For Timor Leste's Sluggish Progress, World Bank Blames Itself

During wet season, puddles like this one in East Timor's Metinaro IDP camp breed water-borne diseases. The World Bank ascribes much of the fault for East timor's sluggish progress to itself, according to an evaluation of the bank’s internal auditors. Photo by: Stephanie March / IRIN

As Timor Leste struggles to make strides in promoting development, the World Bank ascribes much of the fault for the country’s sluggish progress to itself, according to an evaluation of the bank’s internal auditors.

A draft report by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, which covers the bank’s operations in Timor Leste from 2000 to 2010, notes that the lender urged the country to save its petroleum revenues than spend them on social projects and failed with its efforts to boost Timorese education and medical sectors, The New York Times reports.

The draft report says the bank deferred the launch of four desperately needed hospitals for a year due to its stringent procurement rules and distributed teaching materials in Portuguese, even if only 5 percent of the Timorese population speak Portuguese.

Poverty in Timor Leste also “rose significantly through most of the evaluation period and declined only after 2007, when the government, against bank advice, increased its spending using petroleum resources,” the report states. 

Ferid Belhaj, World Bank country director for Timor Leste, has declined to comment on the draft report, citing the bank’s policy, but defended the lender’s work in the country, which only gained independence in 1999.  

“The World Bank has been supporting their efforts to overcome the huge development challenges which are faced by all post-conflict countries where political and social institutions are fragile, and things can go wrong,” he said. “In Timor, we have had to adjust over the years to fast changing and unpredictable situations.”

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About the author

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    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.