By Ricardo SantosRGS_photo

In a previous blog post, I briefly presented the guidelines of the development road book put in place by the G7+  countries. In this one, I will briefly review the Timor-Leste fragility assessment. The exercise focused on the Peace-Building and State-Building Goals (PSG) and, together with the pilot assessments performed in Sierra Leone and South Sudan, are the first peer learning initiatives, the initial stepping stones of the development pathways traced in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.

True to the G7+ ethos, the fragility assessment of Timor-Leste was conducted by an all-Timorese team, even if two of the members were seconded by the Australian Government and by UNDP. International technical support was also provided by the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) and by the Word Bank, in the definition of the fragility indicators.

The team sought to operationalize the use of the PSGs as both aims and framings of the evolution indicators, guiding the development policies put into place. These are: PSG1: Legitimate Politics; PSG2: Security; PSG3: Justice; PSG4: Economic Foundation; PSG5: Revenue and Services. To assess where the country is in each of these dimensions, a fragility spectrum was constructed, decomposing each PSG in dimensions and sub-dimensions and grading the status according to a ranking of Fragility Stages: 1. Crisis; 2. Build and Reform; 3. Transition; 4. Transformation; 5. Resilience.

Every operationalization exercise entails a syntesis effort and, as a consequence, dimensions are highlighted while others loose prominence. Even though, as the report declares, the “spectrum will be adjusted periodically according with the country development”, this exercise is telling of priorities being set and open a space to openly discuss whether these or others are the most conductive to the attainment of the goals. What sensitized the team as a root cause of fragility is also telling of possible dominant discourses and perspectives that can be analysed. We will, therefore look at how each PSG was turned into specific dimensions and assessed in this first exercise.

The Legitimate Politics goal was decomposed in three dimensions:

Dimensions

Sub-dimensions

Fragility Stage

Political Settlement Peace process and political dialogue.
Agreement on division of power.
Transition

Transition

Political process and institutions
Enabling environment for political process
Inclusive representation at State institutions
Checks and balances at the Executive
Transition

Transition

Transition

Societal Relationship Relationship among groups in society
Dispute resolution for local conflict
Quantity and quality of civil society organizations
Transition

Transition

Transformation

Some of the risk factors identified for the prosecution of this goal pointed to “provocative political language, “some interference from one to another bodies” (regarding separation of powers), “individual or group interests still higher”. They, I would say, illustrate a still young democracy that fears political rhetoric, the natural spaces of mutual accountability between powers (executive, legislative and judicial powers and, in a semi-presidential system as the Timorese is, the presidential powers and own political legitimacy) and the diversity of individual and collective interests that seek to influence politics. Looking at the list of stakeholders consulted in this first assessment, a group of stakeholders missing is the one of Timorese Political Parties, who might have a different perspective about an apparent internal discourse in these concerns of a need to have peaceful collective voices that are geared to the common good. The question is, of course: who determines what is the public good.

The Security goal was also decomposed in three dimensions:

Dimensions Sub-dimensions

Fragility Stage

Security condition Intensity of conflict and criminal violence
Incidence of problems at the borders
Transformation

Transition

Capacity of Security Institutions Number and proportion of the security sector
Resources and capacity
Transformation

Transformation

Performance of Security Institutions Public confidence on security sector
Impunity of the security sector
Security sector’s responsiveness
Transformation

Transition
Transition

At the stage of this report, it is clear the concern with lack of security forces. These may be symptomatic of the experience of a police state under the later times of the Portuguese colonization and, evermore so, the Indonesian military regime during the occupation. Independence brought a significant reduction of policing, but also the need to reconstruct the police and to construct a national army (in this case adding to the ranks of the pro-independence guerrilla FALINTIL transformed into the Defense Forces of Timor-Leste F-FDTL). The institutional crises both in the Timorese National Police and the F-FDTL were instrumental in the 2006 crises. However, a balance needs to be struck between security and individual and collective freedoms, themselves intrinsic parts of a human security perspective. The third dimension of security, namely in the public confidence and impunity sub-dimensions is already a significant answer to the security-freedom equation.

The Justice goal was again decomposed in three dimensions:

Dimensions Sub-dimensions

Fragility Stage

Justice condition Access to justice
Impunity of the elite

Addressing human rights violations

Transition
Build and Reform
Build and Reform
Capacity of Justice Institutions Resources and capacity
National Law making

Traditional justice

Transition
Build and Reform
Build and Reform
Performance of Justice Institutions Application of international norms / standards
Public confidence
Build and Reform
Build and Reform

Looking into the sub-dimensions highlighted, but also into the definitions of the fragility stages in the document, I cannot avoid to applaud what I feel to be an honest and demanding exercise, one that in the end, I’m confident, will lead to a stronger Timorese society. Timor-Leste, being only a 10 year old nation, has the exemplary record of already having trialled and condemned two of its ex-ministers for corruption and abuse of power. Still, at the level of elite impunity, the assessment is that there is a need to build the judicial system towards better performance. At the level of public confidence there is an assessment of interference of other political bodies in the judicial system, again an honest and demanding evaluation, that keeps the executive power (the one mostly referred by the Timorese media as falling into such trap) into check. The need to address human rights violations following the recommendations by Timorese Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR), also raised keep the pressure on Timor-Indonesia relations, as much of the impunity still lies in former militia and Indonesian military’s actions in the 1999 post-referendum violence.

