Timor Leste: why the finance industry kicks up its heels

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Steve Bracks, the chairman of Cbus and former Victorian premier, will make his 43rd visit to Timor Leste next month. It should be a celebration for him, for his help in getting a more equitable share of the ‘Sunrise’ oil and gas field for this “desperately poor country”. But there’s lots of work still to be done.

Bracks spoke at the annual Emerge Foundation ball in Sydney last Friday night, which had a Moulin Rouge theme, complete with can-can dancers. It was the night before an important national election for Timor Leste (held on May 12), the final results of which are likely to confirm Xanana Gusmao and his ‘AMP Alliance’ as the new prime minister.  He is a former freedom fighter and former president and prime minister.

“I can normally predict the results of an election,” he told the audience of mainly financial services industry people. “But I couldn’t predict this one.” Final counting of the 750,000 votes is expected today (May 14).

Emerge Foundation is a charity run by Ian and Marionne MacRitchie, Sydney-based financial advisors, that has funded a good proportion of a scholarship program to train teachers at a purpose-built college in Bacau, as well as a sports program for school children and a ‘barefoot nurses” training program.

Terri Bracks, Steve’s wife, also runs a charity near Balibo, which provides free dental care and has helped restore a centuries-old Portuguese fort where the ‘Balibo Five’ went to witness the Indonesian invasion in 1975. This is supported by Media Super, along with Australian television stations.

Bracks told the dinner that education was the key to economic development and a number of studies had shown that the education of girls was particularly important. “With about 60 per cent of the population under the age of 25, the need for qualified teachers can’t be under-estimated.”

Timor’s share of the oil and gas revenues go into a sovereign wealth fund, with the aim being for the Government to spend the earnings but not the capital on infrastructure projects.

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