Mrs. Sod’s cake

When it comes to election analysis, you just can’t beat Mrs. Sod’s electoral chart pie. Informative, digestible, colourful, tasty and you can get your hand round it. Unfortunately, the downside is the calories.

This is not something that has phased a new bar which has opened near the Esplanada Hotel. Not much on the food front, just your simple grip beer can and drink establishment. Although the sign is not up yet, it may well say “Fat Boys”. This could be based on the form of the owner or some of the customers – some who are known to have eaten some of Mrs.Sod’s cake.

Rampaging news reports

It has actually been reasonably quiet in Dili over the last couple of weeks. Any trouble has been out of town in the Ermera, Baucau and Viqueque areas (with Uatulari being particularly bad). Last week there was the Metinaro incident which I saw reported as :

“TWO people were killed as hundreds of rampaging youths torched dozens of houses and clashed across East Timor”

Makes it sound like widespread insurrection or the like. While I don’t doubt that the Baucau and Viqueque stuff was politically motivated, the Ermera and Metinaro incidents don’t seem to be “violence … sparked by the appointment of independence hero Xanana Gusmao as Prime Minister” as reported in the same article.

Near IDP camps, there have always been tensions between camp residents and local residents. Setting up shops in competition … acquiring land against local wishes … perhaps nicking a wandering dog or pig for culinary purposes. I understand it was one of these sorts of issues (a dispute over a soccer game) which led to a rather over the top response. Burning houses down is a very popular form of retribution. Most of the time, we are talking about small shacks rather than houses as we know them in the west. Often wooden frames with galvanised iron walls and roof or perhaps bamboo slatted walls and a skillfully constructed palm leaf roof. And maybe only 2 or 3 separate rooms covering an area of 30 square metres in all.

The fact is that tensions are higher than normal around IDP camps and people are on the edge. If you were an IDP camp resident and you still didn’t feel like leaving because you didn’t trust the security situation, then I guess you wouldn’t trust the police to sort out a local issue. You sort it yourself.

Everyone would like to see the IDP camps disperse but today I noticed 2 camps flying large new Fretilin flags outside. This may not be the way to reduce tensions.

Food shortages

There have been a couple of recent articles citing a World Food Programme (WFP) report on food shortages here.  The June 2007 WFP report was based on the situation as it stood in early April 2007.  At that time, the wet season had been late and brief.  Many rice paddies that should have been wet and soggy were bone dry.

I invite anyone to correct me here, but I understood that unseasonal rains in June kicked off an unseasonal additional planting.  And hence, the local supply situation changed.

I recall an acquaintance arriving fresh off the boat and being gobsmacked at the plentiful supply of food available in the local markets.  He had come expecting that food supplies were critical.  When relatives ask me if I am having trouble obtaining food, you realise it is all about perceptions.  I am OK – the farmer way up in the hills is the one with the problem.

The January rice shortage was related to stuffing up the supply of imported rice which TL requires every year.  For the past few months, I have noted regular large shipments of imported rice coming in.  These rice arrivals are noticeable as they are accompanied by a fleet of over-laden trucks escorted by UN police.

Anyway, I am not sure one can keep quoting the WFP report and its expected 30% shortfall in staple grains.  Nevertheless, there is nothing wrong with beefing things up in an attempt to reduce the reliance on imported staples.

The weather

It rained for the 1st time in a couple of months on Friday.  Only light but followed days of overcast skies.  Most mornings, I listen to Radio OZ and shake my head at the Dili weather report.  Predictions of rain are mostly wrong and some of “raining now” comments even more wrong.  When the maximum daily temperatures are in the range 26 to 34 degrees year-round, it doesn’t tend to tell me anything I need to know.  As for comfort, humidity is something that tends to be an important factor.

However, I have just subscribed to the free daily weather reports available at and it seems to provide the information that gives a better picture – including humidity.

At 2pm, I read 29 deg and 79% humidity.  Freemeteo predicted 28 deg and 72 to 86% humidity and partly cloudy with chance of rain.  I tend to go along with that.  Freemeteo predicts humidity to rise to 88 to 89% this evening with more clouds.

Does humidity matter ?  Well, spot the fresh arrival straight off the boat in a smart business suit – a garment totally unsuitable to this climate.  You can bet that underneath the jacket, the pristine white shirt is in a sea of perspiration and the wearer being aware of this, unwilling to take off the jacket to display the carnage underneath.

