15 September 2012

V Constitutional Government Program long on rhetoric, short on substance in relation to justice sector

Gusmao presents Government Program
ETLJB 13 September 2012 - On 12 September 2012, the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao presented the V Constitutional Government's program to the National Parliament. The full text of the Prime Minister's speech may be read here.

ETLJB notes with concern that there is little mention of the justice sector, no references to the Court system or attention to law and justice issues generally throughout the entire lengthy speech.

Amongst the development strategy priorities, the Prime Minister stated that the Government would give its full attention to land tenure legislation that would implement fair and equitable rules that protect land ownership and transfer of land title and which would include land registration and the issuance of land titles. In this regard, it has been 10 years since independence and there is still no land law and no certainty of title or tenure. There is no discussion of customary land tenure system or foreign land ownership. The draft land law that was produced under the administration of the former, now disgraced Justice Minister, Lucia Lobato, was vetoed by Ramos-Horta when he was president.

The second reference to the law is made in relation to proposed amendments to the Law on Veterans to establish Veteran Councils in the Districts in order to safeguard the credibility of the verification and validation of registrations for entitlement to benefits under the Law on Veterans and to complete appealed and contested cases. This minor reform is put in the context of the "national development policy that is fair and that responds to the most vulnerable citizens". But while framing this reform in the context of supporting children, women at risk of abuse and the elderly, it is a mere minor modification of an existing law that confers benefits directly on veterans only and not to these vulnerable groups directly or in a substantive way. It is a bit of double-speak.

The Prime Minister then says that "in order for it to be successful, this (development) strategy must be supported by effective economic policies which includes the credit agencies, business regulations and the capacity building of the private sector. In that regard, the V Constitutional Government emphasises the following further priorities (which include reference to only one law):

- Improvement of the business environment, including a new investment law, the improvement and simplification of the business registration process and the strengthening of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and

- The consolidation of the institutional framework essential to sustain our development ambitions; the second being a vague generalisation without reference to the necessary policy or legal framework upon which such consolidation must rely.

In order to be considered to be a modern democratic state, the Prime Minister references "a strong public sector, internal security and national stability, and a credible justice system that safeguards the rights and guarantees of the Timorese".

But there are no statements of specific policies or legislative programs that advance these objectives. For example, there are no specific proposals (to mention just few) in relation to:

- reforms of the anti-corruption law to combat rampant corruption in the public administration (the most shameful example of which was the conviction of the former Justice Minister in Gusmao's IV Constitutional Government on abuse of power in a government procurement contract earlier this year);

- a law to require public officials to publicly declare their assets and interests;

- reforms aimed at reigning in an undisciplined and incompetent police force who continue to perpetrate illegal acts of violence against citizens, participate and support illegal gambling and prostitution, unlawfully carry weapons while off-duty and who are involved in martial arts gangs;

- reforms to address the problematical behavior of military personnel (the most recent example of which is the case of the military chief's son and 4 other soldiers brutally assaulting a civilian security guard at a night club in Dili as well as the killings of several defence force members over the last twelve months);

- transparency in the procurement of weapons and defence apparatus;

- specific reforms of budget allocations for the Courts, legal translators and interpreters in court proceedings or court facilities; or

- comprehensive legal aid programs for the poor, reforms of prohibitive court fees, programs for the translation, dissemination and community legal education on legislation enacted in the Portuguese language which few in the community can fully comprehend.

Admittedly, the Prime Minister's speech did mention investment in the training of criminal investigators in all necessary specialities, so as to ensure greater credibility in the cases that go to court and the continuation of reforms introduced in the sector of defence and security, enabling a more professional and efficient armed forces and police but only a general statement to review legislation already approved and to draft new legislation that reflects the country’s development level and that is "adjusted to our social and economic reality".

But overall, in short, the V Constitutional Government's program is long on rhetoric but short on substance when it comes to justice sector reforms.

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