16 December 2008

FRETILIN condemns secrecy on consultants' fees

Media Release
Dili, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finance Minster's 'mates rates' for well-connected Australians

FRETILIN condemns secrecy on consultants' fees

Money from Timor Leste’s National Petroleum Fund, as well as scarce donor funding is being squandered on exorbitant salaries and fees to under-qualified foreign and local consultants with political and/or personal connections to government ministers, FRETILIN MP and Party Vice President, Arsenio Bano, said today.

Bano, who was also a former Minister in the FRETILIN government said that de facto Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao had refused to release details of the number of consultants as well as copies of their contracts, despite repeated requests by FRETILIN and other MPs in Parliament to his Finance Minister, Emilia Pires.

“The government is providing jobs for ‘mates’, both Timorese nationals and Australian citizens born in Timor-Leste. They are receiving exorbitant salaries and consultancy fees, and many are woefully under-qualified, especially in the Ministry of Finance,” Bano said.

“We understand more than 70 advisors have been hired for the Ministry of Finance alone this year.”

They included a Sydney-based Australian lawyer paid more than US$80,000 for just over one month’s work in the first months of the AMP de facto government as an advisor on Timor-Leste’s petroleum law – despite having no specific legal experience in the petroleum sector.

“His only skill as far as we can gauge is knowing the right people in the government and having connections with diplomats and Timorese businessmen,” Bano said.

“We also know of a laboratory technician with no experience or qualifications in public finance or related fields being paid over US$10,000 per month to advise the Minister for Finance.

Bano added: “The new fashion is ‘jobs for the boys’, and in some cases ‘the girlfriends’.

“Many of these shysters are being paid from the state budget which is almost totally funded from the Timorese people’s Petroleum Fund.

“Perhaps this is the Minister of Finance’s latest poverty eradication program for the politically connected and already economically privileged.”

Bano said FRETILIN first argued against payment of exorbitant consultants’ fees during the budget debate last December. He said that this is being repeated with the AMP’s 2009 proposed budget that is currently being discussed in the parliamentary committees.

“Repeated attempts to get basic details of the numbers of consultants, their skills and experience have been refused, as if the information was a state secret rather than a matter of public interest.

“These are basic public accounts details the government is constitutionally and legally bound to provide to parliament to enable it to perform its budget oversight role effectively.”

Bano said that thanks to revenue from the FRETILIN government–initiated Petroleum Fund, the Gusmao government had an annual budget equivalent to the seven annual budgets available to previous governments.

“This bounty should be spent on health, education and agriculture, the prime movers of real human development, which receive less than 15 per cent of the current budget. Neither should our donors be giving funds to pay people without suitable or adequate qualifications. Those funds can be better spent on our people’s development,” he said.

For further information, please contact Arsenio Bano on +670 741 2447 or Jose Teixeira on +670 728 7080

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