He said some communities do not have access to clean water and this is because of the actions of those who seek to destroy the public water network to make illegal connections to the grid, benefiting only those who live closer to the public water tanks while those who life further away get denied access to water.

He informed that approximately 90% of the public water network is currently destroyed. He said the Municipality of Dili has a total of 76 public water outlets providing more than 50 million litres of water per day to the community.

He added, the amount of public water dispensed is sufficient to respond to the needs of the 200,000 Dili inhabitants, with estimates that only 40 million litres of water per day are needed to adequately ensure all of Dili's residents have access to water. He blames the irresponsible actions of some individuals resulting in many communities not having access to water.

"For the short term, we intend to reactivate the taskforce and we will work with the team of the National Directorate for Water to control and identify illegal water plumbing and illegal connections, to guarantee the community has access to water. We will work hard at this because this is very important and we cannot wait for the implementation of the master plans," he said during a session of an Inter-Ministerial Members Group meeting in Dili.

He said the government has the master plans for developing decentralized water supply systems and to build a water tanks in every neighbourhood, so that every household can have access to clean water. He added that until now, the water supply system has been centralized and has only benefited some people who have taken advantage of the plumbing and connected the water illegally. He acknowledged though that these actions are also difficult to control.

He said, the government already has water master plans for five municipalities including for Dili, Manufahi, Baucau, Viqueque, and Lautem, and will start implementing these in 2019 starting with a viability study and construction to follow in 2020.

On the other hand, the Chief of Sub-village of Fomento II, Suku of Comoro, in the Administrative Post of Dom Aleixo, of Dili Municipality, Imaculado da Conceicao, said this is has been an ongoing issue that has so far not been resolved by any of the previous governments.

He said those who have money can afford to buy water that will respond to their daily needs, but those who have not, need to get water from the river and sometimes they need to knock on companies' doors to fetch water.

"In my sub-village, there is a schedule of running water. There is no water from 8 o'clock in the morning until the afternoon, but there is water between the hours of 8-10 o'clock in the evening," he said.

He urged the government to establish large water tanks in neighbourhoods for water conservation otherwise only some people will have access to water.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/16498-taskforce-reactivated-to-identify-illegal-water-connections

Mining & energy

Timor-Leste buys Shell's stake in Greater Sunrise in controversial plan

ABC News - November 22, 2018

Stephen Dziedzic – Timor-Leste has bought Shell's stake in the rich Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields as it presses ahead with its contentious plan to pipe the natural resources to its south coast for processing.

It's another twist in a long saga as Timor-Leste, Australia, and energy companies tussle over how to exploit the reserves which are key to the small nation's economic future.

Timor-Leste has pursued its vision for a pipeline and a domestic LNG industry for years, arguing the plan is crucial to its national development.

But Australia remains deeply sceptical, and officials worry the small nation is plunging finite resources into a doomed project which is technically and financially unfeasible.

"It'll never happen. Not even the Chinese will bankroll it," one Australian Government source told the ABC. "They're rapidly running out of money and plunging what they have into this mad dream. It's a worry."

In a statement to the ABC, spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) said: "the Australian Government understands that the development of Greater Sunrise is crucial to Timor-Leste's development and prosperity."

"Australia wants to see Greater Sunrise developed in a way that maximises benefits and opportunities for the people of Timor-Leste."

Shell's 26 per cent share of Greater Sunrise will cost Dili $413 million. Last month, it announced it would purchase the 30 per cent stake in the consortium held by US company ConocoPhillips for $484 million. If both transactions get the green light, Dili will gain a majority share of Greater Sunrise.

Timor-Leste is going on the buying spree because it's been unable to convince the energy giants which hold the rights to Greater Sunrise to sign on to its plan.

It hopes to use its majority stake to press the Greater Sunrise consortium's lead partner, Woodside, to either sign up to its plan or sell up its share.

Dili has asked Australian businessman James Rhee to help mediate negotiations, and to search for other sources of finance for the project.

