Helping Build an Efficient Public Service

Feature | 29 August 2008

Building an efficient public service is among the many challenges faced by one of the world's newest and least developed nations - Timor-Leste. A partnership between the Government and the Asian Developemnt Bank ADB has resulted in a series of training programs that have boosted the efficiency of the public service.

Dili - A government office dedicated to the promotion of women in Timor-Leste's capital Dili is a hub of activity as the staff prepare for a range of activities planned for International Women's Day. There are volley ball games, a fashion show featuring fabrics from Timor-Leste's provinces, and a cultural afternoon of song and dance.

Twenty-four percent of the country's 12,000 public servants are women and some, like Michaela Ximines, are helping organize International Women's Day activities using skills they learned while participating in an ADB project.

"I gained so many new skills like management of meetings, presentation skills, problem-solving, and leadership skills," says Ximines, a government official responsible for raising the status of women and promoting equality. "In Timor-Leste, traditionally there have been not so many women working in government due to lack of higher education opportunities and family commitments, but this is changing." She would like to see more women in decision-making roles in Timor-Leste's Government.

Just weeks before independence in 2002, the Government of Timor-Leste asked ADB to help initiate a program to train local officials who would be assigned to districts outside of Dili. Six years on, ADB-supported programs have helped build the National Institute of Public Administration (INAP) into a model, service-oriented, civil servants' training agency. From participating in the training program, 1,400 civil servants from all 13 districts of Timor-Leste have gained new public administration skills, ranging from basic accounting, and practical math, through to project development and management skills.

Training the Trainers

ADB's Resident Representative in Timor-Leste, Charles Andrews, says, "ADB's Capacity Building to Develop Public Sector Management and Governance Skills Project succeeded because it was designed to teach public servants skills they valued and asked for. ADB helped prepare INAP staff to deliver the training, and then provided technical support and quality assurance, while trainers from Timor-Leste led the process."

Some of the highlights of the training program for Leonia da Costa Monteiro were gaining information gathering, team work, and presentation skills. "After completing the course, I felt like I had the power and the confidence to speak." Monteiro, now the Central Finance Officer for the Timor-Leste Government's State Office for Security, did the ADB/INAP course when she was the Deputy District Administrator of Manatuto District. Soon after completing the course she joined INAP as a trainer, and helped the public administration institution train civil servants using training she herself received when she did the course. "I wanted to be an INAP trainer because I felt I had new skills that I wanted to share with others," she says.

Continuing Need

INAP Director Letencio de Deus says ADB helped strengthen INAP's capacity as a training institution and he appreciates ADB's "comprehensive, well-rounded" approach toward training the country's civil servants. He says there is a continuing need to train civil servants from all sectors, and he would like to see a follow-up course to the ADB/INAP capacity building course, which finishes in August 2008. "INAP is also working hard to try and achieve a gender balance among civil servants in the Government," he adds.

"We wanted to work with ADB on this project because of their technical experience and expertise in developing training programs for civil servants," says Florindo Pereira, former INAP Director and now State Secretary for Administrative Reform in the Government. "We appreciated ADB's participatory approach. ADB involved us in discussions about the training program from the beginning, and the training will not end when the project finishes. We have been using some of the techniques we learned from ADB and applying them to our own systems to help build our capacity." For all these reasons, he says, the program may serve as a model for future civil servants' training programs in Timor-Leste.

Mario Soares is the Deputy District Undersecretary in the Ministry of State Administration, and was a facilitator for the civil servants training program. He says ADB's good relationship with the Government also contributed to the project's success. Should ADB be involved with future training programs in partnership with INAP, he would like to see more women participants in the course. He would also like to see all future training conducted in and written in the local Tetum language.

Making the Training Real

Government gender focal point Ximenes was the Deputy Administrator of Baucau district when she participated in the training course. "In Baucau, there were so many challenges for me to deal with, such as land disputes, economic, social, and political problems, and youth issues. I used the problem solving skills I learned during the ADB/INAP course to help address some of these issues." She hopes that any future training for civil servants in Timor-Leste is tailored to the individual needs of low-, mid-, and high-level civil servants, rather than all these groups being placed together in the same training group. "The one-size-fits-all approach does not work," she says. She would also like to see an English language component included in any future training.

The INAP/ADB capacity building partnership continues to be a successful one. Should INAP and ADB partner on future civil servants' training courses in Timor-Leste, Andrews says he would like to see basic computing included in the training, as information technology becomes more important in local public administration. He adds, "While it can be challenging to deliver programs in Timor-Leste's uncertain environment, flexibility and longer-term engagement will increase prospects for success."

"ADB and INAP gave me tools which I now use in my job everyday, says Monteiro. "After completing the training, I felt I was a better civil servant, and could serve the people in my district more effectively."