02 October 2008

Timor-Leste Parliament pushes for anti-corruption watchdog


Dili, 1 October 2008

Timor-Leste Parliament pushes for anti-corruption watchdog

An alarming increase in government corruption in Timor-Leste has prompted a cross-party push to establish a parliamentary watchdog to fight graft in public administration.

The biggest party in Timor-Leste's parliament, FRETILIN, announced today it would join with other parties and even some government MPs to support the setting up of a parliamentary commission to tackle corruption.

Parliament debated the issue of worsening government corruption yesterday, following the release of Transparency International's 2008 international Perceived Corruption Index report.

The index showed Timor-Leste under the leadership of Xanana Gusmao's 'Parliamentary Majority Alliance' (AMP) government registered the most significant deterioration of any country.

Timor-Leste's position fell 22 places from 123rd to 145th – behind Kazakhstan and one place ahead of Bangladesh – for the period August 2007 to August 2008. This was the nation's second successive year of decline in the index, following a drop from 112th to 123rd place in the corresponding period for 2006-2007 when Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta was Prime Minister.

FRETILIN's parliamentary leader Aniceto Guterres said today Transparency International's survey followed a steady flow of reports of corruption and maladministration by the AMP government and had 'caused a raging national debate' on Timor-Leste's worsening status.

Guterres said representatives of most political parties, many foreign missions and all multilateral partners publicly or privately had expressed concern over worsening corruption.

'Even those who remained quiet and complicit in regard to the stream of allegations are now taking the situation seriously, especially the multilateral agencies and foreign missions. They have finally grasped what FRETILIN, civil society and our media have been warning about,' Guterres said.

He said specific scandals included:

- The Deputy Prime Minister employing his wife (a non-diplomat) at Timor- Leste's New York mission at a salary three times that of a diplomat.

- Prime Minister Gusmao authorising a single source contract worth US$14.4 million for the supply of rice. The contract went to the Tres Amigos ("Three Friends") company headed by Gusmao's friend and fellow party member Germano da Silva.

- The Gusmao administration's awarding of a dubious single source contract for the purchase of patrol boats from a Chinese company closely associated with Gusmao's political ally Abilio Araujo.

- Secretly negotiated and non-transparent agreements between the Gusmão government and foreign companies to give away 100,000 hectares – one quarter of Timor-Leste's arable land – for bio-fuels crops.

- The Gusmao administration's proposed purchase of 4 Wheel Drive luxury vehicles as a political pay off for MPs.

- Persistent allegations made in the media and from civil society regarding contractors being awarded contracts by ministries where the spouses of the ministers in the very same ministries have an interest in the company supplying the goods and services to that ministry.

Aniceto Guterres pointed to complaints in parliament this week from Mario Carrascalao, the President of the Social Democratic Party, an ally of Gusmao's AMP, that he was 'sick of hearing from ambassadors and foreign businessmen about corruption in this government', and that he was 'tired of feeling embarrassed every day because of the corruption in this government'.

Guterres said Mr. Carrascalao, representatives of the PUN party and some MPs from Gusmao's own alliance had also called for a parliamentary commission to inquire into allegations of corruption against the government.

For information contact: Nilva Guimarães (media officer) on +670 734 0389

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