'The interests of small nations'

Shell's Zoe Yujnovich said the company's decision to sell would allow Timor-Leste to follow its aspirations.

"We respect the Timor-Leste Government's determination to develop the Sunrise fields through an onshore LNG facility on its south coast," she said in a press release.

"Although we formed different views about the optimal development scenario, we understand the priorities of the Timor-Leste Government and wish it well in pursuing its aspirations to develop this important resource for the nation.

Timor-Leste's former leader, Xanana Gusmao, who has been leading negotiations for his country, praised Shell's decision to sell.

"Shell's attitude throughout the negotiations shows that it is ready to consider not only its commercial interests but also the interests of small nations," he said.

Only one actor with the cash for such a project

Bec Strating from La Trobe University said both Timor-Leste and Shell were being disingenuous. "The rhetoric from the Timorese Government and Shell that this buyout is helping small-state development is incredibly misleading," she said.

"In reality, oil corporations are being paid hundreds of millions of dollars by a developing state to abandon what is widely regarded in the industry as an unattractive development prospect."

Dr Strating said big questions still hovered over the whole enterprise, and there was growing anxiety over the situation in Canberra. The vast majority of Timor-Leste's budget revenues come from oil and gas reserves which are due to run dry within five years.

"The remaining challenge for Timor-Leste is how it will get the billions of dollars required to fund the pipeline and its onshore processing facilities," Dr Starting said. "There appears to be only one actor with the funds to bankroll this kind of project, and that's China."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-22/timor-leste-buys-shells-greater-sunrise-oil-and-gas-stake/10534814

Invasion & occupation

Committee 12 November recovers remains of 16 slain at St. Cruz Massacre

Dili Weekly - November 19, 2018

Estevao Nuno – The 12 November Committee working with the Forensic Police Unit has been able to recover the remains of 16 victims of the 12 November 1991 Santa Massacre in Dili.

The Acting President of the 12 November Committee, Rogerio Castro da Cruz said the committee will continue to work with the Forensic Police, to recover more than just the 16 remains which included those of a slain New Zealand journalist.

"The remains of the killed journalist were sent to his country. The remains of five other victims are being kept because of discrepant blood samples. Some other remains are still at the National Hospital of Guido Valadares (HNGV). Other remains have already been returned to their relatives. The government has also buried some remains as well," he said in Dili.

He added that many others slain during the 12 November 1991 Santa Cruz Massacre have not yet been recovered but the committee will continue its search for them.

"The committee continues to urge the governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia to be proactive in giving information and recovering the remains of the victims," he said.

He added, the remains have equal rights to a dignified burial so the committee continues to urge the two governments through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation and the Ministry of Justice to recover all the remains.

"We continue to ask the Indonesian Military to show us the places where they dumped the bodies so we can go dig for them and give them a proper burial," he said.

Meanwhile, a relative of one of slain heroes during the 12 November 1991 massacre, Agustinho Guterres said the families of the victims of the massacre urge the governments of Timor-Leste and Indonesia to continue investigating to discover the remains of all the other victims that have not yet been recovered.

"Today we remember the 27thAnniversary of the Santa Cruz Massacre and I am upset because my brother's remains have not yet been recovered," he said.

Source: http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/news/16466-committee-12-november-recovers-remains-of-16-slain-at-st-cruz-massacre

Santa Cruz Massacre: Timor-Leste's democratic transition 27 years later

Democracy Speaks - November 8, 2018

Morgan Fincher – On November 12, 1991, the Indonesian military shot and killed over 250 Timorese citizens in the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, Timor-Leste's capital.

The event is known as the Santa Cruz massacre. The victims were part of a memorial procession in honor of Sebastio Gomez, a pro-independence supporter killed by Indonesian military near Motael Catholic Church just weeks earlier on October 28.

