Greasing the wheels of business

Within the last 24 hours, I heard 3 separate things related to doing business in TL.  Firstly, the Minister of Economy and Development mentioned an intention to drop the company tax rate from 30% to 10%.  That is but one of the costs to business that the government could stick their oar into.

Two guys from completely different companies and quite independently mentioned one of the other main impediments to business efficiency – the cost of communications.  In any dealings with overseas suppliers or customers, the associated communication costs are horrific.  I have waxed lyrical before on the cost of internet connectivity but general phone costs are high as well.

For communicating detail, the internet is probably the preferred media these days but both of these guys lamented the huge cost.  However, their main current beef is that it is currently (for them) highly unreliable.  Down for days due to line faults and dropping out every 5 minutes.  Imagine trying to collect your email at 9am and finally establishing a successful connection at noon.  And paying through the nose for the “service”.  There was a certain desperation in their voices over all this.

Another one is the extra costs associated with importing.  “Storage fees” to pay while goods wait on the docks to be cleared by customs.  “Agents fees” to expedite movement through the customs system.  Everyone knows it is a crock.

Pie market forces

Demand is meant to somehow influence suppliers desire to supply, but sometimes I just don’t think the market operates in the true free-market sense here. For instance, if I go to buy tomatoes at the local market, a pile will cost me $1. If I want 10 piles, $10 and someone told me once that if you go higher, the per-pile rate actually increases because in the words of the seller, “if you buy them all, then I have nothing more to sell”. Same with eggs – whether you buy 1 or 30, the per-egg price is the same. And if the goods are getting a bit shabby at the end of the day due to a long day in the heat, there is no change in price and no desire to “fire-sale” the lower quality goods.

According to the Timor Post, a Democratic Party MP (ie a member of the coalition government) is lamenting the lack of price-fixing (by the government) to stabilise fluctuating prices caused by sellers “setting prices as they desire”. Price fixing is only used by “non-free market” governments, or as a social stability measure in markets which are not truly free due to monopoly control of key supply sources. Maybe vendors are just not understanding supply and demand or see a hugely distorted view of the economy at work. Maybe I need to re-read a few textbooks.

Even the humble Mrs.Macs pies (an essential dietary requirement) are out of stock wherever I look. The supply chain is failing as it often appears to do when searching for yogurt. I may have to resort to trying the new burger joint across from the ANZ bank called “Eastern Burger Corner”. It sells burgers, chicken wings, spring rolls etc. in a burger jointish environment. Someone told me I must also try the beef rendang at Lili’s which is 30 metres east of there.

It’s amazing just how much the lack of a meat pie (with tomato sauce) at lunchtime steels the mind for the rest of the day.

Dengue valley

Now that the 6th expat I know has succumbed to dengue fever within the last month, I reckon it is becoming an issue.  Hearing of the 5 or so days of lying prone in bed feeling like crap certainly has elevated my analness re. slapping on a bit of the old “Eau de Repellent”.

However, one of my doctor mates says it is still nowhere near as bad as it was at this time 3 years ago.  I am not sure exactly how it all works, but dengue mozzies operate in a short range and if you just happen to operate in the same zone, you are choice material unless you have the appropriate chemical arsenal on hand.

If you add in the number of people who have suffered some form of gastric utterance over the last month, it seems like a pretty unhealthy time all up.  I haven’t heard of any malaria issues so see no need to stock up on the gin just so I can get enough tonic into me (yet).  Are you with me ?

Dili CPI

The December CPI figures have been released. They show Dili having 8.6% growth in the CPI index in 2007.

Timor-Leste CPI 12 months to end of December 2007 TL Dili
Food 11.0% 9.5%
Alcohol and tobacco 5.4% 4.3%
Clothing and footwear 6.3% 15.9%
Housing 2.7% 6.5%
Household furnishings, supplies and services -0.3% 0.8%
Health 3.7% 11.5%
Recreation and education -2.9% 0.1%
Transport and communication 3.8% 6.2%
All groups 7.6% 8.6%
All groups excluding Housing 8.2% 8.8%

It is hard to come up with sufficient anecdotal evidence to comment on much of it but food seems to be more expensive.  I would have thought the expat housing growth rate to be much higher than 6.5%.  This is based on what I have heard recently on rent increases.  I wonder how many people have been covered by 8.6% rises in income ?

