Electricity is brought to Bazatete in East Timor for the first time

Jan 27, 2016

For years the people of Bazartete have lived without electricity. During the time that Indonesia occupied East Timor, from December 1975 to October 1999, there was no electricity in the sub-district of Bazartete for any households and in recent years just one generator has been brought to Bazartete, which has been used by the police for security reasons.  After voting for independence in the 1999 referendum, which was surrounded by bloodshed, towns and infrastructure was destroyed[1]  and therefore the connection of major villages within Bazartete to the national grid was never a focus.

Bazartete, the largest sub-district of Liquica, with a population of 29,737[2], has been waiting for electricity for many years. Lack of electricity can be a huge barrier to overcoming poverty and the citizens of Bazartete find themselves disadvantaged in nearly every area of life with a limited ability for their children to be able to study into the evenings, limited opportunities for families to be able to start their own businesses without the use of power tools and construction power, limited access to communications and an increase in health problems due to the ongoing use of kerosene lamps.  In 2013 a local company was contracted to establish electricity throughout the sub-district and link 5 main villages with 750 households to the national grid. The government of East Timor signed an agreement with a local company called Belai Unipessoal Lda to connect these houses including those within the villages of Malutu, Bazartete village, Darlema, Metir and Nuntara. A total of $1,197,165 was allocated from the state budget for this substantial project. The people within these villages were thrilled to hear this with great expectations for how their lives could change due to this development.

‘There will be great benefits with our children able to read at night and we will finally be connected to the rest of the country through the radio. There will be so many benefits being connected and our family will be able to progress and start our own business’.

Citizen from Darlema village yet to be connected

Despite this expectation their hopes were dashed when, after starting project implementation on October 22nd 2013 with a contract agreed for the work to continue until May 2014, the local company left in early 2014 with not even one house connected to the national grid. The reason for this abandonment is unknown but Luta Hamutuk monitors believe that because the contractor was given 70% of the budget upfront, by abandoning the project with not all the work complete enabled them to unfairly benefit from the profit.

Luta Hamutuk, as a long-standing partner of Integrity Action, have been supporting citizen monitoring in order to improve government accountability in service provision for many years. They currently work with over 200 community monitors across the country to ensure infrastructure projects are delivered effectively, in line with contracts and budgets, and to ensure that the citizens of East Timor are receiving the services to which they are entitled. Their well established, constructive relationships with government at both the district and national level support their advocacy in this regard to ensure project implementation is satisfactory to the communities and service providers are held to account.

Because of the necessity of this project, with it being a real concern and priority to the communities involved, Luta Hamutuk’s trained community monitors discussed this issue with the lead community monitor, which Luta Hamutuk call the ‘Focal Point’. This focal point represents the local community and has gained their trust as the key representative of Luta Hamutuk, who will take action to resolve various problems found within major infrastructure projects of concern to the community.

Focal points – Focal points are usually respected members of the community with some being local village chiefs, some teachers, some doctors and a number of other professions. ‘They volunteer to act as the Focal Point because they want to see development come to their districts. They want to be able to access information about the ongoing projects to ensure the budget is being spent effectively’ Jose Costa, Luta Hamutuk

These focal points have the confidence to engage with local ministers, to gather information through interviewing contractors and other stakeholders in order to be able to analyse what is going on in a project, what the major problems are and what needs to be done.

All Luta Hamutuk focal points are provided with an ID card which enables them to identify themselves as a Luta Hamutuk focal point, thereby giving them the credibility and respect they need to be able to access information and interview major stakeholders.  

On further discussions with the community, the focal point took the issue of the abandoned electrification project to the administrator for the sub-district and the chief of village. The administrator and chief of village, being part of the District Infrastructure Monitoring Committee (DIMC)[3], discussed what could be done about this contractor who abandoned the project after receiving 70% of the payment and left none of the expected 750 households connected to the national grid. On further discussions with the DIMC they agreed, as a committee, to send a letter to the vice minister of public works. However, despite their efforts no response was received. The DIMC also took the case to the district level government but they were told that nothing was happening in response to their letter and they should just wait. They did wait but failed to see a solution being developed so realised further action was needed so they went back to Luta Hamutuk to request their support in resolving this important issue and ensuring the intended villages received the electricity to which they were entitled. 

Joint Working Groups

Luta Hamutuk see the importance of establishing Joint Working Groups (JWG) in order to bring government, contractors and monitors together to be able to discuss and resolve the issues being identified through community monitoring work. Luta Hamutuk’s JWGs are called District Level Infrastructure Committees (DIMC).  The District Level Infrastructure Committee in Bazartete (DICM) consists of the following members:

  1. The chief of village from 2 villages

  2. The sub-district administrator who is also the coordinator for the committee

  3. A member of the national police (which ensures safety for the local monitor)

  4. A representative from the department of electricity and water

  5. Director of health

  6. Local governor for Education

This JWG meets on a weekly basis at the district level government meeting, in addition to the meetings they are involved in as part of Luta Hamutuk’s activities, to inform the forum what is happening at the sub-district level.

Luta Hamutuk

The DIMC members discussed the case with Luta Hamutuk who facilitated a meeting in the sub-district in March 2015 to collect information and gather evidence from the villagers about why the project had been abandoned and what work there was still left to complete. They found out that the main utility poles to support the wires for electrical distribution had been erected but were then left before the wires had been connected, without an explanation being given.

Following this engagement with the community, to gather the necessary evidence, Luta Hamutuk facilitated a meeting between the DIMC and the National Director of Electricidade de Timor Leste (EDTL). On this occasion, because the case could not be resolved at sub-district or district level Luta Hamutuk were able to use their well-established relationship with key stakeholders within national government to enable this national level engagement. Luta Hamutuk tried for two months before they were able to get the meeting set up. The discussions were held on June 18th 2015 and just over one month later, at the beginning of August 2015, a new contractor was appointed to finish the work.

‘Because of Luta Hamutuk’s work we now have electricity. I am so happy to be a part of this committee set up by Luta Hamutuk to support Focal Points in resolving problems in infrastructure projects. Luta Hamutuk’s presence here can minimise corruption.’

Member of the district infrastructure committee.

Luta Hamutuk’s monitors in Bazartete have been following this project closely and in November 2015 already 2 villages out of 5 were connected with the other three under way, benefitting 750 households and 3383 people living within the sub-district.

‘There have been huge benefits, we save money as before we had to buy candles every night and oil for our kerosene lamps. Now our children can read at night and some of us finally have access to information through the television and radio. We can also develop our own work and skills with the ability to use tools and do carpentry works. We can use these electric tools to build tables and chairs. This can save us money and also enable us to create our own work and small businesses. The benefits this project has brought are many’.

Project beneficiary from Bazartete

Monitoring has brought a number of positive changes in the district. In every village where Luta Hamutuk’s monitors have a presence visible benefits have been seen in infrastructure projects and monitors have become well respected with the community. Now, in Bazartete, the work of the monitors is even supported by the district administrator with any project which he needs to approve in the district being first taken to Luta Hamutuk’s DIMC to ask them what they think about the project. Furthermore, on completion of a major project the administrator first goes to the project monitors to ask whether they were satisfied with the project before he signs anything off as complete.

‘I ask the community monitors – Were you satisfied with this project? Do you agree with this project? Have you been involved in checking it was finalised?’ before I sign off on the project. I now feel I myself am a partner of Luta Hamutuk and here to reduce corruption, nepotism and improve transparency’ District Administrator.

Luta Hamutuk and their focal points have restored trust between the community and the local government. They see Luta Hamutuk as being independent, not biased and aligned to any one political party, which has led to governments accepting their findings and recommendations. People feel confident when engaging with Luta Hamutuk. They trust that Luta Hamutuk will work to resolve issue through their Community Integrity Building approach and well established relationships with key stakeholders across the country.

Luta Hamutuk

Integrity Action has worked with Luta Hamutuk since 2008. With support from Integrity Action, Luta Hamutuk has trained 216 community monitors who actively monitor budgets and development projects. Between 2010 and 2015, they have ensured effective oversight of 60 projects such as schools, roads and clinics valued at over USD $60 million, fixing problems in approximately 74% of cases and improving services for more than 120,000 people.

[1] http://www.trust.org/spotlight/East-Timor-nation-building

[2] http://www.citypopulation.de/php/timor-admin.php?adm1id=0801

[3] Please see box on Joint Working Groups (JWGs)