The Economic Fountations goal was decomposed as such:

Dimensions Sub-dimensions

Fragility Stage

Economic Condition Economic InequalityEconomic Vulnerability Build and Reform
Build and Reform
Employment and Development of Private Sectors Employment
Agriculture Productivity
Enabling environment for private sector development
Build and Reform
Build and Reform
Build and Reform
Exploitation of Natural Resources Land dispute mechanism
Natural resource management
Transition
Transformation

It is telling that in this dimension, Timor-Leste is still, as per the fragility assessment, mostly in a Build and Reform stage. There is, however, a missing dimension and a clear ideological bias closing some spaces of analysis and improvement. The missing sub-dimension in the Economic Conditions is the Economic Depth of the country: how much value added and how much of the final and intermediate consumption goods are being produced by the economy, with Timorese human resources. This blind spot comes together with an analysis that places all hopes of sustainable employment generation in a weak and nascent private sector. Employment fragility, as per the current assessment, is linked to the weight of government as main employer. A review of Labour Market Surveys in the ILO Statistical Database for the years of 2009 and 2010, encompassing 66 countries show a mass of 70% of countries with more than 15% of the population employed in the public sector or, to make the case more stringent, with nearly half of the countries with more than 20% of the work force employed in this sector. The UK’s Office of National Statistics reported that in 2012, 19,2% of its working population worked in the public sector. The lack of depth of the Timorese economy may make it very difficult for the public sector not to be the main employer for many years to come. This places important concerns on state governance, as the voters will also be the state’s employees, but it cannot be treated as a problem in itself but rather a symptom of other weaknesses. Other key variables, like the quality of human resources and of its main driver, education, are clearly missing. Access to credit, a key enabler of private entrepreneurship is also missing. The dimensions of inequality are slightly problematic, as they only acknowledge regional inequalities; they are an important concern in a country where local identities, linked to different mother-languages and cultural practices are sometimes overly accentuated but are, nonetheless one of the many facets of inequality. Vulnerability is also linked to a single aspect, income poverty, missing its multidimensionality. Other indicators are also relatively problematic: having significant foreign direct investment as the mark of a country transforming itself into resilience might again be a heavily ideologically charged benchmark. On the other hand, the indeed critical lack of infrastructures the country still faces, a strong deterrent to any investment, national or international, is depicted in the fragility spectrum.

The Revenue and Services goal was decomposed as such:

Dimensions Sub-dimensions

Fragility Stage

Revenue Generation Source of Revenue
Capacity from Public Institutions
Tax Law
Transition
Transition
Build and Reform
Public Administration Public Financial Management
Administrative Capacity
Accountability, transparency and integrity of the civil servants
Transition
Transition
Transition
Service Delivery (focus on health, education and clean water) The role of the State
Resources
Distribution
Transition
Transition
Transition

Here, again, the G7+ ethos shows clearly. On one hand, the focus in transparency and accountability is present. In these dimensions, as in many others, the assessment is itself transparent in what considers possible institutional weaknesses and the lack of accountability of the public administration is not one they shy away from. Considering that this process was conducted by the Timorese Government itself it is relevant they acknowledge the need of increased transparency. It is also symptomatic that the assessment exercise brought into the discussion the main “Watchdog” NGOs in the country: Lao Hamutuk, Luta Hamutuk, JSMP and Mahein Foundation. Another dimension where the G7+ ethos shows clearly is the concern about having international aid organizations providing what they define as basic services (health, educations and clean water). Even if a concern is lacking in the quality of provision, it is already an important step to acknowledge that a robust state does not rely on foreign aid and assistance to provide day-to-day health and education services and universal access to clean water and sanitation.

This brief review of the Timorese assessment of its fragility shows that a good and significant step was taken. It also reveals that there is a relevant scope for improvement in the assessment of each PSG. Overall there are other improvements to be made, I would suggest. The indicators suffer from the “age old curse” of failing to encompass the complexity of each dimension. An example is the number of legal claims. A weak judicial system, cared for in PSG3, will generate a disincentive to issue legal claims against the state. It would, therefore induce a false signal of success in one of the dimensions of PSG1. Other indicators, as the number of local conflicts resolved has an ambiguous value. Does a higher value mean a high number of conflicts arising? Can’t a reduction in conflicts resolved be a consequence of the reduction of conflicts? Even if the number of violent conflicts between civilian is also an indicator, the need for an increase in clarity is there. Summarising, therefore, there is much space for improvement in the indicators.

A word may also be needed on the conservative evaluations of where, in the fragility spectrum, each PSG dimension is. Each fragility stage profile is geared to the Timorese reality, which already points out to a framework exercise that allows for the national diversities among G7+ countries not to be subsumed. Even if this risks to turn general comparability into an impossible exercise it allows for a much better assessment of how each country can learn from the other, by following each country’s history of “fragility exit”. However, the exercise of describing the stages and general human aversion to risk may (including that of the evaluators) tend to push the grades towards the middle, particularly at this early stages. By leading this exercise, the government may also cause it to be biased against a “Crisis” attribution in any of the dimensions. It might, therefore, be advised that future exercises be consigned and then led by one or a consortium of the main Timorese academic institutions, some of which were already invited as stakeholders in this first assessment exercise.

In the next blog post I will look into the actors that are partnering with the G7+ countries, and specifically with Timor-Leste, in the development path delineated in the New Deal.

Ricardo Goulão Santos is a PhD candidate working on education and employability in a post-conflict setting within the IDS Conflict, Violence and Development of the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction research team. He is also a visiting researcher at the National University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL).

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