Shorts – to read not wear

(1) I noticed another raid on known girlie bars around town has netted another 87 foreign Asian nationals. I understand that people involved in the trafficking of women and associated prostitution regard countries going through internal conflict as good bases for their operations. I suspect the presence of the UN is also a good indicator.

The raids have included Mona Lisa, Moon, Great Wall and Mayflower Bars and (although I am not sure on this one) the Non-Drunking Bar. I have never been to any of these – honest !

(2) A couple of days ago, I read that the Timorese government had asked Australia to allow Timorese workers in to mitigate labour shortages in the fruit picking industry. I was speaking to a Timorese who runs his family’s coffee plantation way up in the highlands and he laughed. He struggles to get Timorese to work for him to pick coffee. He might get a couple of days work then they have had enough. His worker retention rate was less than 10% and he aint giving up those 10%. He knew why OZ had ignored the request.

(3) The Comorro River mouth has broken through to the sea about 300 metres east of the most direct route.  The current channel runs parallel to the seashore and runs right past the Ocean View deck which has been running a big risk of being undermined.  Some of the supports have been strengthened.

(4) There is a bar that is new to me called “Amigos Club” which is upstairs from the New Sanan Rai restaurant a couple of hundred metres east of the ANZ bank.  Cozy with a terrace bar feel, it looks promising for a private function of about 20 but no more.

(5) A friend underwent emergency surgery at Dili National Hospital a couple of days ago.  The preferred option of flying to Darwin simply wasn’t on in this case.  The operation was performed by an OZ doctor and a Dutch anaesthetist and reportedly, the experience was a happy one – at least the bit after the emergency reception area.  The operating bit was done in the new section of hospital opened not so long ago.  No red wine was involved.

Maybe holidays are over

I couldn’t help but notice one single truck lapping town on Saturday. It was full of teenagers whooping it up and flying Fretilin flags. It was accompanied by a couple of cars plus a UN police vehicle escort. Back in OZ, I doubt I would be urged to vote for any party who (no matter how they did it), sent out teenagers “yee-hahing” about town.

I suspect the return of Mr. Alkatiri from holidays on the weekend may be related, plus the call today for Mr. Gusmao to resign.

Personally, I don’t know where to look – Alkatiri/Gusmao or Clinton/Obama and the gang.  You’d think at least one of them must be right.

On a lighter note, I received a Christmas present today from my sister. She doesn’t know me at all. A book called “Nosepickers of the World, Unite” which says on the cover “Let’s face it, nosepicking is a hole way of life. It unites continents and binds nations. More popular than football or even fishing, nosepicking is the sport of choice for today’s man-about-town.

My sister’s ability to break through political conflict with a down to earth reference work like this is breathtaking.

Kazakhstan here we come

Actually, Borat had it good. Reading the Timor Telecom phone book cover to cover reminded me about internet charges here.

There is no unlimited dial-up plan here so it is difficult to make a dial-up comparison between TL and Kazakhstan. I figured that a modest low-end permanent 256kbps connection would still be something that people in western countries could at least comprehend. Fortunately this comparison was easy. I even added in Afghanistan and Australia to the mix. The results (which may not include some other charges like installation fee) follow :

Monthly charge for 256kbps permanent connection (unlimited traffic)
Timor-Leste $1750
Kazakhstan $1057
Afghanistan $350
Australia $35 to 40

I struggled to find a figure for unlimited dial-up in Kazakhstan but an article from mid-2007 suggested USD111 per month (ie 720 hours). If you are on the heavy-user dial-up plan here, you will get about 40 hours for your USD111.

On a related matter, I cringe every time I see or hear someone refer to “broadband” internet in reference to internet access here and when I do, I nearly always correct them to say “permanent internet connection”. A 128 kbps connection shared between even 5 users in an internet cafe is not broadband. These days, most of the internet cafes have moved to 256kbps but unless there is no more than a handful of users, it is often pathetic particularly when compared to the modestly priced home internet connection I had before coming here (ie factor of 10).

