This article expands on the discussion in previous articles of the impacts from the Suai Supply Base, Beaço LNG and Betano Refinery, to discuss security risks relating to other components of the Tasi Mane project, as well as the project overall. Most of the insights in this article have been developed through our field research with affected communities in and around the project areas, as well as from our discussions with officials and security institutions.
First, Fundasaun Mahein has found that the South coast highway project has created many problems relating to health and safety, policing and livelihoods. A major issue reported by local communities is that there are few access points onto the highway, while there are also no underpasses or bridges to cross the highway. This means that people are forced to cross the highway in inappropriate places, or alternatively travel long distances to cross or access the highway. While this already has safety implications, it will become a much bigger issue once traffic begins to increase on the highway. Further, the lack of access and crossing points is already affecting people’s ability to circulate, which especially creates problems around access to farmland and essential services like schools and health facilities. It has also affected the police’s access to local communities which prevents them from responding quickly to issues which arise in the community.
Additional problems reported regarding the highway design include the lack of raised or covered walkways, and no toilet facilities, which local women – some of whom walk for long distances along the road –reported as a particular problem for them. Finally, community members report that the poorly designed drainage system is resulting in localised flooding during the rainy season, as the road collects water which builds up before spilling over, creating large flows of water which damage the smaller roads surrounding the highway.
Then, with regards to the Tasi Mane Project overall, a major security risk reported by numerous groups is a generalised increase in social tensions and conflicts. One major driver of conflict has been the promises made by the Timor-Leste Government regarding employment which will be created by the project, which is leading to social jealousy and tensions between communities, as communities outside the project area feel that it is unfair that other communities will receive greater benefit from the project.
A further gendered risk is that of increased domestic violence, which is connected to the negative impacts on livelihoods and land access which have occurred as a result of the project. Various misunderstandings and disputes have also arisen between workers and management on the construction projects, often due to language barriers between Timorese and Chinese workers. Police arriving to intervene in the dispute have sometimes behaved aggressively and even arrested the wrong person due to their lack of investigation. Police reported their concern that as the project progresses, tensions and violent incidents within communities and families will also increase, but also recognised that their lack of training and limited resources to deal with these complex problems will become a major challenge in the future.
In conclusion, the problems raised by community members, leaders and security authorities regarding the issues around the highway and Tasi Mane Project overall indicate that the Government has not paid adequate attention to people’s needs and security risks during either the project design or implementation. Therefore, we urge the Government to urgently perform evaluations in the project areas to document and respond to pressing needs and concerns of the community and police. In addition, the project design should be reviewed and necessary changes made in order to address existing issues and prevent problems arising as the project progresses further.