Improving the quality of service provision in education, health and other key sectors should be prioritised.

By UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Roy Trivedy

The outcome of the 12 May Timor-Leste parliamentary election has resulted in the representation of four political parties in the country’s Parliament, with the Aliança de Mudança para o Progresso (AMP) winning an outright majority and securing 34 out of 65 seats. Timor-Leste can now expect to have a government in place for the next five years. Work will begin immediately with a few urgent priorities likely to top the agenda, such as getting the budget approved by Parliament, economic diversification, improving social indicators, youth employment and securing new sources of income for the country.

In the other countries when senior civil servants are requested to prepare their initial briefing, it is generally a ‘fine balancing act’ combining continuity and change, as while new ministers need to understand how national priorities have been previously implemented according to the outgoing government it is also essential to demonstrate a commitment to take a fresh look at new policies and approaches. Civil servants will need to clearly and succinctly describe practical ways and options for implementing new policies during the initial set of briefings, while building trust and confidence with the new ministerial teams. This includes being prepared to work in different ways and focus on new priorities according to the priorities set by incoming ministers.

This is a process that civil servants worldwide go through following each election and one that is currently underway in Timor-Leste, as the country eagerly waits for the new Government to commence its work.  Interestingly, many of the ministers that will commence their work in Timor-Leste during the next few weeks have served in previous governments and most – possibly all -  new ministers will already have a good idea about how they can work most effectively with their departments.

Often developments which occur during the initial few weeks set the path for the next few years. Consequently, it will be interesting to see which areas the incoming Government in Timor-Leste will prioritise.  A few specific ones that I will personally look for include:

  • Setting, implementing and monitoring the budget for the remainder of 2018-2019.
  • Allocation of resources to key priorities including economic development, infrastructure, ‘social capital’, different line ministries and between central and local Government. How the new government will seek to make the public sector more efficient, productive, accountable and transparent, while improving quality of service provision in education, health and other key sectors?
  • Increasing investments in fisheries, tourism, entertainments, sports, arts and leisure and other sectors to help diversify the economy and creating new employment opportunities for people throughout the country.
  • As recommended by the Timor-Leste National Human Development Report 2018, designing policies which accelerate private sector led growth by creating more jobs and increasing training opportunities, especially for young people.
  • Generating plans to tackle malnutrition in the country – with over 40 per cent of children suffering from stunting or wasting – which is a huge contributor to poor learning outcomes and low workforce productivity.

One of the challenges that civil servants will face in the next few weeks will be to convince incoming ministers that they are fully aware of and appreciate the new Government’s priorities and to demonstrate that they can generate ‘fresh ideas’ to meet critical national challenges that can deliver tangible results. It is essential that this includes providing feasible solutions consistent with the new Government’s policies while also practically addressing long-term challenges faced by the people of Timor-Leste. It is going to be an exciting period for Timor-Leste and one that is likely to shape the long-term development of the country.

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