East Timor, known officially as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, came to public notice in 2002 when it gained official independence from Indonesian occupation after a long, violent struggle that included the use by the Indonesian military of starvation as a tool for genocide.. In the time since, the country has experienced the usual amount of election violence and corruption that a new nation sees.For most people,
Now, the Timorese government has opened a FreeBalance-powered portal devoted to government financial transparency.
FreeBalance is a Canadian company that provides software for public financial management, including online portals for government customers include the United States, Afghanistan, Uganda and Iraq.
On its website, the government of Timor-Leste declared the goal of the project:
"The Transparency Website will allow people to participate, in real time and interactively, in the process of the Timor-Leste national budget and to contribute to National Development."
FreeBalance explains the use a Timorese citizen could put the portal.
"Citizens can investigate projects further to view budget transactions to ensure the budget is being spent as intended. This ensures honesty and transparency to improve citizen and investor confidence. The Timor-Leste Transparency Portal provides 10 years of budget information: the budget that was approved and the actual budget spent. Reports and filtered results can be exported in PDF, Word, Excel, XML and HTML formats."
Can such portals provide real transparency? Can transparency itself really make a difference in difficult situations like that in East Timor? Or do so many interests militate against it that the transparency will either not last or never be truly see-through? It's something I don't have an answer for.
If you do, having worked in government or for an NGO on the financial side, please leave a comment below.