Local civil society organization La'o Hamutuk sent around a concerned email this week. It raises questions about why top government brass are in China.
From the email:
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao — together with the Ministers of Finance, Infrastructure, and Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for Natural Resources, and the head of Timor-Leste's armed forces, headed to China to participate in a Western China trade fair and visit a shipyard.
La'o Hamutuk points out that a law was recently passed in parliament that allows the finance minister to borrow money from foreign governments.
The cash-rich Chinese government is offering loans to many countries, usually linking them to purchases from Chinese businesses (common practice for many lenders, including the recently-agreed line of credit from Portugal to Timor-Leste). The loans often require guaranteeing Chinese access to natural resources, such as oil and minerals.
Nothing is confirmed, but it wouldn't be much of a stretch to envision the government of Timor-Leste borrowing money from China. The Dili Insider posted on Twitter that the Timorese are in China to borrow a billion dollars. I don't know if this is a joke, but I do know that Dili Insider's sources are a lot better than mine, so it seems something is up.
One issue that has been the talk of town recently is the Referendum Package. A large chunk of money allocated in the budget for Timor-Leste's infamous heavy-fuel-oil power plants was reallocated to this Referendum Package. Millions of dollars have now been set aside for local infrastructure projects.
Contracts are being given out with no tender process in what looks like a free-for-all. Contractors have until the end of the year to finish their projects. Everyone is talking about this, and it's not just opposition lawmakers who are concerned.
And what of those power plants? Why was the money for them this year not used? Work on the Hera site has reportedly stopped. There are whispers that the contract with the Chinese company may be about to get deep-sixed. .
The government has been very secretive about the Referendum Package and Januario Pereira, Secretary of State for Electricity, Water and Urbanization, had nothing to say this week about the power plants.