23 November 2008

Gusmao must stop campaign against Appeal Court


Media Release Dili, Sunday November 23, 2008

Gusmao must stop campaign against Appeal Court

FRETILIN has called on Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to fall into line with other members of his government and cease his defiance of the Court of Appeal.

FRETILIN's parliamentary leader Aniceto Guterres said Mr Gusmao must stop pretending he is above the law and constitution and must make it clear his administration accepts the court ruling that key budget measures are unconstitutional and illegal.

Guterres was commenting on a statement by Mr Gusmao that: "We have all heard that the Court of Appeal has said that we cannot take out money. As Prime Minister if I take out money to put in my own pocket then certainly the court can send me to jail, but to take out money to use for our people, especially to use for education I will still take it out even if the Court of Appeal condemns me to wherever." (Timor Post November 18 2008).

Three Court of Appeal judges on November 13 unanimously ruled that:

a) The government's creation of a so-called Economic Stabilization Fund was unconstitutional in that it was equivalent to creating a "secret fund" which is expressly prohibited by the constitution, and

b) Parliament's attempt to transfer more than US$290 million from the national petroleum fund was illegal as it breached key aspects of the law mandating sustainable use of petroleum revenue.

Guterres said: "Mr Gusmao's defiance of the judiciary is unacceptable from a person who claims to be the nation's constitutional Prime Minister. He ought to be showing our people the way to respect the rule of law, the constitution and the independence of the courts.

"His statement is also misleading, because part of our objection was that his government's US$788 million pork-barrelling budget allocates only about 5.6 per cent for education. His attempt to use cynicism and populism to discredit the court's decision is disgraceful."

Guterres said that the court's decision had been well received by broad sections of civil society and lawyers' groups, and even by many MPs from the ruling coalition.

"Some of Mr Gusmao's ministers have shown more respect for the rule of law and the constitution. For example his Vice Minister for Finance Rui Hanjan, said immediately after the court decision was published that we should all comply with the court's ruling. Mario Carrascalao, President of one of Mr Gusmao's parliamentary alliance parties similarly said that 'the decision of the court has to be complied with' and expressed fears that the court would be discredited if the government defied it. The Vice President of the Parliament –a member of Mr Gusmao's CNRT – also said the court's decision had to be respected and complied with."

"But so far we have heard nothing but expressions of defiance of the court's ruling from Mr Gusmao. He has to make it very clear that the government accepts the court decision and that it will work with the other constitutional bodies, such as parliament to ensure that the court's rulings on unconstitutionality and illegality are not breached in the slightest."

Guterres said the Gusmao administration's opposition to the latest court ruling was hypocritical because, on August 14 2008 the Minister for Finance Emilia Pires had issued a media release hailing a Court of Appeal decision on the budget as 'a victory for the people' and 'a blow to Fretilin'.

Ms Pires' media release said: "Today's court decision confirms that we as a government are upholding the principles and values of the constitution and the laws of Timor-Leste. We are pleased with the outcome and most importantly, encouraged that our working processes have been validated by the high court."

"It seems this government wants to pick and choose which court decisions it will accept," Guterres said.

For information contact José Teixeira M.P. on +670 728 7080

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