24-hour power still some way off in Timor-Leste

The heavy oil power project in Timor-Leste came with a government promise of electricity for all by the end 2009. Obviously this isn't happening. Not even close. When I left Timor-Leste about three months ago, the blackouts in capital Dili had actually become more frequent. My house in Farol, near the Indo embassy and Mari Alkatiri's place, was without power for several hours every day, without fail. For all the development going on in Dili, the power issue is such a big gripe — and that's in the country's most developed city.

Civil society organization L'ao Hamutuk has a rather damning report up on its website about just how far off the project is. This project has been riddled with problems ever since it was announced in 2008.

From the beginning, this project has been characterized by bad planning, dubious procurement procedures, incompetent contractors, illegal practices, poor oversight, and lack of transparency and accountability. La’o Hamutuk has written about this many times, and we are sad to report that reality is even worse than we had feared.

The environmental concerns have been well documented, but the main problem is that the project is really not looking like it will produce results any time soon. The company originally carrying out the project, Chinese Nuclear Industry Company No 22 (what a name), was apparently so bad it was booted out and replaced by an Indonesian company, Puri Akraya Engineering Limited. Very little work has been done and the completion date of December next year will likely not be met.

What's more, the total cost of the project is now $629 million, almost double what it was supposed to be. The work is going very slowly and what work is being done is generally shoddy.

All this comes in the face of a near-billion-dollar state budget for next year. Economically, Timor-Leste relies on money derived from offshore oil and has reserves. Those reserves will eventually run out and so the import-dependent economy will take a battering unless significant changes are made. It's not time to throw in the towel just yet, but there are warning signs. I like to hold out hope that the little nation that could will pull threw though.

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