Transitional Governance in East Timor

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) represents the high-water mark of the transitional governance approach and its transformative peacebuilding aspirations. The international community spent $2 billion on the first five years of the Timorese peace operation and deployed more than 10,000 military and civilian personnel there; extraordinary figures for a country of fewer than one million people.[1] UNTAET was designated as the repository of East Timorese sovereignty until the country was made fully independent, in a mandate that represents the greatest degree of executive, legislative, and judicial authority a UN mission has exercised in a postconflict nation to date.[2] The Cambodian experience represented the dire difficulties associated with pursuing effective and legitimate governance in a country where the parties were not truly reconciled. East Timor represents the more subtle and yet equally real complexities of attempting to transplant modern political order in a context of apparent elite consensus and a relative alignment with the objectives of the international community.

The Security Council mandate for UNTAET instructed the peace operation to guide East Timor to a state ready for independence.[3] Yet it provided no roadmap - along the lines of the Paris Peace Agreement for Cambodia, for example - for how to proceed or how to incorporate East Timorese participation during the process. UNTAET first addressed the governance of East Timor by directly assuming the bulk of administrative and executive functions, moving only in mid-2000 to begin the process of sharing and passing on authority to its Timorese counterparts.[4] UNTAET defenders have argued in retrospect that the transitional governance exercise adopted gradually increasing levels of East Timorese participation in decision-making processes over time. Yet the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Sergio Vieira de Mello, himself acknowledged that increasing Timorese participation in the governance of the country was a process of “false starts and hard-won political accommodations.”39

UNTAET’s strategy was to emphasize regular consultations with a small group of core leaders from the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT) - including, in particular, Xanana Gusmao, Bishop Carlos Belo, Jose Ramos-Horta, Mari Alkatiri (the leader of the FRETILIN cadre returned from exile in Mozambique), and Mario Carrascalao (a leading Timorese businessman who had served as governor of East Timor under the Indonesian authorities but was widely seen to have worked on behalf of the Timorese population during his governorship). These CNRT leaders were viewed by the UN as the authentic representatives of the people of East Timor and Gusmao was the undisputed first among equals. The head of the earlier UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), Ian Martin, wrote that the UN believed that Gusmao’s direct participation was crucial: UN representatives saw that progress in the negotiations before the referendum was

October 25, 1999.

made only when Gusmao was present and the UN itself took big steps forward only after consulting him in his Jakarta prison cell.[5] Vieira de Mello later acknowledged that this elite consultation system, albeit well intentioned, did not go far enough and that its Timorese partners should have been brought on board earlier and should have been consulted more thoroughly and substantively on matters of policy formulation and implementation.[6] In contrast, for example, the World Bank was seen as rather more successful at including Timorese in both needs assessment and policy formulation, most notably in the Joint Assessment Mission that took place in October and November 1999 immediately after the referendum violence was ended in order to identify reconstruction and development priorities.[7]

The timing and sequencing of the transitional governance process created some immediate challenges for future statebuilding and democratization prospects. Most observers agree that the slow pace of incorporating Timorese views and participation in government - a process that came to be called “Timorization” - was the most problematic aspect of the experiment, proving extremely troublesome for UNTAET’s ability to govern and orchestrate a transition.[8] Here I contend, furthermore, that UNTAET’s handling of the problem - especially the manner in which it chose its main counterparts - allowed the entrenchment of particular institutions and a certain pattern of political behavior that subsequently had adverse effects on democratic consolidation and governability in East Timor. Sue Ingram makes a similar argument, going so far as to contend that, in its lack of attention to forging a political settlement among Timorese elites, “UNTAET built the wrong peace.”[9] From this perspective, two things went wrong: not enough Timorese participation in government; and, when Timo- rization occurred, too much emphasis on just the CNRT and its elites, which prejudiced the political process in favor of FRETILIN leaders. Furthermore, a third dynamic emerged that is at the core of the tension between state- and democracy-building: the East Timorese elites’ near obsession with participation in the political arena meant that both they and UNTAET failed to emphasize the Timorization and renewal of the eviscerated state and administrative infrastructure.