Indonesia began its violent occupation of Timor-Leste in 1975, after Portugal receded its colonial control of the country the previous year. During the weeks leading up the massacre, tensions between the Indonesian military and pro-independence Timorese were on the rise, with the Indonesian military threatening to kill anyone who spoke out against Indonesia.

Thousands joined as the funeral procession made its way through the streets of Dili, with many carrying Timor-Leste flags and signs in favor of Timorese independence and the Catholic Church. Under Indonesian occupation, the Catholic Church had become one of the only places where Timorese could congregate and thus became central to the country's independence movement.

While the procession remained orderly, the Indonesian military viewed it as a pro-independence demonstration and as such, a demonstration against Indonesia. As the procession reached the Santa Cruz cemetery, hundreds of Indonesian soldiers opened fire on the peaceful protesters.

Three international journalists witnessed and filmed the massacre. The journalists included two Americans, Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn, who were both badly beaten by the Indonesian military during the clash, and British journalist Max Stahl, who filmed the violence.

The three were able to smuggle the footage out of the country and share the footage with the international community, which prompted an international outcry against the Indonesian occupation.

While the Indonesian occupation did not end until eight years later in 1999, the massacre was a defining moment in the country's quest for independence.

In the end, the UN Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation estimated that the Indonesian occupation was responsible for over 102,000 conflict-related Timorese deaths – however many experts believe this number to be much higher.

As the 27th anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre approaches, we remember the lives lost during the massacre as well as those lost throughout the Indonesian occupation that spanned 24 years.

The anniversary also serves as a reminder of how quickly Timor-Leste has advanced democratically since it established its independence in 2002 and how far it has yet to go on its journey to democracy and self-reliance.

We sat down with long-time IRI staff member and Timorese citizen, Karlito Nunes, Program Manager in our Dili office, to get his perspective on the massacre's effect on the country's journey to independence as well as how the event shaped his life.

The Santa Cruz Massacre was a watershed moment for Timor-Leste's independence movement. In your view, how did the event galvanize international support for Timor's independence?

When the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste began in 1975, Indonesia kept Timor-Leste closed off from the international community. The Indonesian regime intentionally prevented foreigners and international media from entering the country to avoid international awareness of the human rights violations, including indiscriminate killings, tortures and rapes that the military was carrying out against the Timorese.

The Santa Cruz massacre was the culmination of the atrocities carried out by the Indonesian military during the occupation. Timor-Leste and its people are lucky that international journalist Max Stahl secretly participated in and filmed the massacre without the awareness of the Indonesian military. Stahl sent the video of the massacre to international news networks who then broadcasted the video around the world. The video shocked the UN and the international community, who finally realized the extent to which the Indonesian military was killing and brutalizing the people of Timor-Leste. The event prompted support from the international community for Timor-Leste's independence.

As a young Timorese at the time, can you tell us how the Massacre affected you and your loved ones?

When the massacre occurred, I was in secondary school at Saint Paul, not far from Santa Cruz. When the massacre began, I heard gun shots. My classmates and I panicked and ran out of the classroom, where we saw many Indonesian military with heavy military equipment close in around the front of the school complex. Some of our friends from this school were directly involved in the incident. Parents and family of students came to the school to pick up their children because the situation caused panic in Dili and throughout the country.

Growing up, the Indonesian military did not allow students or people, in general, to learn or speak English. Speaking English would have enabled us to build networks with the international community and communicate with foreigners about the human rights violations that were taking place in Timor-Leste.

After the Santa Cruz massacre took place, the Indonesian military became very dangerous and brutal. The military began searching young people, especially men and boys. People were very scared to leave their homes and many of us stayed indoors for weeks to months.

In your view, what are the next steps for Timor-Leste's democratic advancement?

Timor-Leste is more democratic than other countries in the region in terms of free and fair elections, media freedom, freedom to participate in the political process and the freedom to express opinions. However, while Timor has many democratic freedoms, it does not mean we are a democracy.

