The Australian government has announced it will phase out more than a third of its advisor positions in East Timor over the next two years. AusAID will cut 29 of its 82 advisor positions in East Timor. The move follows similar cuts for Papua New Guinea and is part of a review of how AusAID advisors are used.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Zacarias da Costa, East Timorese foreign minister; Gary Lee, director of campaigns, AID/WATCH

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    COCHRANE: Australia expects to spend A$69 million providing assistance to East Timor over the next year, but the way that aid is delivered will soon change.
     Currently, 82 advisers provide what’s known as ‘technical assistance’ to the East Timor government in the areas of finance, health, education, infrastructure and agriculture.
     The idea is to build capacity in developing countries, but there have been criticisms that the money is being misspent on well paid Australian advisers, rather than more direct forms of aid.
     Those criticisms have led to a review and on the weekend Australia’s foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, announced 29 adviser positions in East Timor will be cut over the next two years.
     Zacarias da Costa is the foreign minister of East Timor.
    DA COSTA: As we build our own capacity and the capacity of our staff, the public servants, we understand that Australia is in the same view as us that those positions should be reduced and the focus should be concentrated on other areas where we still need technical support from Australia.
    COCHRANE: Australia says the money saved by reducing foreign advisers will be redirected to rural development and other priority programmes.
    Mr da Costa highlights one of the ongoing priorities.
    DA COSTA: Other areas which still need support include justice, for which we believe Australia is maintaining a level of support that goes in line with the priorities and needs of Timor-Leste.
    COCHRANE: Australia says, while there remains a need for well targeted technical assistance, the Australian government wants value-for-money across its aid programme.
    Gary Lee is the director of campaigns at the advocacy group AID/WATCH.
    LEE: It is a welcome step but it is overdue in the sense that Australia has a historical reliance, I would say over reliance, on technical assistance and the use of advisers within the aid programme. And what this has translated to is that a lot of the aid money ends up back in the hands of Australian companies, consultants and advisers, and not enough money is directed to the delivery of basic services.
    COCHRANE: A similar review led to similar cuts in Papua New Guinea and AusAID says reviews of its technical assistance to the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have been conducted and are now being finalised.
    Gary Lee, from AID/WATCH, says that while the reviews are a positive step, there should be more accountability around the way aid performance is being measured.
    LEE: I think it’s also really important that these reviews are made publicly available as soon as possible to allow greater transparency in terms of what was covered in these reviews.
    COCHRANE: AusAID says a wider review of Australia’s overall aid programme will be considered by the Australian government in due course.