No formal structures were built into UNTAET for East Timorese official or civil society participation - either in the electoral component or on the administrative side of the mission itself. The paradox surrounding participation was built into the very mandate of UNTAET.[10] Resolution 1272 stressed the need for UNTAET to “consult and cooperate closely with the East Timorese people”;[11] yet only after first vesting full sovereign powers in UNTAET and the Transitional Administrator, who was “empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority; including the administration of justice.”[12] This formal contradiction could certainly have been resolved in practice, if Vieira de Mello and UNTAET had moved to build channels of participation into the mission - the mandate itself had given the Transitional Administrator the freedom to develop whatever necessary mechanisms for political consultation and even to move toward a dual-structure government. But Caroline Hughes notes that UNTAET’s actions spoke for themselves when it acted first to organize itself and only then “reluctantly conceded the need to admit the Timorese elite to the circle of power,” much later moving to incorporate political actors from the grassroots.[13]

UNTAET was thus originally extremely reluctant to incorporate East Timorese participation.[14] On the one hand, many UN and other expatriates working in East Timor came to the country believing the political system was a tabula rasa, and managed their dealings with the Timorese accordingly. This perception hardly did justice to the nuanced and freighted contemporary Timorese political landscape. On the other hand, there was a pervasive fear among UNTAET officials that by working too closely with specific Timorese political actors, they would prejudice the results of the all-important first election by privileging a particular group over others. In part due to the guiding principles and institutional culture of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNTAET emphasized impartiality with respect to local contending factions over building local participation. On the ground, this translated into a great deal of ambivalence on UNTAET’s part over its relationship with the CNRT and how deeply to include its participation in governing the country - in some instances UNTAET treated the CNRT as a political faction, in others as a vehicle for inclusive Timorese political participation.[15]

The UN Department of Political Affairs, which had originally managed the Timorese peace process, had planned to include more specific provisions for Timorese participation by giving the Timorese political authority while the UN assumed legal and administrative authority and served in an advisory role.51 This system would have matched more closely the relationship between UNTAC and the Supreme National Council in Cambodia. The Department of Political Affairs even proposed a fully dual-structure administration along with a specific electoral timetable to emphasize the transitional nature of the administration. But the final Department of Peacekeeping Operations proposal sent to the UN Security Council included neither the dual-state structure nor the timetable; instead, only consultative principles with unspecified mechanisms made it into the UNTAET mandate.

The mission was hence launched as a fully UN-staffed operation with no formal counterpart. Yet UNTAET found, upon its arrival, a natural group to act as its local counterpart. The CNRT had acted as the umbrella pro-independence organization during the course of the decades-long resistance, enjoyed considerable legitimacy from its symbolic role at the head of a popular and successful national resistance front, and had been the organizational driving force behind the proindependence victory in the referendum. Xanana Gusmao continued to lead the CNRT, endowing it with his charisma and popular support - although FRETILIN leaders within the organization increasingly challenged his claim to speak for a unified CNRT. It also benefited from the extensive non-military network that was developed throughout the towns and villages of East Timor during the course of the resistance. The survival of CNRT and FRETILIN had depended on this network, which now translated into a formidable organizational presence that reached throughout the country. UNTAET could not hope to meet this de facto control in the field, even though it had de jure authority at the center. After Indonesian provincial administrators left East Timor in the wake of the referendum, the CNRT was the one organization with nationwide political reach in an eviscerated institutional state structure and acted in many areas as a de facto governmental authority over the



