Emilia Pires, Finance Minister of Timor-Leste, Chair of g7+, and Co-Chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding will speak this afternoon at the Frontiers in Development Forum. Below is her contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.
Every morning I am greeted by the local gardener, Guilherme, who busily tends half-broken trees and overgrown bushes, planting seeds in the modicum of soil available in the suburbs of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, in hopes of springing new life to a city that had been almost wholly destroyed in 1999, devastated by war and cyclical instability. Salutations are brief. Guilherme considers himself my de facto advisor.
Each day he offers a brief but new insight into the health, well-being, and livelihood of the collective “we” that is his village—one of 442 sucos in TimorLeste. In early 2008, Guilherme said, “Minister, we are not producing; bellies will not be full come rainy season.” Guilherme knew what I knew: Food security and peace go hand in hand.
As I entered the office, I asked my chief economist to look up the price of rice. He returned ashen-faced bearing the bad news: The price of rice had risen 218%. With a reduction in domestic production and rice imports rising, our budget was now in shambles. This is what the international community calls an “external shock.” As Minister of Finance, I call it “being in shock,” a state I have become well versed to since coming into ofice on August 8, 2007.
On day one of my mandate as Minister, I walked into the Ministry of Finance with no handover, no functioning computers that could spit out the kind of standard information ministers of other nations would expect, and a highly politicized public service that was deeply loyal to the previous ruling party. I admit I was never trained in how to “rule”; I am a technocrat with a background in public service. We were a government formed to serve. A major mentality shift was about to be introduced.
The final crisis of 2006 resulted in 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs)—almost 15% of our population—and adding to our burden, we had more than 700 rebels in the mountains threat ening stability. Economic growth was negative 5%; consumption had declined 26%. If the engine room of any government is a well-oiled public finance management system, my engine relected that of a 1967 Chevy that had never been serviced.
Read the complete essay.