This article expands on several previous articles relating to the implications the Tasi Mane petroleum infrastructure project has for women, particularly regarding access to land and employment. This article explores the impacts of two major components of this project – the refinery and petrochemical plant – have had and will continue to have on affected communities, particularly women living in Betano Suku, Manufahi Municipality. As mentioned in the report by the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals “Governance Process 22 June 2018-22 May 2020”, this project has already proceeded through the socialization phase, received its environmental licence (2018), and is now in the land and property appropriation phase since 2019.
Between 23 and 26 November 2020, and again between 14 and 18 December, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) visited the area of Betano Suku where the refinery and petrochemical project is located in order to investigate the project’s impacts on women’s access to land, homes, agricultural production and employment. FM conducted interviews with community leaders, civil society organizations, PDHJ, PNTL, women’s groups, and members of affected communities. We identified several impacts from the project implementation which have affected and will continue to affect local communities.
- Insufficient involvement of women in the socialisation process. We found that there has been an insufficient level of participation from local women in the socialisation process carried out by the Government’s Inter-ministerial Team, with sessions mostly involving local (male) authorities from the Suku and Municipal level. As a result, most women – including both local women and women’s organisations – do not have access to sufficient information regarding the risks of this project, while the majority of information they received was from the local authorities regarding the identification of land and compensation process.
- Inadequate compensation from the Government for displaced communities. During the consultation, land identification and ownership verification processes, the Government promised that affected communities would receive full compensation. However, during the implementation phase the compensation was decided differently: only land used for farming and containing trees was to be compensated, while inherited community land would not be compensated. As a result, the community refused to hand over twenty-seven parcels of land identified for appropriation by the Government. This dispute is now being dealt with by the Manufahi Municipality Land and Property Directorate; however, the affected community has not received further updates from the Government, and the community members continue to demand fair compensation if they are to give up their ancestral lands for the project.
- Women’s rights to access land and employment must be respected. In addition to the land parcels which were appropriated without compensation by the Government, three women told us that all they have received as compensation is a small piece of land on which to build a house, without any additional land to carry out economic activities. Therefore, they request that the Government consider their rights as it has done with other women in the community. In addition, these women ask that they be given opportunities to work in the Tasi Mane Project based on their abilities and skills.
- Lost land and homes must be equally and adequately compensated. Communities with limited access to land did not accept freely giving up land to the Government without compensation, as they lack additional land elsewhere which they can use for agricultural production. They asked the Government to pay fully according to established compensation amounts so that they can purchase land in another area. There are also several outstanding issues which the affected women consider to be unjust and demand that the Government explain, particularly why the Government only paid compensation at $3 per m2 for agricultural land in rural areas, while also trying to appropriate more without compensating the owners, when at the same time some land in Dili owned by wealthy people was bought by the Government for $30 per m2.
- The joint Inter-ministerial team must base their decisions on official processes and laws. When citizens willingly accept your requests for land, it is incumbent on the State to respect their rights to land and fair compensation equally under the law. Moreover, affected communities have the right to access clear and correct information, while women and women’s groups should be involved in the project implementation and the Government should consider and respond to their concerns.