The Doctor's master plan

Article published by the Independente Newspaper, in Timor-Leste, about Dr. Heyzer's first speech as newly-appointed Special Advisor of the Secretary-General to Timor-Leste.

By: The INDEPENDENTE

Dr Noeleen Heyzer has a vision of an inclusive and stable Timor Leste. As the strategist steps into her new role as Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary General for the island nation she speaks openly about her desire to see a prioritised and rural-focused economic development program.

WHEN the people of Timor-Leste were finally liberated and given back their country, in May 2002, it was a desperately wounded people and battered economy that its new leaders took responsibility for. Today, just under one month and eleven years into independence the United Nations new special advisor for Timor-Leste says there is much to be proud of. 

But as Singaporean-born Dr Noeleen Heyzer prepares to take on her new position she says it is now more poignant than ever before for the decision makers of Asia’s youngest nation to keep their eyes firmly on the ball. 

“As we focus on this nationally-owned and nationally-driven plan at this implementation meeting, and given the magnitude of the task that still remains to sustain the gains already made by this young nation, I call on all our development partners to prioritise support for Timor-Leste’s development objectives. With the proper support, Timor-Leste’s journey towards sustainable peace, democracy, and development can be an inspirational example for all.” Dr Heyzer said in her speech at the Timor Leste Government and Development Partners Conference in Dili last Thursday. 

Dr Heyzer believes progress will only come with a steadfast focus on building an inclusive economic growth program and with that it means job generation. 

She believes to build much-needed social cohesion and shared prosperity Timor-Leste must focus and invest in the areas where vulnerable people live and where they work, as well as in the skills and assets, which they possess. Rural people, and indeed rural women, have to become central in the picture for social and economic development. 

Bringing down the costs of essential goods, and thus supporting the too many people who are being hamstrung daily by inflated costs of basic goods, a key area she would also like prioritised by the government. 

To do, so Dr Heyzer points to strengthening investment and support for the achievement of Timor-Leste’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), “especially in the areas of housing; water and sanitation; health and nutrition; quality education; women’s equality and empowerment; as well as in the physical and social infrastructure for rural areas to be better able to access markets and development services.”

Of critical importance she cites investing in the productivity and value-addition of agribusiness, as well as small and medium size businesses (SMEs) in rural infrastructure and food security. 

“We need to generate increased employment and job opportunities, so that more people, including youth, can engage in jobs and productively contribute to the achievements of the country. 

“In this connection, it is also important to support basic vocational skills development, so that more Timorese communities can take advantage of the construction and infrastructure agenda of the country.”

With one of Asia’s youngest populations – 70 per cent under the age of 30 – Dr Heyzer says it is vital that decision makers change the paradigm they are seeing the country. Innovation, and capturing the creative energy of youth, she attests, is the key to “unlocking a potential of the country.”

Looking specifically at income streams Dr Heyzer says it cannot be ignored that Timor Leste is one of the most petroleum –reliant nations in the world and has a double-digit inflation rate that no one should be comfortable with. 

However, she believes “wise” investment has been the driver behind the nation’s financial revenues from the oil reserves in the Timor Sea growing from US$1.8 billion in 2007 to US$13 billion this year, and she is hoping this will continue. 

Moving forward, Dr Heyzer said the focus must “now” shift to diversification. “Timor-Leste still lacks a functioning productive sector that can supply enough basic inputs, and the imports of goods and services have therefore continued to grow. This is occurring concurrently with persistent unemployment,” she said. 

“ These are large challenges, but they also present opportunities to further strengthen and build durable economic foundations that diversify the economic base, and to target sectors such as agri-business, fisheries, tourism, and petrochemicals that can generate increased employment and also substitute for some of the imported goods – especially in the area of food security.”

In terms of it’s regional position Dr Heyzer believes Timor-Leste is already a valuable part of the fabric of South-East Asia – “standing at the crossroads between Asia and the Pacific.”

“I see my role as helping to bring the region’s expertise, assets, and assistance to the country, which will be important to support Timor-Leste’s application for membership in ASEAN, and to help promote a better understanding of the needs and opportunities of Timor-Leste as it seeks to further integrate into this dynamic region.

*Noeleen Heyzer currently serves as the Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). She was appointed to the position by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in July 2007.
On 10 June 2013, Heyzer was appointed as Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary General for Timor-Leste by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She will serve the two positions concurrently.