In Search of White Elephants

The Political Economy of Resource Income Expenditure in East Timor

Author: James Scambary


A little more than a decade after independence, the small island state of East Timor is exhibiting the hallmarks of a neo-patrimonialist state. Since 2008, utilizing its considerable oil reserves, the government has embarked on a major infrastructure development program. However, despite a complex regulatory regime to safeguard the quality and transparency of spending, these systems have been routinely bypassed by executive-style decision making and a variety of informal and sub-legal devices. Public funds have been channeled to clientelist networks via often controversial infrastructure projects or state employment. This article details the emergence of this state and explains how a command style of government and complex systems of reciprocal obligation embedded in an array of parallel, informal networks have undermined the foundations of a Weberian rational-legal state, with critical consequences for development and stability.

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Countries: East Timor

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© James Scambary