ANZ’s CEO in Timor-Leste, told a recent investment conference in Dili a transitional Land Reform Act presented to the Council of Ministers was still a "work in progress" but it was increasingly easy to do business on many fronts.
These include improved company registration, continuing work on a company code, fiscal reforms, increased investment in education, a new trade and investment authority, the launch of an electronic-payments platform for all banks and a planned interchange between financial institutions in 2016/17.
"Like anywhere with opportunities like those we see in Timor-Leste, there are challenges to be aware of, and as always, solutions to be tailored," Dennis says. "Timor-Leste is a young nation, and in the midst of a number of critical enabling reforms which will improve the attractiveness to do business in Timor Leste. .”
“You need to come here with your eyes wide open. You need a good local lawyer, a good local accountant, assistance with language if that’s a barrier, and so forth.”
"These are not unique challenges to Timor Leste, but they are nonetheless things you should consider. With the right risk appetite, there are many prospects for those willing to turn these challenges into opportunities. We certainly have, and we’ve seen our business grow consistently over time."
An Australian business leader, Peter McMullin, has been visiting Dili since 2002 and helped establish the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Timor-Leste. He says the investment conference was focused on more immediate opportunities rather than Tase Mane.
McMulllin has seen a "remarkable" transformation since Independence, even though more work is needed to overcome "deficits" in areas such as health and education.
"There're quite a lot of things happening," he told Blue Notes. "Ten years ago, you couldn't have imagined a conference like this happening, there was no story to tell."
"It's a developing country making some of the right decisions. There's a lot of things that are going to take time to resolve, but they are doing them and they are committed. You can’t say that about every developing country."
One strength for Australian businesses are the people-to-people links of the Timorese diaspora in centres like Darwin, Melbourne and Perth. Indeed, Dili is only 80 minutes' flying time away from Darwin, with the Tiwi Islands in between.
For example, a Timorese of Chinese descent, Jape Kong Su, came to Australia and founded a family-owned commercial property business in Darwin in 1976. After success in the Top End, the Jape group developed the Timor Plaza In Dili, an important landmark in the rebuilding of the capital, and has a big tourism project on the drawing board.
Tourism has strong potential, although the support services are under-developed and airfares are relatively expensive (via Darwin, Bali and Singapore).
There is a cult sporting event in the Tour de Timor, an international mountain-bike race, and a Dili marathon. There is also world-class diving and snorkeling.
For this first-time visitor, the attraction of Timor-Leste lay mostly with the people. They are friendly, proud of being independent and largely supportive of the government's direction, but desperately keen to have paying jobs.
At first, flying into Dili feels like approaching an extension of Darwin and the Top End. Then the island appeared, through clouds, with the odd mountain peak poking through. The runway seems to start just about where the beach ends.