Despite being one of the poorest countries in Asia Pacific, Timor Leste is rich in natural resources. It is also very dependent on those resources, with petroleum revenues contributing 89% to the government’s budget in 2011. This makes Timor Leste more oil dependent than Kuwait.
Oil revenues have the potential to play a major role in changing the lives of Timorese citizens. Civil society organisations have been campaigning for more open and transparent management of natural resources.
When it comes to transparency, Timor Leste has made some significant advances. Often touted as a darling of the EITI, in 2010 it became the first country in Asia-Pacific to reach compliant status. In 2011 the government launched a transparency portal which enables real time data in English, Portuguese and Tetun on State expenditure that can be accessed by the public through a website.
But has this increased transparency resulted in stronger accountability and increased citizen engagement?
Luta Hamutuk, a Timor Leste NGO and PWYP member, conducted an evaluation of the transparency portal and of the dissemination of the EITI reports. Focussing on the Lautem, Baucau, Dili, Aileu, Ermera, Bobonaro and Liquisa districts they interviewed stakeholders including district administrators, sub-district administrators, students, village chiefs, youth representatives, companies, political parties, local NGOs, teachers/lecturers and communities. Through this assessment Luta Hamutuk sought to examine citizen participation in the management of natural resources at the district, sub-district and village levels.
One of the key findings was that having an online portal with published financial information is one thing, but having people use it is quite another. 95% of those interviewed in the evaluation said that they were not sure how to access or use the portal.
Infrastructure challenges prove significant obstacles here – Timor Leste has poor internet coverage with less than 1% of the population having online access and even government authorities at the local level had difficulty getting online to access the portal. As well as being able to physically (or electronically) access the information, users need the skills necessary to absorb and understand the data.
When it comes to the dissemination of EITI reports, the picture was not a huge deal rosier. Luta Hamatuk found that information rarely reached the local levels. When local authorities did have knowledge of EITI, they found the reports difficult to understand because the terms contained within were so complex.
Based on their evaluation, Luta Hamutuk put forward a series of recommendations:
They suggested that the government engage in capacity building of local leaders, youth and communities so that they could learn how to use the transparency portal, as well as improve internet accessibility, particularly for local government bodies.
In each village, they suggested that a Centre of Information be set up, to help facilitate the spread of information contained within the transparency portal, particularly the information that relates to the state budget.
With regard to the dissemination of EITI reports, Luta Hamutuk called for the EITI reports to be simplified. They also recommended that the EITI Working Group and Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resource team up with the State Secretary of Social Communication to regularly publish EITI reports through social media and TV, radio and newspaper.
Timor-Leste has made important advances with regards to transparency measures, but in order to ensure natural resources deliver for all, it needs to make the further leap in order to translate that transparency into accountability.
You can read the full evaluation here
(Photo taken from Flickr, by Jonathan Werve, Global Integrity)