21 January 2009

East Timor minister denies corruption

Mark Dodd 21 January 2009 Article from: The Australian EAST Timor's Gusmao Government yesterday denied claims by the Fretilin opposition that several million dollars' worth of unaccounted expenditure involved corruption.

Finance Minister Emilia Pires disputed opposition claims that $US8.8 million ($13.3 million) had been lost from government accounts. Nor was an "urgent" search under way for money allocated to various government departments, she said.

In parliament, the Gusmao Government has acknowledged that money allocated to various departments is unaccounted for.

The Australian understands the amount outstanding is about $US6 million.

In a statement yesterday, Ms Pires said the Finance Ministry was in the process of end-of-year reconciliation of accounts and ministries had until March to submit final justifications.

"There has not been any letter or documented exchange which stated or inferred corrupt government officials have misappropriated government funds," the minister said.

"We use an automated accounting system to record all expenditure from the 2008 state budget. The reconciliations are updated regularly so that over time we are able to confidently track all public funds.

"This is a completely transparent process," Ms Pires said.

In a story published on January 16, The Australian cited two official letters detailing concerns about unauthorised bank accounts held by senior government officials.

Ms Pires said the first letter detailing correspondence between herself and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was only ever in draft form and was never sent.

A second letter written by the minister to the head of the BNU Bank in Dili ordering the closure of a government account and a request all monies be redirected into the central government account comprised "normal administrative practice", she said.

Last night Fretilin opposition spokesman Jose Teixeira said he was standing by the graft claims.

"This is a very serious issue. We (East Timor) have never had such a large amount of outstanding money in terms of these advances," he said.

"And we're again debating a budget where they (Gusmao Government) are seeking more money from the petroleum fund.

"The parliament's committee for finance, economy and anti-corruption laments that this minister has not provided an up-to-date credit and debt accounting (of the missing money) but she will have to by the end of March."

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