Speaking frankly, there is alot that is messed up in Timor-Leste, (here is a good source) and there is much that gives cause for a positive attitude. But there is in some ways a blooming confidence appearing.
Some time ago I was quaffing an overpriced beer with a old mate at one of the annoying expat hang outs in Dili. He had just returned to Dili after 7 years since his last visit. On this occasion he was with a large outfit that likes to tell people how to organise their economy and then fly out 4 days later, business class to boot! No, he does not work for HRI, although he is a fan. In 1999 he worked for UNAMET in one of the high central mountain sub-districts as an elections officer, and what he told me was interesting, and worth ruminating on.
He said, “Rees stop whining. Timor’s a success story.”
Choking on my Tiger, I made an effort to qualify the comment with one of the litany of problems Timor-Leste has. He interrupted me, and said “No, Rees, its a success story. Given the fact that the country had 450 years of Portuguese something or another, 24 years of Suharto and his cronies, and then 2.5 years of us; they have done a remarkable job since 2002, despite a self inflicted crisis in 2006, which we played a role in as well.”
He has a point. I vividly remember a senior Timorese civil servant in 2001 expressing his insecurities to me about assuming responsibility for a major public service job. He basically told me, “I am not sure I can do it, but its good the UN is still around to help”. My friend lacked pretty serious confidence.
Well there is very little of that problem around Dili anymore I tell you. Or at least its never readily expressed. And you know what, good thing to. The Timorese got what they wanted, and now they are in charge. They have growing confidence. Its a hard thing to quantify, but you sure know it when you see.
So what on earth does this have to do with anything? Well it sets you up for something which recently happened that was unthinkable in June 2006 or in October 1999. A Timorese “businessfamily” has built a shopping mall/office and apartment complex in Dili – they call it Timor Plaza. Yep, I know, I hate shopping malls too. But most people don’t, and in a very important way its a sure fire sign of things going right. Its a sure sign of confidence.
Confidence is what makes the New York Stock Exchange work, and thus the whole world. In 2008 bad practices in the subprime mortgage market became acute, and poof a few banks went under, and bang the confidence balloon popped. Result, worst crash since the depression. Its all about confidence.
Confidence, and a willingness to make an educated risk assessment, together they breed growth.
This is just what Jape Kong Su the scion of the Jape family born in Balibo 86 years ago has done. And he is so confident he is putting over $10 million or more of his own money on the table. You can watch a video about it here: Timor Plaza (credit Tempo Semanal). It has got to be the largest single private investment onshore in Timor-Leste. And done by a very confident Timorese…. quite something.
A few days ago his son Tony, the man managing the Timor Plaza project emailed me asking to attend the property’s official preview. When I first met Tony Jape a couple of years ago, he told me that they were going to change the city, and therefore the country. It was said with a quiet confidence. I suppose having been something of a success in Australian business they have reason to be confident.
I was unable to attend but I had a few snaps set to me. Make up your own mind, but you might want to remember its not just some Timorese who have confidence in Timor-Leste. My colleague recently blogged about a sizable Singaporean firm who are so confident they are willing to underwrite the place!
On another occasion I might blog about the perils of being over-confident…