Job interview tips

I heard this one recently and it is a reminder that this is not Sydney, Auckland, Dubbo, Bluff nor Beirut.

But an acquaintance related a neat true story about attempting to hire locals for manual labouring type jobs.  The lads roll up with machetes in hand for the interview.  When challenged that this might be a little on the intimidating side (at last the interviewer is intimidated !), the lads claim that this is the local way to assert oneself at the job interview.

Similarly, it is not uncommon for a group of the lads to hover about making it abundantly clear that if you don’t employ someone from “our” village, we will burn your building down.

I must try the machete tactic once before I retire.  Could only be once !!

A wacko week

I have been struggling to find anything really positive over the last week.  The international press have been here and been reporting more than I can keep up with.  With a lot of the trouble out east, there is little I can add from Dili … except no yogurt for over a week !!

A week ago, we had Rogerio Lobato leaving by Lear Jet.  99.99% of Timorese couldn’t afford to pay to taxi one of these to the runway.  However, it seems that Mr. Lobato was handed US$30,000 from the government coffers and given the green light to skip town for Malaysia.  Nice one.

Then Fretilin seemed to go troppo and threaten to boycott parliament.  On top of that, they encouraged supporters to voice their opinion and complain about the election result.  Even “Jack Hill the blind miner” could see that this was going to lead to trouble.  It did.  The UN called a few meetings and (finally) read the riot act and things calmed down here in Dili.  And now Fretilin are not going to boycott parliament and are now encouraging supporters not to resort to violence.

Meanwhile out east, Fretilin supporters went feral and as far as I can tell from UN reports, scorched many homes (mostly small huts by western standards) and eventually culminating in an ambush of a UN vehicle and (quite separately) the rape of a young girl at an orphanage.  I understand the President was due to go out to the same general area last week but cancelled his visit.

The streets in Dili after dark have been pretty quiet over the last week.  Today was Assumption Day so a number of locals were on holidays.  There were advisories recommending caution today as demonstrations were planned.  I think nothing much happened as the demos were cancelled and re-scheduled for next week.

The new ferry, the Nakroma was parked offshore today which is the preferred position when trouble is on the cards.

I think this is why beer was invented.

Wait – there’s more !

If you thought the appointment of the PM was exciting, what about the Dili Court giving permission for convicted criminal  and ex-Minister of the Interior (and controller of the police) Rogerio Lobato permission to leave the country for medical treatment – just one day before the appointment of the new PM … and the new government.

The timing of that seems interesting enough but within hours of the swearing in ceremony, the new government rescinds the permission.  And to keep the excitement level right up there, the privately chartered plane is stopped from leaving while the Lobato family is on board.  Racy stuff.  That was yesterday.  Rogerio spent the night on the plane parked on the tarmac while lawyers were tackling the issue.

Late today, I understand the plane did leave – with legal permission and with no requirement to return.  And with threats of contempt of court against the new government.  I watch the ABC news and it feels like the new government were in error.  Better re-visit this in a month,eh ?

Who’d bother reading novels.

Mr. X is now PM

The official appointment of Xanana Kay Rala Gusmao as PM occured yesterday morning plus the appointment of a bevy of ministers.

All went fine it seems and the last 2 nights appeared relatively quiet. Of course, try telling that to those who have lost a windscreen (ie windshield for North Americans) lately to a rock. UNPol reported damage to 25 vehicles yesterday alone.

Perhaps one of the worst areas for this is Comorro Road in the bit between the airport and the OZ embassy. The Fretilin HQ area has been particularly bad.

I guess I should point out that rock throwing here is at the highest level of sophistication. The lads are pretty accurate but they also have some fairly advanced rubberised gear designed for hurling brick-like objects at very fast speeds. Some of these contraptions use car tyre inner tubes and require more than one person to arm them and let them go.

At the moment, it seems that the rougher stuff is occuring in Baucau and Viqueque which are electorally, Fretilin strongholds. I am not sure what burning down the offices of CARITAS and Catholic Relief Services is going to achieve.

A list of ministerial appointments is shown below.  There are still a few other secretary of state positions to fill.  The 2 things I noticed were the absence of Mario Carrascalao and the inclusion of the head of the Socialist Party (Avelino Coelho da Silva).  No doubt others will pick up things I don’t.  By the way, Xanana also has the Defence ministry and whatever the police are in now (ie he looks after both military and police).

