We, the undersigned Timor-Leste and international organizations, urge the government of Timor-Leste to keep the nation debt-free and refrain from borrowing money from international lenders.
We do not take this position to hold Timor-Leste back, but to protect its future generations. Rather than repeat the mistakes of other developing countries that have struggled with debt during recent decades, Timor-Leste should learn from their experiences, which often inflicted great hardships on their people. This is especially important because of Timor-Leste’s high dependence on exporting non-renewable oil and gas wealth, a resource which will run out soon.
More than thirty years ago, lenders made loans to developing countries, creating unsustainable debt and causing the "debt crises" of the 1980s and 1990s. Today, creditors continue to drain scarce resources that could have been spent on essential services like health care, education, water and sanitation. International financial institutions - like the IMF and the World Bank - forced countries which owed them money to implement so-called austerity measures, demanding cuts in public services in order to repay debt. This has included the privatization of state services like water and electricity. The poorest and most vulnerable members of society have been forced to pay more for essential services, and salaries of public servants have been lowered. Even when loans are made at concessional interest rates, borrowing countries are often legally obligated to prioritize debt payments above their people's needs.
Some argue that revenue from Timor-Leste’s oil and gas wealth can provide a cushion against which to borrow. History proves such thinking is wrong. The more oil a country produces and the greater its dependence on petroleum exports, the more debt that country is likely to accumulate – and Timor-Leste today is the most petroleum-export-dependent country in the world, with oil and gas providing 95% of state revenues. Oil prices and interest rates are very volatile and beyond Timor-Leste’s control, leaving it especially at risk, as petroleum revenues will decline and interest rates may rise while loans are still being paid back. When Timor-Leste's oil and gas run out in less than 15 years, and debts still must be repaid, Timor-Leste’s children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences.
In most developing countries with oil resources, worsening economic and development conditions with little long term benefit are the result, including increased conflict, impoverishment, and corruption. Timor-Leste should avoid such a tragedy by learning from other’s experiences, not repeating them.
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste began life in 2002 without owing money to anyone. For the sake of an equitable, prosperous, and environmentally sound future for today’s and tomorrow’s children Timor-Leste should remain debt-free. We urge Timor-Leste’s leaders and international institutions to use other ways to finance the country’s much-needed development.