Transitioning from post-conflict to resilience, and the search for active labour market policies and equitable growth in Timor-Leste
Emmanuel Asomba is a development policy researcher working within the nexus of poverty reduction strategies, human development and systematic reviews of public policies and programs.
Connectivity, complexity, and changing relations of power have transformed the way that Timor-Leste is drafting its post-conflict recovery agenda. Against this backdrop, there is an increasing claim by a diverse constituency in the nation regarding the notion of shared responsibility as the central mainstay of its societal format and development structures.
Timor-Leste therefore embarked on a voluntary journey to bring together a coalition of public, business, and civil constituencies, pooling resources to address common societal aims and buttress its country-led planning mechanisms by joining the G7+ platform in 2010. As a country transitioning from conflict, the idea is to shape inclusiveness by tapping into peer-to-peer partnerships (“fragile-to-fragile” support), to institutionalise a framework of cooperation to prime the formation of decent work programmes. This process constitutes a crossover whereby national and regional NGOs, networks of individual employers, and other commercial actors can explore social partnerships, contextualising how public agencies can devise a set of targeted measures to increase sectoral and inter-sectoral cooperation to enhance labour market inclusion.
For the UNDP, this background is relevant in many ways, for example, the role of employers and trade unions to sustain peace across the different stages of the country’s development. In such a case, the role of the economic agent is to have responsibility for anyone, thereby strengthening social ties across the country. This prompts a logical call to enrich empirical analysis looking into how the activities of public and private organisations and firms can harmonise efficiency and equity, to combine development objectives with social justice to attain sustainable growth.
This line of thinking could help broaden the notion of “economic agent”, considering the social structure of work to fully understand the consequences of wage differentials across jobs. This means the implications for well-being in terms of work-choice outcomes and the need for marginalised groups, especially women and youth to have access to decent living standards.
In terms of programmatic interventions and donor coordination, the integration of the New Deal method steered by UNDP offers a very interesting blend, with much attention to mutual interrelations to appreciate the socio-economic context in fragile situations. With a focus on governance and state building, this framework can help scrutinize the impacts of the internal dynamics of cooperation to balance short-term versus long-term objectives in donor programming.
The purpose is to promote the incorporation of adaptive principles for capacity development to take root. As technical assistance is fundamental to peacebuilding and state building, development interventions have to take into account the nature of the local context in Timor-Leste. At this juncture, it means that accountability occurs as a complex chain of relationships where support from UNDP can assist the government gauge policy experiences to strengthen governance and lessen fragility. In other words, tailoring interventions to context can bring more thorough risks-analysis, allowing donors to contribute to long-term sustainability, especially crucial for the government to tap into policy coordination to improve efforts in local-level programming.
As the transition moves forward, the state seeks to handle wider welfare issues to uphold and promote peace and security, particularly considering how to harmonise social spending to align the capabilities of its citizens around the notion of inclusive growth. Linked to this developmental goal is the awareness that development planning has to match the evolving realities of the country, thus suggesting the adoption of more complex patterns of cooperation to enrich stability, accountability, and human development.
Simultaneously, over the years we have witnessed in the country a mounting discussion about the place of youth in the transformation from post-conflict recovery to long-term development. With half (46%) of the population aged under 18, the prevailing concern for policy-makers has been to find a way to galvanize young people as agents of change to improve good governance, and tackle policy-formulation that can engage them in productive and decent employment.
What matters for long-term growth are smart investments to steer a progressive future. For instance, these inputs can be decisive public investments in infrastructure, health, education, and diffusion of a value chain in vocational training as well as technology enabling young people to act on their potential, especially if the state also endeavors to consolidate female labour-force participation.
Consequently, new thinking about these issues comes naturally from the link between population growth, the quality of life, and the organisation of the employment regime for young people. Around 30% of Timorese citizens are between 15-29 years old, offering policy-makers and development partners a transformational lever to target high growth, and ultimately poverty reduction, to make sure the demographic dividend can be used to balance a population bubble, ensuring that most citizens have access to productive work.
For that reason, a substantial strategy is to improve the standards of development of enterprise-based schemes creating a more reliable relationship between education and employment to promote inclusive growth in the country, on the basis that access to employment and education opportunities can help reduce household poverty, enlarge young people’s human capital base, and at the same time link local-level initiatives with local-level actors to enhance the extension of multiparty social partnerships. This is a fundamental departure from traditional welfare-state solutions to harness public negotiations on the concept of employment and equal opportunities, thus allowing freedom of choice to be explicitly exercised.
This model combats disadvantage by increasing investments in human capital and productive systems, and fights discrimination based on people’s earnings and gender. The state should provide guarantees to marginalised groups, women and youth to inspire them to contribute in the labour market, in order to overcome the polarisation, fragmentation, and atomisation of Timorese society. To make it work across all segments of the population, the government has to assimilate sustainable policies involving all the actors in networks exchanging best practices through strategic donor coordination and dialogue.
The logic of the argument is to ensure a smooth transition to results-based monitoring to enhance development effectiveness making sure, for example, that the health system can overcome disparities in services, and deliver basic health packages including family planning; or that national education centres can support the provision of quality education. Over the long-term, these efforts can lead to better wages, and the integration of a responsive labour market whereby optimised employment and self-employment programmes can scale-up access to non-formal training services to stimulate equitable growth.
This analysis is the abridged version of a concept note for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangkok Regional Hub addressing youth employment, livelihoods, and the demographic dividend in Timor-Leste.