Building a Capable Public Administration in Timor-Leste is the Way Ahead

Dr. Christopher Henry Samson

Executive Director Lalenok Ba Ema Hotu (LABEH)

Building a capable public administration because our people will rely heavily on the competence and capacity of government services. Any weaknesses or failure of these services will be a serious obstacle to progress in human development.

The events of December 1975 and September 1999 were devastating, not just for the population, but also for the system of administration. Alongside the losses in terms of buildings, records and archives, there was also a debilitation loss of personnel. Timor-Leste was left with virtually no senior managers or people capable of operating basic facilities. 

In building our public administration almost from scratch the risk for our country to inherit some of the institutional failures of the previous Indonesian administration; such as overstaffing, complex administration, pervasive corruption, and lack of public participation.

This will mean compromises between the priorities of different ministries and departments, all of whom will be competing for resources. The members of the National Parliament will also play a crucial role in nurturing a healthy democracy.

During these 13 years of independence, members of National Parliament will have a heavy workload, coping with the analyzing budgets and legislation, and understanding how government departments work. Just as important they will need to discover the best ways of keeping lines of communication open with the rest of civil society. 

No matter how decisive the government, or effective the legislators, their policies and decisions will be compromised if they cannot be put into effect by an efficient system of public administration. This demands a public administration staffed by officials who have both the competence and the will to serve.

The development of the public sector has faced a number of crucial issues including staffing levels, salaries, training, language skills, participation of women, and the continuing need for international support. All these issues imply a large-scale capacity building process.

This will be a long and complex task, but the immediate priority for the civil service must be to deliver services to the people. This entails ensuring that civil servants have the basic management capacity to run the essential institutions of government. Unless the government is seen to be delivering services efficiently it will lose legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

No matter how good the official policy on the many strands of human development, these efforts will be thwarted if the public institutions are incapable of implementing them. There are many crucial issues to address: the structure and character of the institutions; the capacity and motivation of civil servants; the strength and independence of the judiciary, and the best ways to prevent corruption.

Many government officials have been charged for corruption, it is well known that corruption or mismanagement of funds are rampant in the government administration.

It is an everyday occurrence and the Government had appointed family members, friends and comrades to key posts, while failing to develop an economic policy that will respond to the needs of the people.

Corruption poses the biggest risk to the future of our country; our country should struggle to make democracy work beyond just holding elections every five years. Another problem is if our independence serves only those in power, ignoring the cry’s and tears of their fellow citizens due to their positions, but it is up to our leaders to prove that they could manage the state budget wisely and serve the people with transparency and accountability.

No matter how good the official policy on the many strands of human development, these efforts will be thwarted if the public institutions are incapable of implementing them