The past nine months in Timor-Leste have seen a continuation of the positive trends of recent years. The country remains largely calm and stable. Continued strong growth has enabled progress in addressing extreme poverty and extending social services. And we’ve seen further signs of broad commitment to a political culture based on dialogue and respect for constitutional norms.
There’s also been significant progress in preparing for a Timor-Leste without UN peacekeepers. Resumption of full policing responsibilities by the Timorese police (the PNTL), the formal launch of the Government’s Strategic Development Plan, and agreement on a jointly-owned Transition Plan, have laid foundations for a smooth transition.
New Zealand supports a conditions-based approach to UNMIT’s withdrawal. Current trends suggest we are on track for a smooth drawdown following next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, and a transition to a post-UNMIT UN presence by the end of 2012. Events over the coming year will of course determine whether this can be achieved; with the coming elections in particular providing the sternest test since 2006 of progress in building the capacity of core state institutions. But recent developments give cause for optimism.
The growing capability of Timor-Leste’s electoral management bodies is reflected in the significantly reduced levels of international support required for next year’s elections. New Zealand welcomes the UN’s positive response to Timor-Leste’s requests for targeted assistance; and we are also committed to providing support bilaterally.
Impressive habits of restraint and respect for electoral rules and institutions have emerged in recent years. We will soon learn whether these can withstand the intensity of high-stakes electoral competition. Timorese-led and owned political dialogue processes, such as the Retreat convened in July by the Bishop of Bacau, continue to play important roles in consolidating these gains.
Assuming continuation of these positive trends, our focus must now be on preparing for a smooth transition, by intensifying work to strengthen core Timorese institutions and by concluding Mission activities or transferring them to other actors. The Joint Transition Plan provides a comprehensive framework for this; and we now need to work through it with key stakeholders - particularly the Timorese Government, the UN Country Team and donors - to ensure its effective and sustainable implementation. To that end, we agree it should remain a living document, to be adjusted as required. Developing an integrated ‘One UN’ country strategy must also be a priority.
Further strengthening the PNTL, particularly its logistical and operational capabilities, will be important ahead of the expected UNPOL drawdown after next year’s elections. The Joint PNTL Development Plan is a useful blueprint for this; and we’ve been pleased at UNPOL’s efforts to recruit and retain suitable personnel for the highly-specialised tasks of training and capacity-building.
Donors are also coming to play increasingly important roles. At the Government’s request, New Zealand is already scaling up assistance to the PNTL. Our Police recently completed a pre-posting evaluation and preparatory visit for a bilateral programme focused on strengthening community policing to commence in January 2012, initially in four districts. Similarly, we will continue our longstanding security partnership with Timor-Leste through a bilateral assistance programme with the F-FDTL.
We must intensify efforts over the coming year to strengthen capacities of other core state institutions too, including public sector oversight and accountability bodies and the justice sector. This may also be Timor-Leste’ final chance to draw on UNMIT support in addressing other longstanding challenges, such as strengthening civilian oversight of security institutions, resolving allegations of serious crimes, and agreeing support for their victims.
It is particularly important for the long-term health and legitimacy of Timor-Leste’s security institutions that allegations of serious crimes against PNTL and F-FDTL officers be credibly addressed; so we welcome the establishment of a joint UNPOL-PNTL investigative team to process remaining allegations against PNTL personnel.
The Secretary-General’s report usefully outlines possible options for a post-UNMIT UN presence in Timor-Leste, providing a good basis for further consideration of their respective implications and merits. Of course, any decision on these must be based on careful assessments of Timor-Leste’s post-UNMIT needs, and determined in accordance with the priorities of the Timorese Government. Realistically, this means a decision is still some way off; not until after a government emerges from next year’s elections at the earliest.
The coming year should also mark a real shift in the emphasis of international assistance, with stronger emphasis on Timor-Leste’s long-term development challenges, including improving health and education, and generating employment for its swelling youth population. This requires sustained growth in the non-oil private sector economy, particularly agriculture.
The Government’s Strategic Development Plan, launched in July, sets out a comprehensive framework for providing international assistance in accordance with national priorities. New Zealand is seeking Timorese endorsement of a Strategic Framework to guide our bilateral aid programme over the next five years, and establish a shared vision for long-term development outcomes. The draft Framework contemplates assistance in three priority areas: strengthening the security and justice sectors, facilitating private sector investment, and providing education and training.
2012 will be a watershed for Timor-Leste, and a critical test of its emergence from post-conflict fragility. But, should events proceed as we hope and expect, this time next year we may be marking UNMIT’s valedictory.
The Mission and its leadership deserve much credit for progress since the 2006 crisis. But, above all, the people and Government of Timor-Leste deserve praise for their courage and determination in charting their own future course; and their willingness and ability to define, for themselves, the assistance they need. This, Mr President, is peacebuilding as it should be; national ownership in action.
Going forward, Timor-Leste will require the ongoing support of its friends in the region and beyond in addressing the many political and economic challenges it will continue to face after UNMIT’s withdrawal. For its part, New Zealand will remain a proud friend and a committed partner to Timor-Leste as it writes for itself the next chapter of its history.