Furthermore, there was a natural political affinity between UNTAET and a major wing of the CNRT, in that both favored a “national unity” approach to politics and government that reflected their nervousness about open political competition.[16] [17] CNRT elites, in particular, opposed political party development, fearing a return to the brief but violent civil war of 1975, which followed a period of nascent party development in East Timor and provided a pretext for Indonesia’s invasion. Karol Soltan, the Deputy Director of UNTAET’s Department of Political, Constitutional, and Electoral Affairs, remarked that he came to think of the fear of 1975 “as the greatest enemy of democracy in East Timor.”[18] The CNRT was predisposed toward a transitional arrangement before full independence: in the mid-1990s it had proposed as a political compromise a UN-supervised transition to independence as long as 11-13 years. Even in the wake of the August 1999 referendum, some CNRT leaders, including Gusmao himself, were still in favor of a relatively long, five-year UN-assisted transition to independence, and other East Timorese leaders were amenable to the final two- to three-year solution as designed.[19] Yet while the CNRT did become UNTAET’s de facto interlocutor in a number of different ways, the relationship was a complicated one and was never formalized. My interpretation is that UNTAET in fact did rely heavily on the CNRT for Timorese political participation. It proved such an attractive initial counterpart precisely because it was an umbrella Timorese organization that was explicitly not a political party; in other words, the fear of unduly influencing political outcomes led UNTAET to rely on the CNRT. In the longer run, however, this reliance on an umbrella organization masked the lack of consensus about what the institutional arrangements of the new country should look like.[20] It also had precisely the effect UNTAET feared, both by empowering FRETILIN leaders within the CNRT and by compounding the resistance-era, elitist nature of Timorese politics.

From the start, nevertheless, UNTAET attempted to avoid the politicization of the administration. Collaboration came initially through the newly created National Consultative Council, a small body with an East Timorese majority and a handful of senior UNTAET staff. In response to complaints about the delay in consulting the Timorese about political options for transition to self-governance, this morphed in July 2000 into the larger and entirely Timorese National Council, which comprised members of the CNRT as well as the Catholic Church and other civil society organizations. The National Council was intended to operate as a national legislature but it was appointed rather than elected, its members received little support in the way of financial or human resources, and Vieira de Mello retained absolute executive powers, including a veto.[21] At the same time, a coalition cabinet of transitional government was created, the East Timor Transitional Administration (ETTA). ETTA introduced Timorese protoministerial counterparts for the core UNTAET executive staff and the eight main cabinet posts were split - with four posts assigned to Timorese elites (Internal Administration, Infrastructure, Economic Affairs, and Social Affairs) and four to international staff (Police and Emergency Services, Political Affairs, Justice, and Finance).[22] Many believed that Gusmao himself chose the four Timorese cabinet members - two from FRETILIN, one from the more conservative Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), and one from the Catholic Church - reflecting UNTAET’s reliance on CNRT in general and on Gusmao in particular, as well as the continued importance of Timorese political allegiances dating to 1975.[23] Together, the coalition government and the National Council were intended to provide “democratic institutions before democracy that could be the setting of democratic learning-bydoing at the national level.”60

Yet these compromises on Timorization were too little and too late. By this time, Timorese elites were unsatisfied with even the National

Cabinet member for Foreign Affairs in October 2000.

Council and ETTA co-governmental arrangements. The flawed relationship between UNTAET and ETTA was indicative of a fundamental transitional governance problem: the tension inherent in the UN’s dual role as both government and transitional peace operation. ETTA, which was to assume the responsibility to deliver essential public services from UNTAET, was resource-starved in comparison. International cabinet members enjoyed a great deal of infrastructural support and much higher salaries, for example, than their East Timorese colleagues. Richard Caplan notes that the result of such inequities was “resentment and compromised effectiveness on the part of East Timorese administrators, who were already executing their responsibilities with serious handicaps.”[24] The UN’s role as government compromised the institutional and human capacity-building necessary to construct an effective state infrastructure to take over at transition.

