Presidência da República
Remarks By President J. Ramos-Horta
To the Diplomatic Corps
In Dili, Timor-Leste
29th December 2008
It has become a tradition in some countries that the Head of State invites the diplomatic corps for Christmas and/or New Year gathering. I hope to make this an annual occasion during which I share with you my thoughts on the year that is ending and what we hope for in 2009.
On 31st December, I will deliver my End of the Year and New Year Message to the Nation with a more detailed account of my Presidency. Today I will be succinct.
As you all know, I began 2008 with a very fruitful, memorable visit to Brazil. Before my departure for Brazil, I gathered in my residence all the main political leaders, the Speaker of our National Parliament, Mr. Fernando Araujo Lasama, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, former Speaker Mr. Francisco Lu’Olo Guterres, former Prime Ministers Dr. Mari Alkatiri and Eng. Estanislau da Silva among others, representing the broadest possible political spectrum of our Nation. And this was not the first such meeting. All the mentioned leaders had honoured me with their presence in my residence on other occasions. In these meetings we had the opportunity to openly discuss, in a constructive manner, the challenges facing our Nation.
Some of the challenges we discussed were the then on-going problems involving Mr. Alfredo Reinado and his armed group, the so-called “petitioners”, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and the general security conditions in Dili. We shared the view that we all had a responsibility to contribute to creating a safer environment for our people.
As my visit to Brazil almost coincided with the much acclaimed Brazilian carnival, I was hoping to enjoy a few days off in Rio. However, at the meeting in my residence held before my departure for Brazil, my colleagues urged me to return earlier which I did as they were all very keen to continue the dialogue under my auspices. Within two days of my return on Feb 6th I met with all the said political leaders to continue the discussion.
The discussions were held at a very open and friendly atmosphere. The leaders seemed committed to work together to stabilise the situation in the country.
I told the leaders gathered in my residence that I was determined to have a resolution of the problems of Mr. Alfredo Reinado and the so-called “petitioners” by May 2008. Resolution of these two problems was indispensable if we wanted to see a return of the IDPs to their original neighbourhood.
You all know what happened on 11th February 2008. The motives of Mr. Reinado remain unknown to me. The trial of those involved directly or indirectly in the 11th February attack on me and the Prime Minister might reveal more facts.
It was feared that the country would slide into a civil war. The usual critics of Timor-Leste and its leaders seemed happy to confirm that Timor-Leste was a “failed State”.
Timor-Leste did not slide into a civil war. The opposite happened. All the State institutions continued to function. We have since entered a period of peace not seen since 2000. My near death, like the near death of Mahatma Ghandi when he went on a long hunger strike, pushed back the people from the brink of a wider conflict.
The “petitioners” who were hesitating to accept an offer put forward by me almost one year earlier began to assemble at a designated point in Dili.
A successful Join Operation ordered by the acting President and Prime Minister induced the peaceful surrender of Mr. Reinado and Mr. Salsinha’s group and this in turn encouraged the IDPs to start thinking about returning home.
The Joint Operation was a significant military and political success, a tribute to the political leadership of the Speaker Mr. Fernando Araujo and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of our two security forces. The PNTL and the FFDTL dispelled the negative perceptions and fears about them.
Our economy rebounded in 2008 with non-oil 10% GDP growth. The progress can be seen and felt in Dili and across the country.
There has been a steady progress in the redevelopment of our national police and defence forces. The two institutions that almost imploded in 2006 and engaged in shoot-out in Dili have made significant recovery. Challenges remain in the redevelopment of the two security agencies. But I believe we are on the right track.
I caution against hasty hand-over of policing responsibilities from UNPOL to PNTL. While I understand the need and desire on the part of East Timorese police officers to take charge of security of our own country, we must always bear in mind the lessons of a very recent past.
There has been much criticism levelled at the East Timorese leaders for failing to provide adequate infrastructure and logistic means to our police force. I spoke out on this problem in 2005 and 2006 while still a Foreign Affairs Minister. The situation was such that I personally purchased in 2005 three horses for our police in the Laklubar Sub-District who had to walk up to 8hrs to cover some of the remotest areas in their jurisdiction.
While I welcome the criticisms and the endless reports undertaken by the UN Dep’t of Peace-Keeping Operations (DPKO), donors and the UN might ask themselves what they might have done wrong because after all they were involved in the development of our police force.
I have yet to receive a copy of a recent DPKO report published in one of Australia’s newspapers. It seems that some in the UN system in Dili or New York are addicted to leaking so-called confidential UN reports to Australian media.
The previous Australian Govt announced in 2004 that it was contributing US$30 million for our police force. Why some of this money did not go to build our border police posts or other police infrastructures, purchase much need communications equipment, etc is beyond my comprehension.
The UN was in charge of our police development from 2000 to 2003. However, in those three years, only some old Indian Tatas were handed over to our police. Apart from minor building repairs, some painted up jobs of old buildings, UNTAET and its successor missions provided no support for building infrastructures for our incipient and starving police force.
From 2002 to 2005, development assistance money was far greater than the State’s own budget and yet donors were reluctant to provide direct budget support for the cash-starved government.
I have stated before, overall percentage of the ODA allocated to the agriculture sector declined world-wide from 18% to less than 3% in the last 20 years. I urge development partners to reverse this downward trend.
Donors should make rural development, agriculture, food security, irrigation, rural roads, and access to clean water, access to school and medical care for the rural poor, a top priority in the next 10 years. We would see dramatic results by 2015, our Human Development Indicators will have improved significantly.
I urge the Government and donors to invest more in our youth. I would like to see Youth Centres in every district in 2009-10, with managed free Internet access for our students, library, cinema, and sports activities.
In closing, I wish to thank you all for your support to Timor-Leste. I wish you, the people you represent, a better New Year. I wish you personally, your spouses and children, and other relatives much health and happiness.