We still need to create a culture of democracy among all decision makers and political practitioners. Timor-Leste has proven that it can carry out free and fair elections, but democracy is more than that. It also requires good governance practices that serve the people, which is the next step for the country. Currently, after 16 years of independence, almost one-third of Timorese people continue to live in poverty. In Timor, life in rural areas is drastically different from life in urban areas – many people in the rural areas live in poverty. The government still needs to provide its people with necessary services including healthcare, education, clean water and roads.

There is still much work to be done on Timor-Leste's journey towards democracy.

Source: https://www.democracyspeaks.org/blog/santa-cruz-massacre-timor-leste%E2%80%99s-democratic-transition-27-years-later

Analysis & opinion

Timor-Leste: refining agreements in the Greater Sunrise

The Interpreter - November 21, 2018

Michael Sainsbury – The recent agreement by Timor-Leste's government to purchase US energy group ConocoPhillips' 30% stake in the Greater Sunrise syndicate, which has rights to exploit the substantial undersea gas and oil reserves worth upwards of US $50 million, is in many ways a logical step.

The US $384 million deal follows the redrawing of the treaty that governs the maritime boundary between the two nations. Timor-Leste's government has pitched the purchase, with what seems to be broad popular support, as finally getting a "seat at the table" in developing a resource that is vital to the young country's economic future.

The sticking point has long been the direction of the pipeline to refine the oil and gas – whether north to a new facility in Timor-Leste, or south to Australia and existing refineries. (A mooted option for a floating platform in between appears to have disappeared.)

"ConocoPhillips has always refused to bring the pipeline to East Timor," Xanana Gusmao, the country's elder statesman and revolutionary hero, who has negotiated both the treaty with Australia and ConocoPhillips deal, said in the days after the purchase was formally announced.

"They realised that our position is to bring a pipeline to East Timor, but [ConocoPhillips] said they don't want to bring it to East Timor and they only want to pipe it to Darwin. They said if East Timor wants to bring the pipeline to East Timor means you please buy our share. So we, East Timor, have bought the [ConocoPhillips'] share so there is no more discussion about whether to bring the pipeline to any where else."

The stake and proposed pipeline (not yet agreed by the other consortium members) is the first step. The intended destination is to spend at least US $5 billion creating an onshore energy processing industry, known as the Tasi Mane project.

The proposed Tasi Mane Project

This is the centrepiece of Timor-Leste's "Strategic Development Plan" formulated in 2011 by Gusmao. Having served as both president (2002-2007) and prime minister (2007-2015), Gusmao now heads the parliament's biggest party the National Congress for Timorese Reconciliation (CNRT) and it is clear he wants more than just a seat at the table. His intention is to make good on the Tasi Mane Project.

The pipeline and concomitant multi-billion-dollar onshore infrastructure is fraught with economic and largely unexplored environmental risks. It is also littered with complex political hurdles – in particular, the move from traditional to individual land ownership that has already seen many billions of dollars in compensation payments set aside. These issues go beyond the deal and the mining industry itself and go to the very heart of Timor-Leste's modernisation.

Under the revised treaty, and yet to be officially ratified by the Australian parliament, Timor-Leste will get 70-80% of the royalties from a resource estimated to hold more than US $50 billion in energy reserves. This follows a revision of the 50/50 deal under the previous 2006 treaty, which was challenged in the Permanent Court of Arbitration after credible allegations that Australian espionage efforts had cruelled that agreement.

But despite the best efforts in three-way negotiations between the two countries along with the Greater Sunrise consortium of four energy companies, led by Australian listed Woodside Ltd, no agreement on how the resource would be exploited could be reached.

The options for the pipeline and their merits and ramifications have been laid out and debated at length for over a decade.

The preferred option of the Sunrise consortium has always been to pipe the gas (the majority of the resource) to Darwin for processing into liquid natural gas at an existing plant – owned by ConocoPhillips. This approach has been supported by Australia, energy industry experts, and influential Timor-Leste NGO La'o Hatumak as the only financially viable option.

