19 August 2008

FRETILIN, opposition parties and some AMP MPs join forces to increase budget allocation for poverty stricken veterans

Media Release
August 18, 2008

FRETILIN, opposition parties and some AMP MPs join forces to increase budget allocation for poverty stricken veterans

FRETILIN, KOTA-PPT, PUN, ASDT and other AMP MPs joined forces to amend the budget presented by the Gusmao de facto Government, to immediately start paying the liberation war veterans' pensions, at a cost of US$20 million. "Our proposal succeeded despite strong opposition by de facto Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and Finance Minister Emilia Pires to the very end," said Josefa Soares Pereira, FRETILIN Parliamentary Party Secretary and MP.

Soares and FRETILIN MP Osorio Florindo put forward the proposal during the budget debate which ended on 31 July 2008, in the Timor-Leste National Parliament, because the government could not explain why veterans were going to be made to wait a further six months or more for payment of their much needed pensions.

"It seemed to us unjust and unnecessary for the government to continue to deny these impoverished veterans their pensions, when they have been quite prepared to make a priority of special payments to deserters from the defence force. These veterans in contrast sacrificed themselves and their families so that we can have the freedom and sovereign nation we have today," she said.

In 2006 the FRETILIN dominated parliament passed a law establishing the criteria and mechanism to determine payment of pensions to veterans and their families, but the collection and verification of data as to who is a veteran was the task of three commissions established since 2002 under the auspices of then president Xanana Gusmao. The then President continued to insist that there was insufficient verification for the database compiled by the commissions to be used as the basis for commencing payment of pensions to veterans.

"It was a source of frustration for us who have tried to promote the cause of the veterans, that there was this constant proposition coming from the then president, now de facto Prime Minister, that the database was not ready. Yet in late 2006 and in the first half of 2007, before the parliamentary elections it was good enough to use the database to award around 17,000 medals of honor to veterans and their survivors. This issue was politicized by political figures in the campaign, including Mr Gusmao, and FRETILIN was painted as neglectful and mean for not paying the veterans," added Soares.

"But when it comes to an outrageously high spending budget on largesse such as luxury cars for MPs, overseas travel for Ministers and others in government, rehabilitation of homes for ministers and others, they forget about the veterans and keep saying the database needs to be fixed. We don't accept that anymore and are happy that the majority of the parliament agreed with us. Now it is a matter for the government to cut out the fat it has for travel, entertainment and other luxuries to make sure the veterans are paid," Soares stressed.

To date only 238 or so veterans have received any payments whatsoever, with a tens of thousands still awaiting any payment, whilst living in extreme poverty. The FRETILIN government's attempts to pay the veterans in the time prior to the elections in 2007 were also met with a dead end response from the veterans commission, which was under the control of Mr Gusmao.

"We do not want any more excuses from Mr Gusmao and Mr Virgilio Simith, the Secretary of State who is the chair of the veterans commissions. They have had five years to come up with the numbers for the veterans. They have done a poor job and we need to have an investigation into the numerous complaints that have been made by both veterans and development partners who gave millions of dollars towards the process. Mr Gusmao and Mr Simith have to be held responsible.

"We insist on this, but most of all, it's the Veterans, including MPs who are veterans and supported our proposal for amendment, who spoke out in these terms. It's time to act. The government must act or be held further responsible for the neglect of the veterans, for which Mr Gusmao and his appointees must carry their share of the responsibility," Soares said in closing.

The budget which was rammed through by the AMP de facto government is currently the subject of a constitutional appeal by FRETILIN, and is awaiting promulgation by President Jose Ramos-Horta who has held back from proclaiming it subject to the court's decision. FRETILIN MPs believe that one of the few areas warranting a revision was in the case of the additional US$20 million, which can be accommodated in the revised budget, by cutting extravagant and wasteful items, and without any need to withdraw in excess of the sustainable income set by the Petroleum Fund Law rules.

For more info, contact Jose Teixeira: +61 438 114 960 (Australia), +670 728 7080 (Dili, Timor-Leste)

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