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DAWN - Features; May 19, 2002

May 19, 2002


Independence of East Timor

By Kofi A. Annan

AT the stroke of midnight — on May 19th, 2002, the world will welcome East Timor into the family of nations. It will be a historic moment for East Timor, and for the United Nations. A proud and resilient people will realize a dream common to all peoples — to live as free men and women under a government of their own choosing. The pride of the East Timorese on that night will also be the pride of the international community and of the United Nations. Rarely has the world come together with such unity, resolve and speed to secure a people’s self-determination.

Credit for this achievement should go first and foremost to the East Timorese people, who have shown great courage and perseverance in rebuilding their country. They have risen to every challenge that has confronted them, and have unfailingly demonstrated their commitment to democracy. There are still daunting challenges ahead, but with a determined and dedicated leadership in place, and a strong Constitutional foundation, I believe they can face the future with confidence.

The international community can also take pride in the contribution we have made. After the swift restoration of order by the international force, authorised by the United Nations Council, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established in October 1999 with a mandate as unique as it was ambitious. The United Nations, in partnership with the people of East Timor, was tasked with rebuilding a devastated country and preparing it for independence.

Since then, peace has been secured, and basic governmental structures and laws have been put in place. A sense of normality has returned. Children are attending schools, roads are being built, buildings reconstructed, health systems established — and new businesses are opening up every day. The citizens of East Timor have turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote in the Constituent Assembly and Presidential elections. Most encouragingly, in the last few months increasing numbers of refugees have returned.

United Nations peacekeepers and international police have brought about a return of law and order. The embryonic national military and police forces are creating the foundation for a secure future under the rule of law. True security also requires that East Timor balance effectively the twin demands of justice and reconciliation. This is an area where the international community must continue to support East Timorese efforts, particularly by helping the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, which is about to start its vitally important work.

Perhaps most importantly, the United Nations has helped put in place the foundations for effective, representative, and legitimate government. The people of East Timor are rightly proud of the peaceful and legitimate character of their elections — just as they are of the high proportion of women in their institutions of state. For many months now, authority in virtually every sphere of public life has been vested in the East Timorese rather than in United Nations officials. On 20 May, when East Timor becomes an independent nation, an experienced and responsible executive and legislature will already be firmly in place.

But all this is only a beginning. The Government of East Timor faces enormous tasks, in the months and years ahead. The world must not abandon East Timor at this critical juncture. It must do everything it can to help ensure that the first years of independence are years of stability and progress. The people of East Timor surely deserve that.

A follow-on UN peacekeeping presence will provide support in three areas that are critical for the stability and viability of the new State: public administration, law and order, and external security. That support will be reduced gradually over two years, as the role of the United Nations becomes one of providing traditional development assistance.

Good relations with its nearest neighbours will be essential to East Timor’s future stability. This will include close cooperation with Indonesia, in order to ensure timely agreement on the delimitation of the border, on the situation of the remaining refugees in West Timor, and on cooperation in prosecuting those accused of the serious crimes committed in 1999.

As Secretary-General, I am proud of the part the United Nations has played in that struggle, and especially in its last phase. I pledge that this will mark not an end, but a new beginning. The United Nations stands ready to play its full part alongside the independent nation of East Timor.

(The author is the Secretary-General of the United Nations)

The man who chose to live by the sword

RIAZ Basra, 35, a teacher turned militant, died from gunshot wounds last week. That the country’s most wanted fugitive from law was not just shielded for eight years but could also count on adequate support for his almost legendary exploits and maintain a high profile, is an eloquent comment on the community. But then, did he not poll 8,000 votes in this city?

Technically speaking, Basra was never convicted by a court of law. There seems to be overwhelming evidence, however, that he had chosen to live by the sword. That he should come to a violent end was, therefore, predictable.

Still, the official version — that he died in a shootout with the police and villagers — was disbelieved, almost universally. There had already been reports in the press about his arrest. The police denied these. The autopsy, however, revealed that the fatal bullets had been fired from too close a range to sustain the fiction of a 90-minute crossfire.

A Dawn correspondent found the villagers very reluctant to talk. Those daring to speak requested anonymity. They said they had not heard the firing and found it strange that none of the bullets said to have been fired by the deceased had found its target. Even the police vehicle had not been hit. A man claimed to have seen two of the bodies. He said there was no bullet hole on the blood-soaked clothes. He also heaped scorn on the claim that once informed the police had reached the scene in five minutes from various police stations. Vehari, he pointed out, was an hour’s drive from the place and Mailsi was about 30 minutes away.

