Tim Anderson: Commitment to education and health declining in Timor Leste
Timor Leste’s current ‘Strategic Development Plan’ (‘From Conflict to Prosperity’ 2010) has the admirable goal of ‘school construction and teacher training to ensure universal secondary school completion through grade 12 by the year 2020’ (p.14). However the proportion of the total budget (‘combined sources’, state plus donors) dedicated to education fell from around 15% over 2004-06, to just 11.3% in 2010, and only 10.2% of the state budget. This is inadequate and compares poorly to other countries.
According to the UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Report, developing countries commit an average of 14% - 15% of their government budget to education. Twenty-two (22) developing countries dedicated more than 20% of their government budget to education, and a couple more than 30%. Against this low and declining commitment to education, Timor Leste has the fourth highest rate of natural population growth on earth. At 3.1% per year, it just trails Uganda, Burkina Faso and Niger. This population explosion should call for a greater commitment to education, not a lesser one.
Meeting the schooling goal of the ‘Strategic Development Plan’ would require something closer to 30% of the total budget.
Timor Leste’s commitment to health is also declining. Over 2004-06 between 9% and 12% of both the total and the state budget was committed to health. In 2010 this had fallen to just 6.9% of the combined sources and 5.4% of the state budget. The impact here is cushioned by the huge Cuban health aid program, which barely enters the budgets. However with hundreds of young medical students returning home over the next two years, and beginning to replace the Cuban doctors, the Ministry of Health will need substantially greater investment.