The alternative Tasi Mane Project involves building a pipeline over a deep-sea trench to link with a planned multi-billion dollar string of facilities – the Suai Supply Base (where the airport has already been upgraded and a port is being planned), the Betano Petrochemical Refinery, and the Beacu LNG Plant – along Timor-Leste's sparsely populated and underdeveloped south coast. All three hubs will have other facilities and "new" towns built for workers.

Local politics is crucial. Politically, Timor-Leste's landscape has changed in the past 18 months, with the emergence of the People's Liberation Party (PLP) and KHUNTO. These two parties combined with the CNRT after the July 2017 election to block the ability of Fretilin and its minor party ally the Democratic Party's to govern. PLP, KHUNTO, and CNRT later combined to form the Alliance for Progress and Change (AMP) that won the subsequent poll this year in May with a clear majority. Xanana Gusmao (right) and Tuar Matan Ruak, leaders of the AMP coalition that won Timor-Leste's 12 May 2018 parliamentary election (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

The PLP is headed by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, who was also formerly the non-politically aligned president of the country from 2012 – 2017. Ruak had campaigned on a platform of grass roots economic development, rather than the big bang approach of the Strategic Development Plan. Yet now that he is PM, Ruak has back-peddled and fallen in line with the CNRT.

While there is certainly debate inside Fretilin about the broader plan, publicly supporting an alternative is politically unpalatable as it invites accusations of being unpatriotic. In such an environment, it's unsurprising that last month the opposition signalled it was backing the Greater Sunrise stake and is open to agreeing to billions of dollars in further spending, despite retaining some wariness.

Fretilin MP Marito Mota told parliament: "We think buying the share of ConocoPhillips is in the national interest, we are considering supporting it, but we want the government to present to us the result of the feasibility study. If we buy it what are the benefits, we want to know this too."

Quite apart from the legitimate questions about the economic soundness of the plan and the relatively untested claims of the longer-term benefits – particularly in terms of employment and enhancing local skills – there are concerns over the cost (and benefits) of hard infrastructure investments and the lack of soft infrastructure for environmental and health and safety regulation.

One particularly fraught element involves land ownership. Apart from key pockets in major towns, land in East Timor is subject to traditional ownership that has been largely suspended by the 2017 Land Law, which puts the state in charge of all land.

The problem was underscored in 2014 when the government set aside US $7.5 million to compensation traditional landholders in the Suai district but caused disquiet in local communities.

More problems are already forecast. At the Fretilin congress in September, the party's leader Mari Alkatari appealed to local residents in Beacu, saying that they should co-operate with plans to establish the LNG plant there.

Critically, little has so far been done on environmental assessments. Australian engineering consultancy and mining service provider Worley Parsons was contracted in 2012 to do an environmental impact study on the three hubs of Suai, Beacu, and Betano, but concluded that it could only provide a preliminary draft due to the lack of concrete information available from the Timor-Leste government.

Fresh concerns about the environment emerged in August this year when the government moved environmental approvals for the petroleum and mining sector out of the Ministry for Commerce Trade and Environment, which contains the National Directorate of Environment. The approvals now fall under the Ministry for Petroleum and Mining.

Perhaps there is a political calculus here, as the south coast votes heavily in favour of the current opposition. But Gusmao and the government should be mindful to govern for all Timorese and not the select few.

Source: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/greater-sunrise-timor-leste

Will Timor-Leste become China's next debt trap?

Asia Times - November 2, 2018

David Hutt – Timor-Leste, Southeast Asia's newest and poorest nation, is slowly but surely drawing closer to China, a move that is raising antenna among its allies and neighbors and initial concerns it could fall into a potential Chinese debt trap.

Timor-Leste's closest regional partners are still Australia and its ex-colonizer Indonesia, but the small nation now imports US$160 million worth of goods from China and Hong Kong – more than any other country apart from Indonesia.