I know I am being a pedant, but a simple search of online “TV” re-broadcasting over the internet shows streaming speeds of over 256kbps are the most common. I refer you to JLC’s Internet TV free internet TV listing.

A look back at a post I did nearly 2 years ago suggests that Timor Telecom tariffs have not moved 1 cent since then. I guess I should “churn” to a competitor. Hey, wait a minute … there isn’t one.

Bedtime reading – the telephone directory

I managed to get my hands on the new Timor-Leste telephone directory for 2007-2008. It was released on 4 December 2007. There was a previous one but I only occasionally got my hands on it. The new one is slightly smaller than B5 size (170×240 mm) and is about 5 mm thick. It is in both Portuguese and English and runs to 156 pages. I read it as bedtime reading in one go.

The breakdown is :

  • Commercial yellow pages section organised by business type … 34 pages
  • White pages section organised alphabetically (and repeating many of the yellow page entries) … 30 pages, including 4 pages of government phone numbers at the start and repeated again in the alphabetic section
  • Preliminary guff on Timor Telecom services, how to make phone calls, tariffs, international phone number prefixes etc. … runs to 94 pages
  • The Dili section of the white pages runs to 20 pages and seems to include every number assigned to large organisations who probably pump most of them into their pabx systems. Other numbers associated with these larger entities are probably staff houses. Its all there.

I am not sure if unlisted numbers are an option and I suspect a number of people will be clamouring to get rid of their listing.

Rather than do a sudoku puzzle, I counted the number of unique organisations/people in the Dili white pages section and it came to 848. If one takes into account the total number of phone lines, the figure is probably around 1200. Most people use mobile phones and I would think the number of mobiles is at least a couple of thousand.

There are no entries for any of the major political figures here.

This is probably the only time in my life I will have read and summarised the entire phone book as bedtime reading in one hit. Yes I know … get a life.

Restaurant blather

The “Atlantic Grill” looks close to opening soon.  It is on the eastern side of “Caz Bar” down in the Christo Rei statue area.

The “Kabayan Bar” (ex Internet Bar) now incorporates the “Manila Restaurant”.

Andy who ran the Paradise Balinese restaurant at Metiaut (now occupied by “Thai Foods”), is now running the restaurant at the “Vila Verde Hotel” – a couple of hundred metres north of Obrigado barracks.  If he keeps the same standards, it should be worth giving a try.  The ambience is highly unlikely to approach what he had down by the beach at Metiaut, however Andy’s service and table manner is equal to the best in town.

“Fat Boys” bar now serves a modest menu in Australian workers bar style.

2008 – rain, rain and more rain

After a fairly entertaining New Year’s Eve with lots of fireworks and lots of rain, New Year’s Day was spent tucked away at home watching it rain all day.  It seemed the right thing to do.  And it seems it has rained most of the time ever since.

Apparently there is a huge weather system that is affecting the whole region.  The more common pattern of clear mornings followed by cloud in the afternoon and possible afternoon or evening rain is not to be seen.  It is strange to wake in the morning to rain.  However, it is causing a bit of a mess even though Comorro River has still not quite run bank to bank yet.

There is a huge brown streak heading east along the coastline from the tons of silt washed down the Comorro River.  It looks like waves of mud breaking on the beaches.  On some of the roads to the west, there has been a lot of topsoil washed down onto the roads and a few of the small bridges have been overtopped and were impassable.  The road was cut in at least one place due to the huge depth of slushy mud deposited onto the road surface but there are a number of excavators working to move slush back into controllable places.  It looks like a lot of soil has moved closer to the sea and a few crops washed away.  In one place, the road has eroded to half its normal width with one half having fallen into a newly created drain.

I believe quite a number of people in the Liquica area have had to leave their homes temporarily.  It just looks like one or two more big rains could cause a fair bit of trouble.  But I would hardly have known this if I hadn’t driven out to Liquica and seen it myself.  I am guessing it is much the same in the easterly direction.

And the mosquito count is definitely up.