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The La'o Hamutuk Bulletin
Vol. 3, No. 7: October 2002 (1/2)

English PDF Format  |    Bahasa Indonesian PDF Format

Issue focus: Portuguese Aid, Community Empowerment Project

Table of contents:

Part 1

Part 2

Bilateral aid from donor countries continues to be critical for East Timor, and such aid is not always what it claims to be. In this issue, we look at Portugal’s contributions and how they influence education and the choice of language here. We also re-examine the World Bank’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to see how it has improved since La’o Hamutuk’s first report two years ago. Our ongoing coverage of East Timor’s oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea brings you La’o Hamutuk’s testimony to the Australian parliament, asking our southern neighbor to respect our sovereignty and territory. We close with two editorials on international justice failures: about the ad hoc human rights courts in Jakarta, and about an agreement that East Timor will not send U.S. employees to the International Criminal Court.

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Portuguese Aid to East Timor

Globally, Portugal is not usually considered a large donor. In East Timor, however, the Portuguese government is visible and influential, being among the three largest donors to the country (with Japan and Australia).

Around the World
Portugal was one of the founding members of the OECD’s Development

Assistance Committee (DAC, a group of the world’s 22 major donor governments) in 1961, but they left the group in 1974, seeking aid from other countries to help recover from years of fascist rule and the dismantling of its colonial empire. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union), receiving considerable assistance and strengthening its economy to the point that Portugal re-entered the DAC in 1991.

However, Portugal is still one of the weaker Western countries politically and economically, and has the lowest per capita GNP of the 22 DAC member nations. In 1999, Portugal gave US$289 million in official development assistance (ODA). This was 0.26% of its GNP, well below the 0.39% average among DAC countries, but still more than three other major donors to East Timor: U.S., U.K. and Australia. The Portuguese government has been increasing this amount in recent years, and has set its own goals to re-attain 0.36% of GNP, its all-time high from 1994, in the near future, and the UN goal of 0.7% (agreed to at the 1992 Rio Conference) by 2006.

Throughout the 1990s, Portuguese government assistance was given almost exclusively to former Portuguese colonies in Africa (Mozambique, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé e Príncipe), with Mozambique as the principal recipient. Portugal gives multilateral assistance through UN agencies, the World Bank Group and regional development banks (African Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank) and the European Union. Portugal joined the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in April 2002, to promote Portuguese business interests in Asia and be more involved with ADB activities in East Timor. In recent years, though, two-thirds to three fourths of Portugal’s assistance has been bilateral. In 1999-2000, about 50% of Portuguese bilateral aid went to debt relief, compared to a DAC average of only 4%. This was mostly due to defaults on loans issued by the Portuguese government to former African colonies, and Portugal does not intend to issue many similar loans in the future. See Graph 1 below for an overview of current Portuguese Assistance worldwide.

Graph 1: Portuguese Assistance Worldwide, 2002
Total: US $395 million

Graph 1: Portuguese Assistance WorldwideEastern Europe: Macedonia and Bosnia

Africa: Former Portuguese colonies, also Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Benin

Asia: almost entirely East Timor

Source: Portuguese government

Other major areas of Portuguese assistance world-wide are education and health – not so much towards basic social services that benefit the poor, as towards tertiary education, scholarships and medical treatment in Portugal, services aimed at the elite of the recipient country. There is also a large emphasis on training and technical assistance for government administration, judicial and military affairs, as well as promoting and restructuring the private sector.

It is difficult to get a clear overall view of Portuguese assistance since it is distributed in a decentralized manner. Although the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the overall aid program, in reality 17 government ministries, as well as agencies, universities, and city municipalities carry out various individual programs. In recent years, a Council of Ministers for Cooperation Affairs and an Inter-ministerial Committee for Cooperation were created to coordinate assistance from the different government departments. The three main assistance agencies are in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

Portuguese Assistance to East Timor

From June 1999 until May 2002, there was the office of the Commissioner to Support the Transition in East Timor (CATTL), under the direction of Father Victor Melícias Lopes. CATTL was a temporary agency to “coordinate initiatives relating to the preparation and execution of support programs for the popular poll process and the transition process in relation to East Timor’s self-determination.” This agency was disbanded shortly after East Timor’s independence, and assistance to East Timor is now under the regular, decentralized structure.

