DILI, 27 May 2020 (TATOLI) – The Timor-Leste government has allocated $63.6 million in financial aid for some 318,302 families struggling with the COVID-19 downturn.
The families will each receive US $100 per month, for up to three months.
The money will come from the $150 million COVID-19 Fund, approved by the National Parliament in April, and overseen by the Integrated Crisis Management Centre (CIGC).
Coordinator of the fund, Januario da Gama, said the figure has been substantially increased from earlier estimates.
“The total budget for the financial aid was $15 million, before the Ministry of Social and Solidarity (MSSI) presented the data of total families in Timor-Leste to the management council [CIGC],” he said at the Ministry of Finance on Monday.
Timor-Leste has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency for two months, which has taken a toll on small business and farmers. The World Bank estimates the economy to contract almost five per cent by year’s end.
FRETILIN MP David Dias Ximenes “Mandati” expressed his frustration in parliament on Monday, when discussing whether to extend the decree for another month.
“Now our people are waiting. Perhaps we can extend [the decree] but people don’t have anything in their homes to eat. They will ask us to not extend,” he said.
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The Director-General of MSSI, Rui Manuel Gago Exposto, told TATOLI yesterday he understands the people may be frustrated by the two-month delay in organising the subsidy.
“I ask for the public to [remain] calm, and wait [so] we can implement payments for these two months,” he said.
He said the payments will be disbursed, backdated to March, as soon as the funds are transferred from the Ministry of Finance to some 452 village banks.
“We will try to have the payments [out] in the next 10 days,” he said, adding that victims of the recent floods would have to be taken into account.
“The government continues to be committed to make the payment in May, but we will have to look after [victims] of all the situations.”
“Can’t underestimate” the benefits: analysis
The payments have been welcomed by development economist Brett Inder, from Australia’s Monash University, who has researched Timor’s agricultural sector extensively.
In an analysis of the subsidy, Professor Inder describes it as a “great initiative” – but logistically difficult to implement.
“We can’t underestimate the benefits of injecting small amounts of money into communities,” he writes. “Small amounts given to many low income recipients will almost all be spent locally.This means more purchases from the local market or kiosk, meaning local traders earn more income.”
The payments would represent around a third of the “poverty line” of $310 per household per month, he wrote, citing the threshold set by the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank in 2014/15.
“So, a $100 payment is not tiny, but households will need plenty of other income to be above the poverty line,” he writes.
But Professor Inder cautions that the effectiveness of the payment depends heavily on who the cash is given to.
“If the mother receives it, it is likely to be spent on food, household needs and the children. If the father, more may go towards non-essential consumption items, or to fund productive activities (e.g. buying seeds),” he writes.
“Sadly, there is also evidence that an injection of funds can lead to tension within households, putting the safety of vulnerable household members at risk. Some thought needs to go into reducing these risks, and to monitoring the implementation.”
MSSI has approved members of FONGTIL, a Timor-Leste civil society umbrella group, to
“The team will move to the villages within Timor-Leste to observe all the distribution process for the subsidy, according to our ability,” Executive-Director Daniel Santos do Carmo said last week.
Those eligible for the financial aid must be Timorese citizens, have registered before March 31, and not earn more than $500 per month per household.
First published on May 25 in Tetum: Governu Aloka Millaun $63,6 ba Pagamentu Subsídiu Uma-Kain Hamutuk 318.302; updated on May 27: Governu Seidauk Deside Orariu Pagamentu Subsídiu ba Família Uma-Kain
Journalist: Antónia Gusmão, Natalino Costa, Hortencio Sanchez
Editors: Robert Baird, Julia Chatarina, Agapito dos Santos
Translation: Nelia Borges