15 August 2012

Parliamentary Committee Oversight on Security

The National Parliament of East Timor
East Timor Legal News Source: Fundasaun Mahein From: Karlito Nunes Introduction - Fundasaun Mahein would like to welcome the newest incarnation of parliament committee B. FM looks forward to seeing the new group’s energy and enthusiasm channeled into the security sector. We hope the new parliament committee B will provide a strong counterpart to the executive branch and its demands.

The national parliament’s committees on defense and security are specialized bodies of parliament that give advice and make recommendations to the plenary authority concerning laws or decisions pertaining to national defense and the security of citizens. There are two main types of committees. Some are ad hoc, appointed with a specific and narrow mandate, such as dealing with a particular bill or issue. Others are permanent committees that provide advice on their specialized fields for an entire legislative period. Permanent committees provide for greater continuity and facilitate the development of members’ expertise.

What distinguishes the working environment of these committees from that of other parliamentary committees?

• Complexity. Parliamentarians must consider a variety of institutions and issues such as the armed forces, police, the gendarmerie and other forces for public order, border controls, budgeting, procurement, arms control, intelligence activities, etc. Increasingly, such matters have taken on an international dimension.

• Lack of transparency. The security sector is traditionally less transparent than other areas of government involvement, due to the need to protect information vital to national security.

• Strong involvement of the executive branch. Members of the executive branch typically play a very important role in the area of defense and security, sometimes bypassing parliament to deal directly with other countries’ executives.

• Weak involvement of civil society. In most countries, there is a lack of NGOs dealing with the security sector and the public tends to be poorly informed and/or disinterested.

In transition countries, as political reform usually precedes defense and security sector reform, democratic mechanisms may clash with institutional behaviors. With parliaments often being the first and the easiest institutions to reform, permanent committees can be an efficient instrument with which to provide oversight and foster reform in the defense and security sector.

Civilian Oversight to Security Sector

Which committee is involved in defense and security in the Timor-Leste national parliament?

In Timor-Leste, the committee B (Foreign Affairs, Defense and National Security) normal procedure usually must be addressed specialize permanent committee. Commonly, the committee that is involved with defense and security on a daily basis are those dealing with the armed forces, internal affairs, and intelligence. Committee B is mandated less directly, yet still importantly, on the concerns of defense and security as much as with foreign affairs, the judiciary, budgeting.

What are the typical powers of committee B of national parliament?

In general, committees in the defense and security sector focus on matters related to the size, structure, organization, financing, and functioning of state actors mandated to use force as well as of civil management bodies that make decisions about the use of force.

Committee B of national parliament can have a significant impact on the parliamentary and governmental process.

Specifically, their areas of activity can include:

• Developing legislation for the defense and security sector

• Advising on budgets and monitoring expenditures

• Reviewing government defense policy and security strategy

• Consulting on international commitments and treaties to be ratified by parliament

• Advising parliament on the use of force and the deployment of troops abroad

• Monitoring defense equipment procurement

Conclusion:

Fundasaun Mahein urges the new parliament committee B to publish both annual and monthly reports on their activities. From the creation of the first committee to today, nothing has ever been published on committee B’s activities. There have been no reports on security issues, no reports on defense issues, no reports on foreign affairs issues, and no reports on budget issues. Yet the members report to work and the committee must be discussing something to the point of agreement. These official conclusions should be reported in an annual report to the public.

Furthermore, many noteworthy events occur over the course of a year – from UN mission withdrawals to PNTL weapons misplacements. FM would like to hear from parliamentary committee B on as these incidents occur on the ground. How do these incidents affect the committee members’ opinions on Timor-Leste’s direction for security and defense? These opinions should be published monthly as evidence that the parliament members are proactively and constantly engaged with the daily security concerns of the Timorse people.

As an extension, Fundasaun Mahein seeks proactive public debating from the new parliament committee B on all issues of security, defense, foreign affairs, and budget that affect state stability. The opacity of internal debates within committee B makes their conclusions less convincing to the general public. Why has parliament committee B decided this path over alternatives? Government officials are elected officials and they must ultimately answer to the people. At this point, the people would like to better understand the lines of logic behind committee decisions. This would allow them to make better-informed choices when casting their vote.

In being forced to articulate all these positions, FM hopes that the parliament members will call the General Commander of the PNTL and Minister of Defense for information on security issues. We hope they can ask the tough questions on how our weapons are being managed and maintained. We hope that the information from these security leaders will be invaluable to the committee in forming their opinions and making their decisions.
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