During the transitional period, CATTL directed bilateral programs in various areas, as well as supporting international institutions. Portugal is the second largest donor to the World Bank’s Trust Fund for East Timor (TFET), having already given over $15 million and promising a further $35 million. During 1999-2000, Portugal gave almost $10 million to multilateral humanitarian relief efforts, as well as $4.5 million to support InterFET. In addition to bilateral assistance, the Portuguese police and military have been a major component of the international peacekeeping forces under UNTAET, and continue to participate in the UN peacekeeping forces in East Timor.

According to the Portuguese government, their assistance to East Timor has three official priorities: “to consolidate the Timorese State, a market economy and the Portuguese language as the official language.” Promoting the Portuguese language has been the principal activity, and is examined in the article below. “Consolidating the State” includes a variety of projects, focused on technical assistance for public administration, especially in areas such as legal and judicial affairs, statistics, professional training and military training. In 2001, $2.2 million was budgeted for military training and equipment, the chief component being $1.6 million for two renovated small patrol launches and training 36 members of the defense forces to protect East Timor’s waters. In the same year, $139,000 was budgeted for supporting fire brigades (in cooperation with Australia) and civil protection services. From 2000-2001, approximately $5.5 million was distributed for the other projects in governmental support.

From 1999-2001, Portugal distributed approximately $8.9 million in assistance for economic development. The assistance is spread across several projects, focusing on areas such as infrastructure (especially water supply in Baucau and Aileu, electricity, and Comoro airport technical training), agriculture (including a coffee tree nursery in Ermera), fisheries, forestry, mining, tourism and urban development.
Last year, the Portuguese government budgeted over $24 million in bilateral programs for the year 2002, with the breakdown illustrated Graph 2.

However, at the time of printing the Portuguese and East Timorese governments were negotiating the assistance and this breakdown is likely to change. At the last donors conference, Portugal did not discuss the existing bilateral projects, but pledged to also cover 10% of East Timor’s estimated $90 million budget shortfall over the next three years. 

Graph 2: Planned Portuguese Bilateral Aid to East Timor, 2002 
Total: US $24 million

Planned Portuguese Bilateral Aid to East Timor, 2002

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxPortuguese languagexxxxxxxxGovernment supportxxxxxEconomic Development

TFET, budgetary support, and other multilateral donations not shown. 

Source: Portuguese Embassy in Dili, document dated Sept. 2001


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Portuguese Support in the Education Sector

The largest beneficiary of Portuguese assistance over the past two years in East Timor has been education. The focus of Portugal’s education programs has been to promote the Portuguese language, following decisions by East Timorese leaders to make Portuguese an official language. Priority has been given to primary and secondary education, mainly by sending teachers from Portugal across East Timor, and training East Timorese teachers in the Portuguese language. There have also been a variety of language training programs for other professions, as well as assistance in rebuilding educational infrastructure and for tertiary (university) education.

Primary Education

In primary education, Portuguese is currently the language of instruction for the first three years. Every year an additional year of Portuguese is added, so that in the next academic year, the first four years will be taught in Portuguese, and in three years (2005), all six years of primary education will be in taught in Portuguese. In order to facilitate this transition, Portugal is training East Timorese primary school teachers in Portuguese language as well as teaching pedagogy. In the past two years, almost 3500 of the 3600 enrolled teachers have completed the trainings.

La’o Hamutuk’s limited research in this has found a mixed response from East Timorese primary school teachers. Some schools feel that they are benefiting from the Portuguese assistance, which in addition to training teachers, also provides schools with textbooks and other educational materials, and occasionally includes rebuilding physical infrastructure. A primary school in Farol, Dili, has had several buildings rebuilt by the Portuguese government, although some of the rooms were not completed, and the school has been given no indication of when the rest of the repairs promised by Portugal will begin.

However, other schools have had less positive experiences with the Portuguese government. Teachers at another primary school in the Dili area told La’o Hamutuk that they did not benefit from the training by the Portuguese teachers. They disagreed with the training methods used, finding an excess of negative criticism and a lack of positive encouragement. They said that many other East Timorese teachers have dropped out of the classes. Although enrollment in the program has been voluntary basis for the past two school years, teachers at this school claimed the headmaster/principal forced them to attend, with the support of the Ministry of Education and Portuguese government.

