Source: Fundasaun Mahein (FM)
On Friday 24th February, Fundasaun Mahein (FM), in collaboration with the Ermera Municipality Youth Centre, organised a National Dialogue to discuss several important issues currently facing Timor-Leste, namely Generational Transition, National Identity and Youth Participation in the Development Process. The event was held at the East Timor Coffee Institute (ETCI) in Gleno town, Ermera Municipality. Speakers representing various institutions appeared at the event, including political parties, security forces, veterans, the Ermera Municipal Authority and other government departments, religious institutions, youth organisations and NGOs. The event was attended by over 100 people, including forty-three women and sixty men.
FM decided to organised this event to stimulate discussion among various stakeholders about key challenges facing Timor-Leste in the context of the upcoming 2023 Parliamentary Election, ongoing challenges related to security and conflict, and the limitations in the state’s capacity to deliver effective public services, infrastructure development and sustained growth of productive economic sectors. The aim of the National Dialogue was to bring together representatives of different sectors of the Timorese state, political institutions and civil society for a productive discussion about how to address the deep challenges facing our state and society, and to identify ways for the youth of Timor-Leste to be more involved in decision making and development processes.
FM believes that it is particularly important for young people to be directly involved in such discussions, as Timor-Leste’s strong culture of elder respect means that the needs and hopes of the youth are rarely considered in national-level policies and programs. FM has written previously about the need for the ‘1975 generation’ of resistance leaders to prepare for the peaceful transition of power to the younger generation. This includes strengthening state programs and institutions to help the youth fulfil their potential to become effective participants in the national development process.
In addition, FM decided to hold the event outside Dili because national policy debates are almost always held in the capital, which makes it difficult for rural people to access important discussions about policies and programs. Ermera Municipality has the second largest population in Timor-Leste, after Dili Municipality, while the majority of Timor-Leste’s population lives outside the capital city. FM hopes that this event can serve as a model for how the Government of Timor-Leste can facilitate the decentralisation process by holding important policy discussions outside the capital city.
Fundasaun Mahein’s Director gave a short presentation about FM’s vision for peaceful transition between the “old” and “new” generations. He argued that the new generation represents the “continuation” of the national liberation and development process started by the previous generation of leaders. He emphasised further that the youth must work hard to participate constructively in the process of national development, which includes having a broad and long-term vision for Timor-Leste’s future. He encouraged young people to take responsibility for improving the quality of life and development, beginning in their own communities. For example, he said, if rocks have fallen in the road or there is plastic waste lying around, don’t wait for someone else to pick it up – pick it up yourself, or organise your friends to do a community clean-up! Another example he gave was if one of your friends is drunk or trying to fight someone, bring them home!
The representative of the Municipal Authority President also noted that the youth must work hard to become a pillar of development, so that they can enjoy the benefits of the difficult struggle waged by the old generation which successfully won Timor-Leste’s independence. He emphasised the importance of education and continuous learning, and highlighted Timor-Leste’s decentralisation process as important for providing opportunities for youth in the rural areas.
Representatives of political parties then provided their contribution to the discussion. First, the representative from the Democratic Party (PD) recommended for young people to be proactive in developing solutions and contributing in their communities, including becoming involved in politics as a means for improving communal life. The CNRT member then spoke, noting that many youth are leaving the country due to the lack of work opportunities in Timor-Leste, and asked them to follow in the footsteps of the historical leaders to participate in the development process. The KHUNTO representative then noted that young people are increasingly involved in politics and ready to participate in governance, and hoped that the current leaders will allow the next generation to participate in decision making.
The representative of the Solidarity Council for Youth and Students (Dewan Solidaritas) provided a historical analysis of different generations and their role in the independence struggle and state-building. He recommended that young people strive to improve their discipline and work ethic, and lamented the habits of some leaders of mismanaging the country’s resources. The member of the Council of Liberation Combatants shared a similar concern that the old generation of leaders have not ruled effectively, and that they often fail to implement their plans. He also noted that the process of generational transition is ongoing, pointing to the occupation of high state positions by several members of the “continuation generation”. He recommended that young people continue to develop their knowledge and capacities as they prepare for their “turn” to participate in governing the country.
The presentations by civil society and political parties was supported by representatives from the state security institutions. The PNTL Commander for Ermera Municipality encouraged the younger generation to participate in activities which can prepare them for their future role as leaders of the country, and to avoid engaging in criminal or other “wrong” activities. He emphasised that youth play an important in maintaining peace and stability. The F-FDTL Commander explained that the military is providing opportunities for members of the younger generation to increase their skills and experiences, to prepare them for leadership in the future.
Representatives of several government agencies then shared their perspectives on the role and responsibilities of the youth. First, SEFOPE provided information on their training programs which are helping to prepare young people for future work, both in Timor-Leste and abroad. She also emphasised the importance of supporting young women to participate in economic life to guarantee gender equity and sustainable development. The Public Works representative focused on the need for the younger generation to develop its technical capacity, in areas such as engineering, maths and science, and noted that young people should not expect to be given responsibility without working hard to develop their competencies. The Health representative shared his view that young people should focus on study rather than getting married early, as their future health and wellbeing depends on having a good education. Finally, the representative of the Institute for Support of Business Development (IADE) recommended that young people continue to involve themselves in productive activities to prepare themselves for their future role as leaders and technical experts, especially education in areas such as business, science and technology.
The National Dialogue brought together a diverse range of speakers and participants representing many stakeholders and institutions from Timorese society. The event was a useful opportunity for leaders and their representatives to share perspectives, learn from each other and engage in dialogue with young people about their role and responsibilities, and also to listen to some thoughts and concerns from the youth participants themselves.
Several key themes emerged from the discussion, including:
- Generational transition is already a reality, and the main task of young people is to prepare themselves to become leaders and technical experts in the future.
- Education, training, good health, good attitude and hard work are the most important values for Timorese youth to prepare themselves for their future roles in governing and managing the country.
- Young people cannot just wait for the Government to provide them with support – they must be proactive in improving themselves and participating in productive activities, including doing voluntary work in their communities, seeking out opportunities for gaining knowledge and skills, and working hard to maintain peace and stability.
Fundasaun Mahein thanks our co-organisers, speakers and all participants who facilitated the National Dialogue on Generational Transition, National Identity and Youth Participation in the Development Process. We hope that the Government, in collaboration with civil society, can organise similar events around the country to promote mutual understanding, learning and respect between generations and institutions, and to help prepare the youth of today to become the leaders of tomorrow.