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ADB's Work in Timor-Leste

A Solid Foundation for Asia's Newest Country

Store owner in Talimoro
Store owner in Talimoro

Timor-Leste, Asia’s youngest country, has moved past the strife of recent years and is undertaking the difficult work of building a strong, resilient economy that benefits all. ADB is by its side.

Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002 and for years had been wracked by conflict. The country’s infrastructure was in ruins and it had few of the institutions needed for a strong economy.

Throughout the tumultuous post-independence period, ADB worked on emergency rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure and the sustainability of the country’s assets and institutions. The situation improved faster than expected and in 2012, ADB ended Timor-Leste’s status as a special postconflict state, 2 years earlier than originally planned.

Timor-Leste has many challenges ahead, but the country has also made significant progress. Timor-Leste halved child and infant mortality between 2001 and 2009, achieving one of the fastest rates of progress of any country in the world on these indicators. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from about 71% to 33% over the same period, and the country is on track to achieve a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality.

Timor-Leste is now working with ADB on projects that will have an enduring impact on improving living standards in the country.

ADB has been the lead development partner supporting Timor-Leste’s road sector. One example of this is the Road Network Development Sector Project, which is rehabilitating 76 kilometers of national and district roads and is developing a road maintenance program that will keep them safe and reliable for years to come.

The upgraded roads will improve connections between the capital city of Dili and the western regions of the country and Indonesia. This is expected to boost ties with Indonesia, which is Timor-Leste’s main source of imports and third-largest export market.

The project aims to accelerate economic opportunities, promote private sector growth, and reduce poverty. A key element of the road project is its climate-resilient design, meaning the upgraded road will be less vulnerable to floods and landslides.

ADB has been supporting Timor-Leste with more than $380 million worth of loans, grants and technical assistance. In addition to the development of roads infrastructure, ADB has also been working in the areas of finance, urban water supply, technical and vocational education and training, and regional cooperation and integration.

ADB assistance in finance has helped the Institute of Microfinance of Timor‑Leste become the country’s first locally owned commercial bank providing loans to individuals and businesses in urban and rural areas. The National Commercial Bank of Timor-Leste, as it is now called, has 1 branch in Dili, 12 branches across the country, and 2 extension counters, including 1 in the small island of Atauro. The bank has boosted local entrepreneurship, jobs, and investment, and is assisting the government’s drive to diversify the economy beyond petroleum.

"After a long struggle for independence and return to peacebuilding after the 2006 crisis, Timor-Leste is in the stage of statebuilding through strengthening the institutions that will provide decades of growth and prosperity, for its people. ADB is one of the partners in this process."

Santina Jose Rodrigues Ferreira Viegas Cardoso
Minister of Finance

The Government of Timor-Leste also aims to provide all citizens with 24-hour access to clean water by 2030. ADB is supporting this objective, focusing on improving the water supply in Dili and the district capitals. About 1,800 more households in Dili now have access to reliable water supply, and upgrades of the supply systems in two district capitals are providing clean water to more than 30,000 people. A key component of the project is reducing the incidence of waterborne diseases by involving women in decision making and hygiene awareness campaigns.

ADB is also supporting the development of a skilled workforce needed for Timor-Leste’s rapidly expanding economy. It is using its extensive regional experience in technical and vocational education and training to help the government reduce skills shortages.

High school students in Dili
High school students in Dili

The Mid-Level Skills Training Project, approved in 2012, is supporting all five of Timor-Leste’s accredited construction and automotive training providers to offer training in these trades for the first time in the country.

The project seeks to ensure that at least one in five of the trainees is female. Female participation is being encouraged with scholarships, separate amenities and gender awareness training. The project target has been exceeded with 26% of trainees female.

Arcelia Faroca Fernandes (or Lia), 21, studied Certificates I and II in automotive mechanics at Don Bosco Training Centre in Comoro in 2015. She then went on to win “best female in automotive” at Timor‑Leste’s National Skills Competition, and was selected to observe the ASEAN Skills Competition in Malaysia in 2016. After undertaking a traineeship with the national ambulance service, Lia returned to Don Bosco Training Centre and is currently working as a supervisor to a team of mechanics at the training center’s workshop.

“I chose to study automotive because in Timor-Leste there are many mechanics but they’re all men. That is why we want to become mechanics, because women can do it too,” says Lia.

The Mid-Level Skills Training Project has trained and facilitated employment for the country’s first female mechanics. Along with Lia, Florinda Elo was awarded a permanent contract working as a mechanic with the national ambulance service.

The ADB-supported technical education and road projects are important steps toward greater integration of Timor-Leste with the fast-growing markets of Southeast Asia and beyond. The government recognizes that regional economic integration has the potential to make an important contribution to the country’s transition to a diversified private-sector-led economy. With this in mind, ADB is working with the government to ready it for accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Under its new country partnership strategy, ADB aims to further strengthen infrastructure services, improve technical and vocational skills, and foster regional integration.

“ADB is a trusted development partner of the Government of Timor-Leste,” said Paolo Spantigati, ADB country director for Timor‑Leste. “The government is very appreciative of ADB’s expertise and technical support, and wants us to partner more closely with them.”

This article was originally published in a special edition of Together We Deliver, which tells 50 stories highlighting the importance of good partnerships in Asia and the Pacific in meeting the complex development challenges of this dynamic region.