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Timor Leste

Many challenges await new Timor-Leste president

Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres sworn into office pledging to tackle poverty

Thomas Ora, Dili

Thomas Ora, Dili

Published: May 23, 2017 08:55 AM GMT

Updated: May 23, 2017 08:56 AM GMT

Many challenges await new Timor-Leste president

This photograph taken on May 19 shows East Timor's new President Francisco Guterres (left), known as Lu-Olo, and his predecessor Taur Matan Ruak (2nd left) hugging each other during his inauguration ceremony in Dili, East Timor. (Photo by Valentino Dariell De Sousa/ AFP)

Timor Leste's new president Francisco Guterres inherits a nation beset by critical problems, including poor education, high employment, and abject poverty.

During a 12-hour inauguration ceremony in the capital Dili on May 20, Guterres popularly known as Lu-Olo vowed to overcome these problems, pursue sustainable development and promote national unity.

In his inaugural speech Lu-Olo, who became Timor-Leste's fourth president — succeeding Taur Matan Ruak — called for the people of Timor-Leste to unite and work to improve their lives.

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"Now 15 years after independence, we are facing difficult challenges to liberate people from poverty," he said.

"Let's work together to improve the lives of our people," he added.

Poverty in Timor-Leste is decreasing, according to the government, with the national poverty rate having fallen from 50.4 percent in 2007 to 41.8 percent in 2014.

However, the rate is still high with many people still living without electricity or sanitation, malnutrition, unemployment and poor education.

The new president said the country had come a long way since independence 15 years ago but still had a long way to go.

One area urgent concern is the poor standard of education

Luis Ribeiro Goncalves, 40, a teacher at Bazartete High School in Liquica district, west of Dili, said schools in his area and in many other districts are in poor condition, lacking facilities and textbooks.

"I hope the new president will pay serious attention to these issues," Goncalves said.

He expressed hope the government would provide more money for education on top of this year's $26 million increase from $103 million to $129 million.

Timor-Leste's national budget for 2017 was set at $1.3 billion.

Another issue facing Lu-Olo is what to do with the country's petroleum fund, which provides 90 percent of the country's annual budget.

The fund was set up to help develop the nation from surplus revenue from oil and gas sales that are expected to run dry in the next few years.

During his speech Lu-Olo also said he would establish a demarcation of permanent maritime and land borders, referring to a long-running dispute with Australia over rights to an estimated US$40 billion oil and gas reserve in the Timor Sea.

However, the new government, according to NGO Lao Hamutuk, needs to reduce its dependency on oil and gas and "develop a non-oil economy, increase domestic revenue and use public funds wisely."

"There is need to capitalize on agriculture and tourism," it said, since the majority of Timor-Leste citizens are farmers.

"State budget should be spent more on health, education, agriculture and road construction in rural areas so that farmers can transport their products easily to cities," Adilson da Costa, a Lao Hamutuk researcher said.

Father Julio Crispim Ximenes Belo, head of Dili Diocese's justice and peace commission called for the government not to forget the poor.

"The president should push for economic development that does not alienate poor people," Father Belo said.

Although his role is mainly ceremonial, he should be able to create national stability, a condition that enables economic growth, the priest said.

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