Timor Leste behind in bid to join Asean

Timor Leste has been unable to achieve its own target for Asean membership by 2012, President Jose Ramos-Horta told The Straits Times Friday (July 16).

Five years after Dili expressed its desire to join the regional grouping, it remains behind schedule on adopting important legislation that would enable it to become the 11th member of Asean, he said during a stopover in Singapore.

"No more than probably 50 per cent of the legislative criteria are in place," Ramos-Horta toldThe Straits Times. "Some of the legislation that is common to all countries is there, (but) the ones that have to be specifically adopted... we don't have them in place.

"Overall, we are way behind readiness in terms of legislative work to conform to Asean legislation on issues such as migration, customs, security."

The President made the frank admission during a stopover in Singapore Friday. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was on his way back to Timor Leste's capital Dili after celebrating the country's national day at the Timor Leste pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Eight years after gaining independence from Indonesia, the nation of slightly over one million people has been pushing for higher recognition on the world stage, and it believes that an Asean membership would elevate its status.

Ramos-Horta explained that the 2012 target was self-imposed, saying: "No one imposed it on us. We imposed it on ourselves but in a very typical Timorese fashion, we do things last minute."

He added that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had told him that all the Asean members were backing Timor's membership, and that a provision had been built into the Asean Charter to accept the new nation into its fold.

Just as it works towards its goal of Asean membership, Timor Leste has also set itself ambitious plans to move up the tier of economic development.

While it has a 'least developed' country status now, it wants to attain the status of an upper middle-income country by 2030, with education and health care for all, and no illiteracy or poverty.

At the same time, Ramos-Horta acknowledged that a membership in Asean would bring onerous obligations.

While the nation is now more stable and is seeing double-digit economic growth, it may not have enough manpower for Asean's hundreds of meetings.

"Frankly, I do not think we will be able to meet (the 2012 deadline) under the rules," he said. A decision on postponing the deadline would be taken next year, he added.

Another issue that Timor Leste is grappling with is that of asylum seekers.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently suggested a controversial plan to set up a processing centre in Timor Leste, as current centres on Christmas Island have been swamped by refugees.

Timor Leste parliamentarians have voted against the proposal, fearing that new migrants could compete for jobs in the country.

Ramos-Horta said no decision has been taken on the issue, but that Timor Leste will set up a task force to discuss the issue with Australia if Canberra goes ahead with its proposal.

During his stay in Singapore, Ramos-Horta also met the chiefs of some leading social enterprises who will be participating in the Qi Global 2010 conference on sustainable innovation, due to be held in Singapore in October. The annual summit was launched last year.

Email from: Ms. Wahyuningrum (Yuyun)

By: Shefali Rekhi, The Straits Times
When: 7/2/2014

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