Nepean director eyes Timor bounty

THE former Miss Australia-turned entrepreneur who made the first contact with East Timor officials to explore the nation for oil for the first time in decades believes the country’s sovereign risk is overstated.

Nepean director eyes Timor bounty Suellen Osborne.

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Suellen Osborne, the managing director of Nepean's investment division who was Miss Australia 1998, has spent the past 12 years managing all Nepean large-scale private projects in Sydney and, importantly, Papua New Guinea.
 
These included commercial properties, residential subdivisions and resources, including starting PNG's Niuminco silver and gold mine.
 
She is determined to create a new confidence for Timorese locals burned by bad past experiences in the region.
 
Her father - Nepean founder, chairman and owner David Fuller - was approached last September by Sydney-based Nepean project engineer, Timorse national Filomeno DeAndrada, about the opportunities in his homeland which was laying the groundwork for resources-related foreign investment.
 
When Osborne and DeAndrada met Timor's petroleum regulator AMPM (Autoridade Nacional do Petroleo e Minerais) and the state petroleum minister in October to register Timor Resources' interest in the nation, they found well-educated, switched-on people ready to do business.
 
Energy News understands the country had already run airborne surveys with LiDAR, gravity and magnetics last year in preparation for going to market, so the time was right for Timor Resources.
 
"The timing was perfect," Osborne told Energy News
 
"The government, in [national oil company] Timor Gap, was looking for a partner for their three blocks which they had already been given. I'm of the understanding that a lot of the companies they'd already talked to weren't willing to look at this as a job, they wanted very much to own the resource.
 
"We're happy to work together; it's their resource, let's get on with the job. That's where we separated ourselves from known oil companies and became somebody they wanted to work through the minor details with, to not only fund it but deliver something.
 
"It was a meeting of the minds. We were very much thinking on the same level."
 
Osborne, who had done deals in neighbouring PNG and was aware of business in the region over the past decade, believes East Timor has changed significantly since independence in 2002, and that much of the sovereign risk is "in the past". 
 
"The country and the leaders of the national oil company are young, successsful, well educated personnel, and I believe that the timing is right for it to be a change nation," she said.
 
"I haven't been exposed to any of the corruption of the past but I don't believe there is corruption or sovereign risk that others [have seen in the past]."
 
She said exploration had dried up in the past due to geopolitical issues. 
 
"In 1914 the Japanese were in there and the Portugese couldn't complete an exploration program," she said.
 
"In the 1990s there were plenty of people who wanted to explore but couldn't because of the Indonesian conflict. 
 
"Timor itself has made a ruling that nobody will touch their resources until they have the legal and environmental framework put in place so they can active manage the resources for trheir own benefit.
 
"That's what they've been doing since they reached indepence until now. We're of the opinion that they're really a strong natuion, they're about to be on the cusp of some pretty exciting internal changes and we're just on the front foot of that.
 
"[Timor Gap] and their regulator AMPM have not been functioning the way they are now. Previously they've been using their offshore to guide and develop their policies. They've very much in control; they know what they want from their resources and their partners."
 
Internally the government has also started spending money on the south coast on major infrastructure like roads to open up the regional areas - moves which Osborne believes are some of the significant changes that will result in an exploration program being successful.
 
She also believes her company can improve the perceptions of industry by Timorese locals.
 
"West Timor, on the Indonesian side, has had terrible environmental problems with the extraction of manganese, and that was what Timor-Leste didn't want to happen," she said. 
 
"They wanted to ensure they had one shot to do it, and they were going to do it right."
 
She believes the key to success in the region is being a privately-run company, away from the influence of stockbrokers and other financiers.
 
"Nepean has always been a private company, and the ability to control overheads, real opportunity in real exploration is key to success," she said. 
 
She said the company can help improve the lives of 1.2 million Timorese people, more than 40% of whom are under the age of 14 years and 40% of the population live in poverty.
 
The project aims for 90% of all employees to be Timorese citizens and a detailed community development plan is in place to ensure the investment provides lasting social benefit in terms of improved education, language training, practical experience and skill competencies from technical and trades to supervisory and managerial positions, including an exchange program with Australia.
 
Over the next three years, Timor Resources' local content plan will concentrate on developing sustainable and commercial farming education for the regional areas surrounding the oil acreage. 
 
It will encourage farmers to shift away from subsistence farming to commercial production to help create a food supply chain that is not dependent on imports; and will provide grants for agricultural equipment, community farming initiatives and education programs to help farmers maximise their crops, livestock and care for the land.  
 
"Since achieving independence from Indonesia in 2002, Timor has achieved political stability and annual GDP growth of more than 10% a year for the past four years which is a phenomenal result," Osborne said. 
 
"The government understands the potential value of its onshore resources and it has been searching for a partner it can trust - one that has the capability and resources to handle a development of this size but is also flexible enough to work with the country and accommodate its needs."
 
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