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A Seed in the Desert and a Seat at the Table

by Portal Web Editor last modified Jan 10, 2013 09:46 AM
Contributors: Emilia Pires
USAID Frontlines
Your Voice, a continuing FrontLines feature, offers personal observations from USAID staff and development voices. Emilia Pires is the finance minister of Timor-Leste, chair of g7+, and co-chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding.

Original Source

Every morning, I am greeted by the local gardener, Guilherme, who busily tends half-broken trees and overgrown bushes, planting seeds in the modicum of soil available in the suburbs of Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste. Hopefully, the seeds will bring new life to a city that had been almost wholly destroyed in 1999, devastated by war and cyclical instability. Salutations are brief.

In early 2008, Guilherme said to me: “Minister, we are not producing; bellies will not be full come rainy season.”

He knew what I knew: Food security and peace go hand in hand.

As I entered the office that day, I asked my chief economist to look up the price of rice. He returned ashen-faced bearing the bad news: The price of rice had risen 218 percent. With a reduction in domestic production and rice imports rising, our budget was now in shambles. This is what the international community calls an “external shock.” As minister of finance, I call it “being in shock,” a state I have come to know well since coming into office on August 8, 2007.

One day one of my mandate as minister, I walked into the Ministry of Finance with no handover, no functioning computers that could spit out the kind of standard information ministers of other nations would expect, and a highly politicized public service that was deeply loyal to the previous ruling party. I admit I was never trained in how to “rule”; I am a technocrat with a background in public service. We were a government formed to serve.

In 2007, we started identifying national priorities and insisting that donors align and harmonize with those national priorities. Within two years, we had reduced poverty by 9 percent. These are results achieved for our people. These are the results of true development partnerships.

 

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