Building Timor-Leste

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On the road to nowhere? Infrastructure and other issues in Timor-Leste

November is the month of the long weekend in Timor-Leste (I know it’s now December, but work with me on this one…). You can’t go a week without having at least a day off and when the inevitable five day working week comes around again it’s a bit of a tough slog. So, what to do with so many three day weekends when in Timor-Leste? Pack the 4WD and get out and see what’s happening around Timor-Leste.

I spent a recent long weekend on the road to Jaco in Los Palos, a three day trip which took us from Dili out to Baucau, Com, Los Palos and Jaco. Two things really stood out during that drive: the scenery and the state of the roads.

My mate Kegs models Jaco.

Now, it’s not the first time I’ve been amazed (disturbed) by the roads in Timor-Leste. I’m sure that anyone reading this, that has travelled here, is nodding their head in comprehension. A couple of months back I saw the epitome of the Timor-Lest road issue (disaster) whilst getting out and about on a verification trip in the district of Manufahi. The Peace Dividend Trust team had already put the trip off once before as travel advisory stated the roads were impassable, so when the rain finally stopped and the road crews had cleaned things up a bit we headed out to see new Same businesses to be entered on the Business Portal, allowing us to see the devastation first hand.

The (non-existant) road after the rain.

A Timorese truck attempts a crossing over a make shift bridge of logs.

And, to my amazement, makes it to the other side.

Roads are such an obvious issue and affect everyone in one way or another, whether you’re in Dili or Jaco, but I wanted to know more. Is infrastructure the issue that Timorese businesses are most worried about, or are there other less obvious issues that are raising more concern?

The graph that I put together below uses data collected by the verification team up until the end of October this year and allows each business to nominate their top two obstacles. Of the 3,005 businesses included on the master database approximately 67% were willing to have their thoughts recorded, i.e. my sample uses around 2,000 local Timorese businesses. Take a look…..

What I take from this graph is that the issues most relevant to Timorese businesses are actually based around the following:

• Government policy and legislation;
• Information (or the lack there of…);
• Access to quality materials and Equipment.
• Security and Land Issues, and;
• Access to capital.

We know that the government is new and faces many challenges as it tackles the huge role of creating legislation and functional departments for such a young country, as well as ensuring peace remains intact given the most recent violence only occurred within the last 5 years. Access to capital and quality materials and equipment is also not surprising. However, if I had asked you to list the top five problems that Timorese businesses face everyday would you have placed access to information up there too? Potentially no – it’s not in your face like the roads (which came in at number 6, by the way) or the government, making it easy to overlook.

It raises the next obvious question though – what are we, the development industry, doing in Timor-Leste to ensure that businesses have access to information that will allow them to develop? In Australia if I was looking for support and information to help my business develop I could go to a multitude of organisations to help me out. I simply expect that these services exist as I, like most Australians, am aware that our strong economy lends us an amazing lifestyle and access to world class facilities for education and health, etc. So, if I’m a Timorese business owner why shouldn’t I expect the same access to this information?

Roads are important, but let’s remember that for a country to sustainably build and maintain a road (and education and health projects for that matter) it’s going to need businesses to generate national income. These businesses can’t grow, succeed and make a profit without support and up-to-date market information.

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1 Comment

  1. João Branco says:

    Good evening Heidi Reid
    Thanks for what you have shared. I just imagine your courage to go from Dili-Jaco and back. Hope with your good work you may have a great influence in the people’s lives. If the people are educated, if they have crops (food to eat), and health care medication or even education about heath problem, what you just share are important, if not, I do not know, where shall we go…

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