Timor could end extreme poverty by 2020: Jeffrey Sachs

30 Mar 2010

Dili – In a public lecture that underpinned the growing confidence in Timor-Leste’s stability and future prosperity, world renowned economist and development activist Professor Jeffrey Sachs today described the country as being on the verge of a major economic take-off.

Sachs said the “convergence” in economic growth which is prevalent in Asian countries will be reflected in Timor-Leste in a very dramatic and powerful way.

“Between 2010 and 2020 Timor-Leste will grow faster than China,” Sachs told a packed audience at the National University of Timor-Leste (UNTL) in Dili on 30 March 2010.

The event was co-organized by the UNTL and the Human Development Center of UNDP.

The exchange was a culmination of a week-long visit—at Government invitation—by the celebrated American scholar to Timor-Leste where he held discussions with senior UN officials, academics, media, donor agencies, Government, and other officials.

Within a decade, he said, Timor-Leste can end extreme poverty whereby every child can be assured to complete secondary school and citizens have access to proper health care, nutrition and safe drinking water, among others.  

The pillars to end extreme poverty, Professor Sachs explained, are investments in human capital, infrastructure, leading sectors of the economy like oil, gas and agriculture as well as in the service industries including higher education, health care, tourism and trade.

He stressed the importance of paying attention to higher education by establishing what he termed as centres of excellence and research which “will be engine of economic growth and political stability for generations to come”.

Meanwhile, a transformation in agriculture from subsistence to scientific farming backed by a government plan to help farmers get the inputs they need could triple yields, ensuring that the country is self-sufficient in food production in a span of five years.

“There are no limits to agricultural productivity yet this country is a food importer,” stated Sachs, who is also Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General. He called for prudent management of the country’s oil and gas wealth, saying it provides a good opportunity for kick-starting the economy and paying the costs of development. “The economic benefits of investing in your own economy are much higher than building a bank balance in the United States through investments in US Treasury Bills,” Sachs said, referring to the government policy on the Oil Fund.

However, achieving success over the next decade will largely depend on building a national consensus and a strong government implementation capacity, he remarked.  

Author of New York Times bestsellers such as The End of Poverty and Common Wealth, Professor Sachs was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2004 and 2005.