Primeiro-ministro: Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
Vice-primeiro-ministro: José Luís Guterres
Ministra da Justiça: Lúcia Lobato
Ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros: Zacarias da Costa
Ministro da Economia e Desenvolvimento: João Gonçalves
Ministra das Finanças: Emília Pires
Ministro da Administração Estatal e Ordenamento do Território: Arcângelo Leite
Ministro da Educação: João Câncio
Ministro da Saúde: Nelson Martins
Ministro das Infra-estruturas: Pedro Lay
Ministro do Turismo, Comércio e Indústria: Gil Alves
Vice-ministro da Educação: Paulo Assis Belo
Vice-ministro da Economia e Desenvolvimento: Rui Manuel Hanjam
Secretário de Estado do Conselho de Ministros: Hermenegildo Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Defesa: Júlio Tomás Pinto
Secretário de Estado dos Recursos Naturais: Alfredo Pires
Secretário de Estado da Cultura: Virgílio Simith
Secretário de Estado da Segurança: Francisco Guterres
Secretário de Estado da Segurança Social: Vítor da Costa
Secretário de Estado da Reforma Administrativa: Florindo Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Formação Profissional e Emprego: Benedito Freitas
Secretário de Estado da Região Autónoma de Oécussi: Jorge Teme
Secretário de Estado da Electricidade, Água e Urbanização: Januário Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Agricultura e Arboricultura: Marcos da Cruz
Secretário de Estado para a Política Energética: Avelino Coelho da Silva

More caution required

During my media scan this morning, “Time” magazine’s correspondent reported that Tiger Fuels had received a threat against Australian businesses.

When I combine that with an admission by senior Fretilin man Arsenio Bano that they had lost control of Fretilin supporters, I have now ratcheted up the squatter warning system and dragged out the heavyweight underwear with super-absorbent gusset.

These anti-OZ campaigns are switched on and off in a planned fashion and as I recall, this is the 3rd such campaign over the last 12 months.  What it means is the difference between being a watcher and being watched.  It fits in with recent reports of more car windscreen breakages and definitely puts the bicycle into cotton wool for a while.

The average Timorese is not part of these campaigns.

The best publishable description I can come up with about all this is “cynical”.

PM announced, action starts

There has been a slight increase in disorder on the streets over the last 10 or so days and also a few false starts regarding the appointment of a new PM. But on the weekend, I think everyone was finally convinced that an announcement would be made yesterday – and so it was. And the associated increase in disorder.

At lunchtime yesterday, I noticed shops starting to close and there was a definite desire to be tucked up at home before 5pm. I believe most shops had closed by then.

From dusk, car traffic dropped away to next to nothing and it was eerily quiet. I heard that Xanana had indeed been named as the new PM and I also heard that Fretilin were going into severe disagreement mode. A sure sign (for me) that trouble was on the cards.

I knew there was a large fire in the vicinity of the Hotel Timor but did not try to find out after dark. There were also reports of tyre burning and general disturbances near the IDP camp near to the World Bank premises. But I heard little more than that last night, particularly once the 10:30pm power cut brought to life the many stand-by generators used around Dili.

At around 7am this morning, I saw huge plumes of dark smoke coming from the direction of the Hotel Timor, although the wind made it seem a lot closer than it was. It was later that I heard (and saw) that the Customs building (located on the west side of Hotel Timor) had gone up in flames – twice. Once last evening at around 7-8pm and again at around 7am this morning (to finish off the bit that failed to burn last night). There were also reports of bad stuff going down near the airport (and presumably the airport IDP camp).

This morning’s UNPol security report for the 24 hours to midnight was far from illuminating. No mention of the fire at all.

Many expats (and locals) are not at work today – particularly those who work in government buildings. The streets are deserted again and most shops (all of them in Colmera) are closed today.

Most people expected something would go wrong but the Customs building one is the most interesting. I have heard 2 stories (there’s probably more !) but one has it that people broke in to get food and decided to burn it (???) and the other that the fire was an inside job with the aim of destroying documentation. Who knows ?

The inauguration of the new PM Xanana will be on tomorrow morning and somehow I think the streets will be deserted until lunchtime tomorrow at the earliest.

I think most people are getting fed up with the inability to come to a stable political situation. Fretilin seem determined not to play ball and have boycotted parliament.

Unfortunately, stay tuned.

On the positive side, at least FOS doesn’t have to change the name of his blog –