Secondary Education

In secondary education, 151 teachers from Portugal are currently teaching Portuguese as a second language to secondary school students across the country. The teachers are on one-year renewable contracts, beginning in September. Although the program has no exact timeframe, it is likely to continue at least for the next couple years. As with many aid programs, hiring international professionals such as teachers is expensive. The teachers, usually grouped in pairs, live in accommodation that is luxurious by local standards, complete with generators, air conditioning, and expensive appliances such as microwaves, washing machines, and large freezers. The Portuguese government considers the expenses in building the accommodations for these Portuguese citizens as part of their assistance to East Timor, as the buildings will be given to the East Timorese government when the program finishes. They teach Portuguese to secondary students, who usually are also studying Tetum, Indonesian and English. Since the vast majority of these students are accustomed to the Indonesian education system, it is not surprising that many of them are reluctant to learn Portuguese. Many complain that Portuguese is too difficult, and find English to be a more useful Western language.

Many of the teachers originally sent from Portugal had little or no experience in teaching Portuguese as a foreign language. However, the Portuguese government has recently changed the criteria used to select these teachers, to favor those who have been trained to teach Portuguese as a foreign language. In July 2002, several teachers already working in East Timor were unable to get their contracts renewed as they did not meet the new standards. Predictably, some of the teachers were upset at losing their jobs, feeling that the Portuguese Ministry of Education did not consider their previous experience in the country. However, it is encouraging to see these efforts to improve the quality of Portuguese participation in the education system.

Tertiary Education

Portugal supports tertiary education for East Timor in three ways: support for the national university (UNTL), sending East Timorese students to Portuguese universities, and supporting East Timorese students who are finishing their studies in Indonesia.

Portugal’s support for the national university system is centered with the Foundation of Portuguese Universities (FUP - Fundação Universidade Portuguesa) which began operating in 2001 in the Liçeu Francisco Machado in Dili.

FUP concentrates on four faculties:

1) Civil engineering, including electronics and information technology

2) Agriculture, including land registry, forestry, and social economy of agriculture

3) Economics, including management

4) Teaching the Portuguese language

Twelve to fifteen lecturers for the FUP are selected from Portuguese lecturers with Masters or PhD degrees and paid by the Portuguese government. The lecturers normally come for three month periods and then return to Portugal. The language of instruction is Portuguese. There is an obvious language difficulty for the students. Yet each faculty has two Portuguese-Indonesian interpreters so students can understand. Translation is also provided for examinations. From another point of view, the students have to learn Portuguese since the university requires that students learn the language of instruction. FUP also includes setting up a computer science laboratory and supplying teaching materials to UNTL.
According to one East Timorese professor at UNTL, “if a person knows a lot of languages then s/he is also rich with all the languages s/he has mastered. That which is more prioritized at UNTL campus is how students can obtain knowledge and implement it to civil society. After one year of the FUP program operating (2001-2001), we can already do an evaluation and without difficulty say it is operating normally.”

Studying overseas

The Portuguese government has provided scholarships for 314 East Timorese students to study in Portugal. Studying in a country far away from home and in a different culture, it is not surprising that a few students have encountered difficulties. Eight students have already returned to East Timor and others no longer attend their courses but remain in Europe to work. Students who returned from Portugal told La’o Hamutuk their main difficulties were:

Living in a different culture and among different people is difficult. The East Timorese students are placed in accommodations far away from each other, making it very difficult for them to offer each other mutual support and enhancing feelings of isolation.

Donors Supporting East Timorese
Students Studying in Indonesia


Caritas Norway and the Bishop Belo Scholarship Program (BBSP)390


Ford Foundation200
Indonesian government (only until 20 May 2002)162

Portuguese government


WHO (World Health Organization)68
German government20
French government6

With the encouragement of the East Timorese government, the Portuguese government plans to end the scholarship program for study in Portugal once the current students finish their scholarships, and support will be more focused on developing UNTL. La’o Hamutuk supports this decision, because UNTL needs considerable material and moral support to continue developing. It will also be better in promoting healthy bilateral relations between East Timor and Portugal, as the two governments work together to strengthen an institution that can provide great benefits for the nation as a whole. But such assistance should not intervene in current or future policies of the nation of East Timor, ensuring that East Timorese are the decision-makers in their own country.

