The UN Gravy Train

As of last week, yet another UN gravy train is about to hit TL. The UN acronym department has come up with UNMIT this time. This replaces UNOTIL (UN Office in Timor-Leste) which replaced UNMISET (UN Mission of Support in East Timor) which replaced UNTAET (UN Transitional Administration in East Timor) which replaced Interfet (International Force East Timor) which replaced …

UNMIT means “UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste” or as the wags are already calling it, “unmitigated …”. There are a lot of people in town who are either directly involved or at least partially involved in the new UN operation and who have to some extent had some input into the rules of engagement. Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of politicking about some of the rules.

Now I don’t exactly know who wants what but you have all sorts of players oaring in to establish their own position. The US, OZ and Portuguese seem to be major players. For the US, the bigger the UN operation, the more it costs the US which may partly explain why Australia has offered to retain the military component for as long as possible.

I do know that the position of head of the new operation is a very sensitive issue. I won’t beat around the bush – most would score the current incumbent no more than 4 out of 10. But as I have learnt, with the UN, many positions are political and skill level and performance are secondary to that.

It is possible that I broke my “no politics” rule but it is hard not to at the moment. A common theme that is mentioned by many about key decision-making entities here is “but when are they actually going to do something” rather than generate yet another policy document or conduct yet another gabfest.

However, if the forthcoming increase in UN numbers has a positive outcome, it certainly does lead to a huge injection into the local economy. It will revive the restaurant/bar scene, fill out the hotels and other accommodation, raise prices and increase availability of take-away burgers by a factor of 10. It should provide opportunities for Timorese to find avenues to generate income. But it will also make Dili even more remote from the rest of the country.