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  Issue No 49 Official Organ of LaborNet 07 April 2000  




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East Timor

UN Poseurs Delay Reconstruction

By HT Lee

Returning to the Dili compound where he spent five days under siege, HT Lee finds an aid bureacracy out of control.


A building in Dili about to collapse onto the street but no one would take responsibility to demolish it.

I made a returned trip to East Timor just after Christmas and spent three weeks there. My previous trip before that was in September 1999 where I ended up spending five days under siege in the UN compound.

What I found on this return trip was the UN and its associated agencies trapped in its own bureaucracy--driving around in their air-conditioned 'range rovers' attending endless meetings. These luxury cars were mainly driven by one person while our Federal Police Officers in CivPol had to pool and share cars.

The UN seems to shuffle endless amount of paper but was unable to answer basic questions, deeming them to be 'sensitive', 'tricky' or 'too hard'--the list of excuses was endless.

Meanwhile urgent medical supplies and construction materials were stuck in Darwin because the UN and its associated agencies--the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) etc could not get their act together.

It was disappointing to see so little been done. No reconstruction took place. The only houses or buildings in Dili been fixed were those occupied by the UN, its agencies and the numerous foreign non governmental organisations (NGOs).

Houses not completely destroyed

Many of the East Timorese houses were not completely destroyed. All they needed were new roofs, re-wiring, cement rendering of the walls and minimum plumbing to make them habitable again.

The cost would have been less than $10,000 per house to fix, some of them less than $5,000. All that was required was the will power to do so--it would have taken a qualified tradesperson supervising three to four Timorese for no more than two to three weeks to fix up a house.

Once the house is fixed one of the rooms could have easily been rented out as full board and lodging to a UN personnel. This practice was widely used by the UN, CivPol etc during the period leading to the 30 August ballot.

But instead of embarking on such a program the UN relied on the importation of floating barges--the rooms costing $240 per night. Had the UN paid an East Timorese family the same amount for food and lodging for a UN personnel per week that money would have been put to better use--the money would have re-circulated amongst the East Timorese instead of ending up out of the country.

Talk to some one else, not me...

When I raised the issues of fixing up the houses so as to provide board and lodging for some of the UN staff, I was told that was not a job for the UN but rather I should talk to the UNHCR and the NGOs.

The UN could not tell me who or which body was responsible for demolishing buildings which were about to collapse onto the streets--making them a danger to the public. Again the answer was it depended if the building was a public or private one.

There is a tuberculosis problem among the children in East Timor. The UN had been aware of this since last September when the East Timorese were evacuated to Darwin. But again when asked what had been done about it, I was told by volunteer doctors they could not treat the problem because there was no medicine available yet.

I also noticed there was an asbestos problem. But once again no one in the UN was able or willing to talk...the list of dead ends I encountered was endless.

NGOs need local input

Dili was swamped with foreign NGOs from all over the world. The NGOs were falling over each other and in many cases were duplicating their services.

However, most of them have one thing in common--the lack of local input. It is important in the reconstruction of East Timor projects started by the NGOs do not end up making the East Timorese dependent on foreign aid. The projects must help the East Timorese gain self-reliance--this can only be achieved with local input.

The NGOs should follow the example of APHEDA Union Aid Abroad.

Before starting any projects APHEDA consults widely with the people of East Timore and their leadership.

An example of this is the setting up of the radio station--Radio 'Voz de Esperanza' (Voice of Hope). APHEDA provided the equipment and the training of personnel.

Its' time to stop the pretence

In its pretence to appear 'neutral' OCHA did not want to be seen cooperating with the East Timorese umbrella organisation the National Committee of Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

I was told by OCHA our request to ship two 'old bombs' from Darwin to Dili for the CNRT could not be complied with. It would have cost $2,000 to commercially ship the two vehicles to Dili.

I was further told any materials earmarked for the CNRT would be left behind in Darwin.