By 2001 Timorese elites had reached the consensus that the relationship with UNTAET was counterproductive and should be ended as soon as possible. In December 2000, the Timorese Cabinet members threatened to resign, using one of the few measures actually available to them in the absence of genuine political power, as Simon Chester- man observes, in “an attempt to challenge UNTAET’s legitimacy by threatening its consultative mechanisms.”[25] They expressed their frustration in a letter to Vieira de Mello: “The East Timorese Cabinet ministers are caricatures of ministers in a government of a banana republic. They have no power, no duties, nor resources to function adequately.”63 Xanana Gusmao expressed his and the CNRT’s disappointments with UNTAET in his New Year address of December 31, 2000, echoing, in particular, the East Timorese leadership’s irritation over their lack of political participation. In turn, the Timorese leadership’s frustration over their exclusion from decision-making in the political arena meant that they fixated on political participation, rather than broadening their desire to govern into also calling for Tim- orization of the state apparatus and emphasizing capacity-building in that arena. Indeed, when offered the choice by UNTAET in mid-2000 between a “technocratic” solution that would accelerate Timorization of the state administration and a “political” solution to more quickly transfer political power to the Timorese, the country’s leaders opted for the latter.[26] This had the effect, parallel to the dynamic in Cambodia, of failing to bolster the state as a countervailing center of governing authority.

While a process of Timorization was at least attempted at the national political level, the development of parallel community empowerment through political institutions at the district level faltered. International staff continued to dominate governance at the subnational level: even as late as March 2001, only 2 of the country’s 13 District Administrators were Timorese. Caplan argues that one reason UNTAET was so hesitant to devolve authority to the subnational units was because of the lesson from the Kosovo experience, brought to East Timor by Vieira de Mello and some of his deputies, that it was essential to establish unchallenged authority over the entire territory. Yet the circumstances were different in East Timor, where the local leadership was at first entirely supportive of the UN’s aims and the mission itself, and could have been entrusted with more authority much sooner. The other issue was that District Administrators were constrained in performing their jobs because of excessive centralization in Dili. UNTAET’s head of the Office of District Administration, Jarat Chopra, resigned very publicly in March 2000 and a month later all 13 District Administrators signed a memo to protest the centralizing tendencies of UNTAET.[27] The one exception to the lack of Timorization within UNTAET was the Division of Health Services, which had a dual international-Timorese authority structure from the beginning and was very successful in delivering essential public services as a result. This cooperation was made possible by the existence of an organized cadre of Timorese health professionals along with senior UN health officials who understood and believed in the importance of working together with their domestic counterparts.[28]

Other international organizations operating in East Timor had a very different position on Timorization and state capacity-building. Suhrke argues that the United Nations Development Program approach was based on the alternative assumptions that there were East Timorese with valuable administrative skills to be mobilized from the outset and that transition to an independent government would require the incorporation of Timorese into important positions.[29] The World Bank, in contrast to UNTAET, had early in the process attempted to conduct a skills inventory to identify those Timorese who could be brought into the transitional process.[30] It included East Timorese from the start in its November 1999 Joint Assessment Mission, rejecting UNTAET’s view of a skills vacuum in East Timor.

UNTAET’s slow moves toward the Timorization of government at the national level were matched by its reluctance to foster political participation at the subnational level, a pattern that was reinforced by the view of politics held among the Timorese elite. The story of the Community Empowerment and Local Governance Project (CEP) is telling in this respect.[31] The CEP was the first joint project between the World Bank and UNTAET as the sovereign government of East Timor. It was intended to support the creation of elected village and subdistrict councils so that block grants could be provided to the subdistricts, which would then decide on development priorities by adjudicating among village proposals. The project was designed to promote local-level participation in development and reconstruction decisions, and was intended in part to be an introduction to democratic and accountable governance. Many have observed that although the CEP was ambitious, it fit within the decentralized design of district administration that UNTAET and the World Bank had planned for East Timor. Yet UNTAET balked at the basic concept of the project proposed by the World Bank, arguing that local participation and formal recognition of local authorities by UNTAET could come only after formal elections. The CEP thus confirmed “the worst suspicions of the East Timorese: that the UN has no inclination to share power with them during the transition, or to include them in any decision-making beyond perfunctory consultation.”[32] UNTAET officials’ opposition to the CEP in early

March 13.

2000 placed a severe strain on their relations with senior Timorese leaders, including Gusmao, and even with other international organizations and NGOs. The inter-agency rivalry over the project also revealed the different approaches to Timorization during the process, highlighting that there were other possible avenues toward increasing political and administrative participation that UNTAET simply did not take.