There was speculation that the deceased had been in police custody and were killed to divert public attention from lack of progress in the investigation of ‘suicide bombing’ that killed 15 people, including 11 French naval technicians. Things then moved rapidly with arrests in Karachi said to have led to the mutilated body of journalist Daniel Pearl.

If President Musharraf had taken the opportunity after the Karachi attack to seek international cooperation for a de-escalation of border tensions with India, Prime Minister Vajpayee chose to use the Jammu attack to sound reprisal threats and expel High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. While there was obvious sympathy for India, the European Union’s external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, warned that Islamabad must not be seen as moving away from its commitments on restoration of democracy and dealing with terrorism.

* * * * * * * * *

SPEAKER after speaker at a save-Wapda-from-privatization seminar last week described the proposed sale of its distribution companies as suicidal, warned of higher prices and catastrophic consequences and urged people to resist it.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were accused of coercion and described as destroyers of national economies that followed their advice.

From Dr Nasim Hasan Shah, the former chief justice of Pakistan, to journalist IH Raashed and former Wapda chairman Lt-Gen Zahid Ali Akbar (retired) to union leader Khurshid Ahmad, everybody was against it. Privatization elsewhere, they said, had resulted in higher tariffs. They also feared disputes among regions and provinces and abolition of a uniform power tariff as well as subsidies for agriculture and the poor.

Wapda being a monopoly, there should indeed be a compelling case for keeping it in the public sector. The case, unfortunately, has not been helped by its successive managements. Only recently it had the distinction of being named with the Central Board of Revenue among the most corrupt organizations in the country. Inefficiency is the norm and on the rise. While several seminar speakers spoke of purchases from the independent power producers as a burden, nobody mentioned Wapda’s poor management of its own generation capacity that forces it to purchase increasingly more power from the private sector than necessary. The single factor, according to published reports, could have more than offset this year’s deficit.

Even the much trumpeted recovery drive under the current chairman has lost steam so that more than Rs10 billion were added to receivables during the first three quarters of the current year. Collection from the public sector stood at a dismal 91 per cent. Periodic rate increases, Wapda’s answer to the problem, bring only temporary relief. Last year, there were four tariff increases and yet the deficit more than doubled.

Its monopoly status has been the only thing that has kept Wapda afloat. Weakness of regulation has made matters worse. The cost of all inefficiencies is borne thus by the consumer. Privatiza-tion is likely to covert this into windfall profits for an efficient entrepreneur. Denying him, however, is an inadequate motive for the consumers who are being asked to rush to Wapda’s rescue.

The most interesting speech at the seminar may have been by Chaudhry Abdur Rashid, the Pakistan Engineering Congress and Wapda Engineers’ Association president. Calling privatization a conspiracy against consumers, he said should the government be left with no other option, the Faisalabad Electricity Supply Company should be sold to Wapda engineers and employees. Wapda engineers, he recalled, had wanted to purchase the Kot Addu power station but were told that the buyer had already been selected. The price, he said, had been paid in one year from the proceeds of power sales to Wapda. Aha! The point, however, is somewhat beside the issue. Or is it?

* * * * * * * * *

THE government last week fixed the rates for various services provided by the ‘autonomous’ hospitals. The tariffs alarmed doctors and patient welfare volunteers who pointed out that major surgery in public hospitals would now cost even more than the most expensive private hospitals. Health Minister Prof Mahmood Ahmad Chaudhry, however, said the plan represented no more than a first draft. In future meetings with hospital executives, he said, the government proposed to considerably slash the rates. Why the government needed to announce higher rates than it intended to allow is anybody’s guess.

The minister was also asked whether the high costs at the autonomous hospitals might divert patients towards private hospitals. No, they won’t, he said. He explained that most patients chose private hospitals on account of the doctors and not the quality of other facilities. Rules now disallowed public sector doctors to serve at private hospitals. Private hospitals would, therefore, be compelled to hire doctors at much higher salaries. As a result “the charges of private hospitals will increase manifold.” He predicted that the private hospitals would go out of even the affluent people’s reach.

That the cost of medical services would increase across the board as a result of government policies has always been alleged by those opposed to them. Now that the minister seems to agree, the only question is why the government considers it a desirable outcome. —- ONLOOKER