According to OCHA, CNRT is an 'unelected political organisation'--OCHA cannot take sides and can only deal with requests from and for NGOs.

When I arrived in Dili I approached Interfet and the vehicles were shipped over without any hassles by CMOC the Interfet unit responsible for transporting personnel and supplies.

It would have been understandable for OCHA to have taken such a neutral stand had there been a 'civil war' in East Timore--just like in the case of Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo.

However, there was no civil war in East Timor--the violence there was perpetrated by the Indonesian army (TNI) and its militia puppets on an unarmed civilian population which on 30 August 1999 voted overwhelmingly (78.5%) for independence.

Because of the pretence of being neutral the UN did not utilise the services of Falantil (the armed wing of the East Timorese resistance) which would have provided vital intelligence and other support to the UN peacekeepers. Falantil could also have been trained to take up some policing duties

But instead of using them they were mainly confined to Aileu.

Interfet--a job well done

Interfet had done a tremendous job. Unlike the poseurs of the UN, the 'hands on approach' of our troops was much appreciated by the East Timorese.

Interfet had gone out of its way to help the locals. Our troops were prepared to get their hands dirty cleaning up the rubbish left behind by the militias, fixing the roofs, fixing the plumbing, getting generators going for electricity, you name it they will do it.

They were also great with the kids--playing footy, soccer and basketball with them and giving the kids some of their own rations. The kids have now learn to chant: 'Aussie, Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!'

CMOC prefers to see the naval vessels going over to Dili filled up but was hardly approached by the UN or its agencies to do so.

Our navy has been helpful--HMAS Newcastle on her recent deployment to East Timor took on board building materials supplied by the construction union (CFMEU) and the building industry. The materials were used in Oecussi to rebuild the fire damaged maternity wards and the re-roofing of schools.

The supply ship HMAS Tobruk is on its way to East Timor. On board is four containers of clothing and food collected by the CFMEU.

It is up to the UN and its agencies to get organised so that essential supplies can be shipped to East Timor for the urgent commencement of the reconstruction program. This will help to provide the urgently needed employment amongst a population of 80% unemployed.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 49 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Rebuilding from the Rubble
Ramona Mitussis, APHEDA's co-ordinator in East Timor reports on how Australian workers are contributing to rebuilding a nation.
*  East Timor: UN Poseurs Delay Reconstruction
Returning to the Dili compound where he spent five days under siege, HT Lee finds an aid bureacracy out of control.
*  Unions: The Last Bank in Minto
"It's a busy branch", Carol Davison insists, watching the crowd gather around the Commonwealth Bank branch at Minto Mall. By the time you read this, the branch will be another empty shopfront, stripped of its fittings, with junk mail starting to accumulate under the front door.
*  International: Workers of the World Unite
ILO Director-General Juan Somavia's keynote address to the ICFTU Congress in Durban, South Africa this week.
*  Olympics: Strange Tenants
Rentwatchers lifts the lid on the legacy the 2000 Games will leave on Sydney's tenants.
*  Politics: The Loneliness Crisis
Lindsay Tanner looks at the politics of the soul that form the backdrop of many of our social ills.
*  History: Songs of Solidarity
Visiting US labour acadmeic John Lund has found a new way to digest history - he commits workers' struggles to song.
*  Satire: Seven Launches 'Popstars' Spin-off
On the heels of Popstars comes a new show taking five minor celebrities and turning them into normal people
*  Review: Keating's Engagement
Whether it's analysis or self-justification, Paul Keating's new book is an engaging read.

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»  Entitlement Changes Fail to Protect Workers
»  Shaw Sets Safety Guidelines
»  Water Workers Ready to Walk
»  Honour for Jack Mundy
»  Lindsay Tanner Chat Session
»  Radio Free East Timor Fundraiser Thursday
»  Workers Online Turns 50 Next Week!

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»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Public Meeting: Globalised Capital and International Labour.

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