Development and Urbanization
After centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and decades of Indonesian military occupation, the independence of Timor-Leste in 2002 bequeathed a chaotic state of land tenure. The creation of a formal land tenure system and the rebuilding of a public administration for effective land governance have been a daunting challenge: since independence, formal land rights and tenure security in Timor-Leste remain unclear and problematic.
This scenario is now further complicated by infrastructure projects. As dependence on the international community reduces due to recent oil and gas revenues, modest infrastructure plans are becoming ‘mega-projects’ that ask basic, yet essential, questions: To whom belongs the land required for these projects? How can land rights be identified? Which are the limits of land acquisition by the state? New laws that could answer these questions remain unimplemented, and institutional weaknesses further complicate land acquisitions.
This inquiry focuses on the implementers of these projects. In some cases, implementation is unilaterally managed by the government, while in others international organizations are involved. While international organizations tend to be restrained by safeguard mechanisms, state institutions have less-clear guidelines for, and limitations on, their actions.
By examining three case studies this paper demonstrates that, in an uncertain legal and institutional context such as the Timorese one, government’s partnership with international donor organizations in land acquisition processes results in better outcomes for poor and disadvantaged people affected by infrastructure projects. These better outcomes are the result of safeguards imposed internally on international organizations and externally on the partner governments.