Perhaps most positively, if a little surprisingly given the events of 2006-7, East Timor continues to stabilise and, relative to its past, prosper. There is no doubt that East Timor continues to face a series of daunting problems, from illiteracy to poverty to still globally high infant mortality rates.
But its human development indicators are all trending up, the violence of 2006-7 appears gone, the potentially dissident or troublesome groups that existed in internal refugee camps, among ex-soldiers and former guerillas have now been settled, not least with the liberal application of cash that has flowed from an unexpected spike in oil prices. East Timor even has a pension scheme, if a modest one, for the aged, which makes it a happy rarity among developing countries.
East Timor has problems with the distribution of its economic development outside Dili, so this year the Government will embark on the decentralisation of government administration and spending. Each locally elected district government will have a high degree of discretion over spending, ensuring that the country’s useful if still somewhat modest funds are spent where most people will actually benefit from them.
Having elected district governments, too, will increase East Timor’s democratic credentials, making local decision makers more directly accountable. The East Timorese Government sees political and economic decentralisation as a way of giving power back to its people, in turn reducing the potential for unrest. A number of other regional governments would do well to learn from East Timor’s example.
Professor Damien Kingsbury holds a personal chair in the School of International and Political Studies at Deakin University.