Dili has also recently contracted Chinese firms to build major infrastructure projects, including a national high-voltage electric grid and highways in the country's south. In 2017, the China Harbor Engineering Company was subcontracted to build a large container port at Tibar Bay.

China has also provided the funds to build new modern offices for Timor-Leste's ministries of foreign affairs and defense, the presidential palace and its defense force. Those investments have caused certain political ripples.

Former president Jose Ramos-Horta has lambasted "certain writings by academics or journalists" for being "extremely inaccurate and misleading" in characterizing China's growing influence in Timor-Leste.

"It's a cliche and it's silly," he told the South China Morning Post in September, while appearing to contradict himself by saying Beijing needs to do more to help his country.

"As we cannot continue just issuing diplomatic statements on how good relations are, China also has to take some steps forward in looking at how it can more qualitatively support Timor-Leste's development," Ramos-Horta said.

China was the first country to open diplomatic relations with Timor-Leste when it achieved independence in 2002. It was also one of the few countries that tried to provide money and arms to the independence forces that fought against Indonesian occupiers from 1975 onwards.

"Australia has provided more aid and development assistance to Timor-Leste than China, so in some sense Ramos-Horta is right that China's ties to Timor-Leste have been exaggerated in some quarters," says Bec Strating, a lecturer in politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

But with China increasing its presence in the Pacific through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) "and Timor-Leste needing donors to fund its oil industrialization ambitions" she said, "Canberra would likely be concerned about the prospect of Timor-Leste developing closer ties to China in the future in the development space."

Timor-Leste is coming out of a year of political uncertainty after last year's general election returned a minority government that crumbled when it couldn't pass its program in parliament. That led to fresh elections in May, won by the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP) coalition.

No one expects China to suddenly become Timor-Leste's chief ally; that designation will remain with its historic partners, Australia and Indonesia. But relations with Australia are flagging, providing a potential opening for Beijing.

Ties took a hit on revelations that former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer ordered the bugging of Timor-Leste's Cabinet office in 2004. The bugging was thought to give the Australian resources company, Woodside, the upper hand in negotiations over oil rights.

Moreover, some in Dili are now raising questions about the terms of Australia's financial assistance.

In October, Ramos-Horta told SBS News, an Australian news outlet, that if Canberra doesn't provide more money and better access to credit to Pacific nations, including Timor-Leste, then they will "go where they can to obtain either grants or soft loans. And that, today, is China."

Timor-Leste may soon need such loans for its crucial oil and gas sector. For years, progress has stalled on planned extraction in the Timor Sea because influential political leaders in Dili want the processing to be done on-shore at its under-construction Tasi Mane project.

Roughly US$250 million has already been spent on the project, including a new airport and highway, notably built by Chinese state contractor China Overseas Engineering Group.

Companies in the Greater Sunrise consortium, which includes ConocoPhillips and Woodside, oppose Dili's proposed on-shore processing. Instead, they want it to be done either on a floating platform at sea or in Australia, both of which they argue would be cheaper and more efficient.

In September, Timor-Leste's new government signed a preliminary agreement to buy ConocoPhillips' 30% stake in the Greater Sunrise gas consortium.

Since ConocoPhillips owns the gas-processing plant in Darwin, in northern Australia, where the syndicate wants to process the extracted oil and gas, this could tip the deal in favor of on-shore processing in Timor-Leste.

However, the deal has yet to go through and the other members of the consortium can now also try to acquire ConocoPhillips' shares.

If Timor-Leste purchases the stake, which would be managed by its national oil company, TimorGap, then the country will receive 30% of the profit from gas sales on top of the revenues it gets for extraction in its maritime territory.

However, it would also be expected to pay 30% of the consortium's capital expense for the development, which could cost several billions of dollars. That's on top of the costs for the Tasi Mane project, which could also run into the billions of dollars.

