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Oé-Cusse: the beginning of a better future for Timor-Leste

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Timor-Leste is embarking on the next stage of its journey towards becoming an upper-middle income country with a prosperous, healthy and educated population. The ceremonial handover of powers and competencies from the Central Government to the Authoridade Região Administrativa Especial Oé-Cusse (ARAEO), and Zona Especiais de Economia Social e Mercado (ZEESM) marked the beginning of a better future, not just for the atoni people of Oé-Cusse, but also for all of the people of Timor-Leste.

The two-day handover ceremony started with the Council of Minister meeting on Friday morning, 23rd January 2015. On the following Saturday morning, the 24th January 2015, a ground-breaking ceremony for the constructions of Monumento Lifau, Jardim da Frente Marítima and Centro de Informação Turistíca e Cultural took place at Lifau. These projects designed by young Timorese architects and to be constructed by Timorese contractors, are expected to be completed before the commemoration of 500 years of the arrival of Portuguese navigators and missionaries. This is scheduled to take place on the Independence Day – 28 November 2015.

The official handover ceremony was initially scheduled to take place in the afternoon, but due to a heavy rain pour, it was adjourned. The ceremony continued with a welcoming dinner hosted by the Government to all delegations including Vice Governor of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Vice General of Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), Kapolri NTT, Regent of Atambua and other Indonesian delegates.

The official ceremonial handover of powers and competencies, which took place on Sunday, the 25th January 2015 in Oé-Cusse, Ambeno, was attended by the Prime Minister, all members of the Government, members of the National Parliament, Prosecutor General, President of ARAEO, Anti-Corruption Commissioners, General F-FDTL, Diplomatic Corps, public servants, private sector, parish priest, NGOs and the atoni people of Oé-Cusse. The Ceremony started with the singing of the national anthem, lian-nain chanted kuku – a traditional incantation – a blessing from the Priest, and a traditional dance performance by the women of Oé-Cusse.

Dr. Mari Alkatiri, President of the ARAEO, in his speech, mentioned that Law No.03/2014 in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic permits the creation of ARAEO and the establishment of the ZEESM. He added that “the special status of Oé-Cusse does not meant a total separation from the mainland; instead Oé-Cusse can become a hub of development that will contribute to the development of the whole nation”. The transfer of powers and competencies, he argued, simply means the Government can get closer to the people of Oé-Cusse and empower them to become the hub for the nation’s development. He cautioned that “a lot of challenges await us. These challenges should not cause us to step back, but they will strengthen us and allow us to progress and overcome new challenges”.

The Prime Minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, in his speech, called on to the Oé-Cusse people to be open-minded and fully participate in the extended process of development. He encouraged the people to work together to identify difficulties, improve and empower themselves so that they are prepared to face new challenges in the future.

He reminded the Oé-Cusse people that 40 years ago they sang “we atoni people were forever slaves”. Now they can sing a new song “we atoni people want to work hard to develop Ambeno for the good of our children and grand children”. The Prime Minister concluded his remarks with a very important, united political message – “believe in yourself and move forward because together we can develop our country from its rural heartland to make a big difference to the future of our people”. 500 years ago the Portuguese navigators and missionaries first landed in Oé-Cusse before continuing on their exploration and spreading the good news to the rest of the Timor-Leste. Today Oé-Cusse once again is set to become the beginning of a better future as a hub of development for Timor-Leste. Oé-Cusse is simply the beginning and the future.