Portugal does not only help East Timorese students studying in Portugal and East Timor. They are also supporting 100 East Timorese students who studied in Indonesian during the Indonesian occupation, but were unable to continue their studies.

A variety of international donors are supporting East Timorese studying in Indonesia (see table above). Before the referendum, about 4,000 East Timorese were studying at universities in Indonesia, but only approximately 2,000 wanted to return to continue their studies after the referendum. As shown in the table, limited funds have been provided by eight countries and organizations.

The Portuguese government is funding 100 students to study in Indonesia, who have recently been selected. The Portuguese government has promised more than $700,000 to fund three years of study, from September 2002 until August 2005, including round-trip airfare and living expenses of about $60/month per student. The students supported have already completed five semesters of study but lacked the funds to finish their studies in Indonesia.

Having invaded East Timor and occupied this nation for over 400 years, Portugal has a responsibility to help the nation develop, and to respect its hard-earned independence, both politically and culturally. For the past three years, Portugal has been a major donor despite its small size and limited global experience with bilateral assistance, and such generosity should continue. The Portuguese government has already identified problems within their education projects in East Timor, and has tried to improve their programs. La’o Hamutuk hopes the Portuguese government continues to be open to criticism, and we are glad they seem eager to improve their bilateral programs to benefit the East Timorese people as much as possible. 

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Controversy over Língua Portuguesa

The decision to make Portuguese an official language has been very controversial, especially among the younger generations of the country. The thoughts expressed by one student at UNTL (Universidade Nasional Timor Lorosa’e) are representative of how many feel about the decision: “actually, I don’t like having Portuguese as an official language for East Timor, for 24 years the East Timorese people struggled for independence, meaning we also have to have our own culture, our own distinct features, and our own language, Tetum. But why do we have to use Portuguese as an official language? This creates a big dilemma for young people these days, as if imposing one’s will on others for outside political interests. For instance, in the primary schools Portuguese is already taught and I see that as a way in which East Timorese children are molded to learn and know the culture of another country instead of their own.”

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Correction: U.S. Aid

In La’o Hamutuk Bulletin Volume 3, No. 6, page 11, we published a table summarizing the pledges at the May 2000 Donors’ Conference. For the United States, the promised $1.05 million in Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training for East Timor’s Defense Force is separate from, not included in, the $25 million the United States pledged for development assistance. Thanks to the U.S. Embassy for pointing this out.

Clarification: Oil Exploration

La’o Hamutuk Bulletin Volume 3, No. 5, page 2, included a sidebar describing “The Process of Petroleum Exploration,” which briefly listed steps in the process as followed in many places in the world. The Joint Petroleum Development Authority has informed La’o Hamutuk that the process at Bayu-Undan and other JPDA sites in the Timor Sea differs from the general scenario:

1. They do not use dynamite to generate shock waves for seismic exploration, but rely on explosions created by compressed air.

2. Drilling in the Timor Sea produces only sand, not stones. These “cuttings” are re-injected into the seabed.

Who is La’o Hamutuk?

La’o Hamutuk staff: Inês Martins, Thomas (Ató) Freitas, Mericio (Akara) Juvenal, Yacinta Lujina, Adriano do Nascimento, Terry Russell, Charles Scheiner, Pamela Sexton, Jesuina (Delly) Soares Cabral, João Sarmento, Andrew de Sousa

Translation for this Bulletin: Xylia Ingham

Executive board: Sr. Maria Dias, Joseph Nevins, Nuno Rodrigues, Aderito de Jesus Soares

La’o Hamutuk thanks the government of Finland for supporting this publication.

La’o Hamutuk, The East Timor Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor
Mobile: +61(408)811373; Land phone: +670(390)325-013
Email: laohamutuk@easttimor.minihub.org 
Web: http://www.laohamutuk.org

International contact: +1-510-643-4507, lh@etan.org