Timor-Leste's 2019 state budget is currently being debated by parliament, but it is thought Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak plans to set aside US$5 billion from the Petroleum Fund, the country's sovereign wealth fund, for such purposes.

There is roughly US$17 billion left in the fund, but growing state budgets are quickly depleting it while the country's current source of oil and gas revenues from the Bayu-Undan reserves are set to run out in 2022.

"It will cost upwards of US$10 billion to construct major projects envisioned by some political leaders, especially those related to the Greater Sunrise and Tasi Mane," says Charles Scheiner of the local NGO La'o Hamutuk.

"Many international financial institutions doubt the viability of these projects and are reluctant to finance them," he adds.

One option, analysts say, would be to appeal to China for concessional loans. "There have been persistent rumors of Timor-Leste turning to China for funding for the Tasi Mane project if the majority of its costs are not shared by consortium partners," says Damien Kingsbury, professor of international politics at Australia's Deakin University.

"It seems unlikely the consortium partners would be interested in putting serious money behind a project that continues to have more questions than answers associated with it," he said.

"Undoubtedly China would also share those concerns. But if the extent of China's involvement was to bankroll the project, then if it didn't work then Timor-Leste would be financially beholden to China."

He added: "China would be in a strong position to extract 'favors', perhaps in relation to drilling rights, or perhaps in relation to establishing its own port facilities there, or a radar array as it had previously tried to do."

Scheiner raises similar points. "If China decides to lend money, what concessions will it require in return?," he says. "Sri Lanka and several African countries have already experienced hard lessons; Timor-Leste should learn from them, rather than repeating their mistakes."

To be sure, there is no concrete evidence that Beijing is interested in financing the projects. However, Timor-Leste's government is now trying to pass reforms that would make such Chinese investments easier.

In 2016, China and Timor-Leste signed a US$50 million loan agreement from the Export-Import Bank of China to rehabilitate Dili's drainage system.

"China does not come to help, but to cooperate with East Timor as an equal partner in the development of East Timor," China's ambassador to Timor-Leste, Liu Hongyang, said at the signing ceremony.

But the deal was finally rejected by Timor-Leste's Audit Court, which is responsible for government oversight.

Now, however, documents reviewed by Asia Times appear to show that the government wants to amend the 2005 Petroleum Activities Law to limit the Audit Court's ability to review contracts relating to petroleum operations – a move that would potentially allow for more Chinese financing in the Tasi Mane project.

In April 2017, Timor-Leste was granted prospective membership to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Beijing-based development bank, that could be a conduit for such loans, analysts say.

Another area in which Chinese investment might play a much larger role in Timor-Leste's development is in funding infrastructure for its budding tourism sector, which has been prioritized by the new government.

The Macau News Agency reported earlier this year that negotiations are underway to establish an airline connection between Timor-Leste and Guangzhou in southern China. Currently, there are only direct flights to Dili's airport from Bali, Singapore and Darwin.

Several Macau-based firms, including Charlestrong Engineering Technology and Consulting Ltd, are building housing and resorts in Timor-Leste's special region of Oecusse.

There are also persistent rumors that Ina Chan Un Chan, a prominent Macau-based businesswoman and wife of Macau's casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung Sun, is interested in investing in Timor-Leste's tourism sector.

Some believe that Timor-Leste's relations with China are being directed not through Beijing but rather Macau, a Special Administrative Region of China that was Portuguese territory until 1999.

As another former Portuguese colony in Asia, Timor-Leste takes part in numerous multilateral events hosted by Macau; Beijing uses Macau to host its economic cooperation forums with the Lusophone world.

Ramos-Horta may be right in saying that China's leverage over Timor-Leste is exaggerated, but that doesn't mean the situation couldn't change if Dili is in desperate need of concessional loans. And China, which is fast becoming the region's banker, would likely be happy to oblige.

Source: http://www.atimes.com/article/will-timor-leste-become-chinas-next-debt-trap/

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