UNTAET was not the only organization to have trouble broadening political consultation. The CNRT itself was criticized by elements of Timorese civil society for failing to be inclusive, relying too much on past political currencies and traditional elites, and not paying enough attention to the current landscape of East Timorese politics and society. Timorese NGOs, for example, were dismayed at Gusmao’s December 2000 suggestion that the CNRT would prepare a draft of the constitution that the elected Constituent Assembly would only need to “fine-tune” before its passage[33] - this was hardly the genuine participatory constitution-writing process that the UN had promised. Gusmao later favored the idea of deeper popular consultation but the idea of a national constitutional commission was rejected by the National Council.

  • [1] Zurcher et al. 2013: 60. According to Zurcher et al.’s estimates, per capitaspending on peacebuilding in East Timor was about ten times more than inCambodia and Afghanistan.
  • [2] UNTAET, alone among UN peacebuilding missions, was even granted effectivetreaty-making powers, which it exercised in signing an assistance agreementwith the International Development Association (World Bank) and in initiatingtalks on dividing the Timor Gap seabed oil and gas reserves with Australia.
  • [3] UNTAET was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1272 on
  • [4] Center on International Cooperation 2006. 39 Goldstone 2004: 86.
  • [5] Martin 2001. 2 Cited in Caplan 2005: 118.
  • [6] 42 Author interviews with World Bank, East Timorese, and NGO officials; Dili,
  • [7] East Timor, April 2005. Caplan 2005: 168-169 concurs.
  • [8] Chesterman 2002; Chopra 2000; Goldstone 2004; and Suhrke 2001. Thissentiment was also confirmed in author interviews with UN and other donorofficials; Dili, East Timor, April 2005.
  • [9] Ingram 2012: 4.
  • [10] Chesterman 2002: 64 makes a similar point in discussing the problems ofTimorese consultation.
  • [11] UNSC Resolution 1272 (1999): para. 8.
  • [12] Ibid.: paras. 1 and 6. 4 Hughes 2009a: 96.
  • [13] 49 Ingram 2012 and Suhrke 2001 note that the Security Council deliberately
  • [14] made no express provision to include the Timorese in administrative orexecutive decision-making.
  • [15] Suhrke2001. 51 Ibid.: 9.
  • [16] Author interviews with East Timorese, UN, and other donor officials; Dili andViqueque, East Timor, April 2005.
  • [17] Goldstone 2004: 89. 3 Soltan 2002.
  • [18] 55 Author interviews with East Timorese and donor officials; Dili, East Timor,
  • [19] April 2005.
  • [20] Ingram 2012. She argues that the CNRT’s national unity message masked deepand long-standing disagreements among the Timorese political elite.
  • [21] Author interviews with donor officials; Dili, East Timor, April 2005.
  • [22] The National Council and coalition cabinet were established by regulation on July 14, 2000. Another Timorese leader, Jose Ramos-Horta, was sworn in as
  • [23] Chesterman 2002: 66. 60 Soltan 2002.
  • [24] Caplan 2005: 103. 2 Chesterman 2002: 68.
  • [25] 63 Cited in Beauvais 2001: 1130, fn. 111.
  • [26] Goldstone 2012.
  • [27] Caplan 2005: 119; also Beauvais 2001; and Chopra 2000.
  • [28] Author interviews with former UNTAET health officials, donor officials, and current East Timorese officials; Dili, East Timor, April 2005. See also Anderson 2014a.
  • [29] Suhrke 2001: 15.
  • [30] Author interviews with World Bank and other donor officials; Dili, East Timor,April 2005.
  • [31] The following discussion of the CEP draws on author interviews with EastTimorese, World Bank, and other donor and NGO officials; Dili, East Timor,April 2005. For further details on the contentious CEP experience see alsoChopra 2000: 30-31; Suhrke 2001: 16; and Mark Dodd, 2000, “UN staffbattle over East Timor independence policy,” Sydney Morning Herald,
  • [32] Chopra 2000: 31.
  • [33] Gusmao used this language in his New Year’s Eve speech of December 31,2000.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >