Timor Leste ready to fulfil ASEAN obligations: PM

National 2 minutes, 45 seconds


TIMOR Leste will not be a burden to ASEAN and is prepared to meet the financial obligations of potential membership, said Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Speaking exclusively with The Brunei Times, Gusmao said his country has undergone rapid economic growth since independence from Indonesia in 2002, with its GDP per capita (US$ 2,600) now surpassing ASEAN members such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

“There was a time after independence when we received assistance from the international community but now our national budget is self-funded and we don't depend on any other country.”

Foreign Minister Jose Luis Guterres added that Timor Leste's parliament will approve any resources needed to meet financial obligations of ASEAN membership.

“We are ready to become a member. This is the national consensus in Timor Leste. In terms of financing, we have all the resources that are needed... Our contribution and including our participation in meetings/conferences that ASEAN requires us to do. If countries like Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia can do it then Timor Leste can.” He said Dili is ready and willing to push ahead with remaining reforms, such as amendments to laws and economic policies required to become a member of regional grouping.

The prime minister added that Timor Leste will not be a burden to ASEAN, but rather bring more funds and investment to the region.

“As part of Portuguese speaking countries, we can be an economic bridge between ASEAN and other parts of the world — to Brazil, to Africa to Europe,” he said.

“The remaining challenges to join ASEAN, in my point of view, is human resources. because in other areas we are more or less (on par) with many of the ASEAN countries.”

To address the lack of qualified professionals in the country, Guterres said the country has enough financial resources — from oil and gas revenue — to hire retired ASEAN diplomats from other countries to come work in Timor Leste.

“We have started to hire them to work in our ministries... Yes we don't have as many (human resources) as countries that have been independent for many years but for a small country like ours it is sufficient. And whatever else is needed we can hire from other ASEAN countries.”

Gusmao said that the government also sends 60 per cent of its university students to study in other ASEAN countries.

Timor Leste’s bid is currently being reviewed by the Working Group of the ASEAN Coordinating Council, which has yet to give an indication of whether it will lean for or against Dili’s application.

While ASEAN's 10-member states have voiced support for the fledgling nation to join the bloc, some have said careful consideration must be taken so that plans for region-wide economic integration are not derailed.

Prime Minister Gusmao, who will be stepping down in September, said he was not optimistic that ASEAN would come to a decision by the time his term is up.

“Looking at the history of ASEAN, the applications always takes a long time. It will be a long way to go, we said better to apply now, so slowly we can make progress along the way.”

Gusmao visited the Tanah Jambu National Housing Scheme yesterday morning before departing Brunei after a three-day official visit.

Second and concluding part of interview of Prime Minister of Timor Leste.

The Brunei Times