The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has operated in Timor Leste (East Timor) since its independence in May 2002. Charles Andrews heads the ADB’s Special Office in the country.
Timor Leste, the eastern half of Timor Island, gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, after several years of civil unrest following a 1999 independence referendum. As part of the ADB’s policy of decentralization, decision-making and policy formation is increasingly located within the countries of operation. "I am really the show front of the ADB here. Our main clients are government and government agencies, and we want to provide a better service to that client group. It is easier for us to liaise with other development partners and stakeholders – NGOs civil society private sector, and other people interested in the country – with a local presence", explained Charles.
With a population of less than one million, and just 14,874 square kilometers in size, Timor Leste suffers predominantly from severe poverty. Building local capacity is key a priority for the ADB. Charles explained, "The main constraints are that we don’t have much money to apply. We have development grants of US$ 4.8 million per year, which is not a lot of money. It is a small country, but the needs are enormous as seventy percent of infrastructure was destroyed when Indonesian rule ended. The second challenge is that there are very few skilled East Timorese. A lot of technical organizations were staffed and managed by Indonesian who of course left, and the human resources that are left here now are very limited indeed. Even though we try to do capacity building, the institutions themselves are very limited in their ability to absorb the support we can offer".
An Australian national, Charles gained a first degree in town planning at Melbourne University and holds a second bachelors degree in Commerce. He also holds a graduate diploma in Applied Finance Investment. He moved into the international development field after working in the private sector in Saudi Arabia. "My wife and I enjoyed living and working overseas. When an opportunity came up to join AusAID I took that opportunity up. I was working at that time in town and regional development in Australia and working in Asia seemed more exciting", Charles explained. He took up his current post, as the fourth ADB resident representative in Timor Leste, in October 2004.
The ADB aims to focus on building the foundations for a sustained future development. "We are focusing more in the future of infrastructure. The overarching goal of the ADB is poverty reduction and in that context we have signed up to the Millennium Development Goals. The government has its own national development plan, which is its own translation of how to achieve the MDGs, and anything that we do here matches very closely to what the government wants to achieve. We are here to help the government to achieve its aims and we are happy to do that", Charles confirmed.