EAST TIMOR: 'Political' Appointment of Police Chief Resented By Matt Crook DILI, Mar 23 (IPS) - The decision to appoint East Timor’s prosecutor general as chief of the country’s police force is being criticised by analysts who say the move is politically motivated and threatens to stunt the institution as the handover of power from the UN Police (Unpol) begins.
Longuinhos Monteiro is currently East Timor’s prosecutor general. On Mar. 27 he will be sworn in as the commander of the Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL), replacing Interim Police Commander Alfonso de Jesus.
Luis de Oliveira Sampaio is the executive director of non-governmental organization Judicial System Monitoring Programme. "We would prefer the commander to come from inside the institution. It would be a better way to see loyalty from the PNTL with their commander. We would prefer a person who has a good knowledge of the institution," he said.
Sampaio says the move has a political edge. "They know they could get someone from inside the PNTL for the job. In the past, the PNTL has been used politically, so it’s hard to say whether the PNTL will be loyal to the new commander," he added.
Monteiro made headlines in 2005 when he sued businessman Francisco Lui for defamation after a story appeared in the Diario Tempo newspaper alleging extortion against Monteiro and two other public prosecutors. A district court in Dili ruled in favour of Lui in January this year.
Secretary of State for Security Francisco Guterres defended the decision to give Monteiro the job, saying the appointment is "only for a transitional period of two years". During the transitional period, Monteiro will prepare a new commander to take over the role while working to restructure and strengthen the institutions of the PNTL, he added.
"Once the PNTL is ready to assume responsibility then [Monteiro] will leave and the PNTL will take responsibility for the new police commander," Guterres added.
Opposition member of parliament (MP) Arsenio Bano said there is concern about whether Monteiro will be able to effectively lead East Timor’s police force. "The PNTL is a career institution. It can be demoralising to the police if someone has an ambition to become commander."
Speaking to parliament on Mar. 17, José Ramos-Horta voiced concern about the "large number of pending cases at the office of the prosecutor general". There are currently about 3,000 cases pending.
Lawmaker Bano said that the large number of cases reflects poorly on Monteiro. "He has not performed very well while he has been prosecutor general," he added.
Monteiro told IPS he could not say whether it was a good or bad appointment. "I cannot say yes or no, but I have some background from Indonesia where I was a soldier. I have experience in the Indonesian army, I have experience in the [pro-independence] Falintil guerrillas and I have experience in leading one full battalion of the army."
The decision to appoint a new PNTL commander comes at a critical time for East Timor’s police force. The government and the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) recently reached a formal agreement for the PNTL to reassume policing responsibilities in the country.
There will be a gradual and phased approach that will go district by district and unit by unit based on a set of benchmarks agreed by UNMIT and the PNTL.
According to a document headed by the logos of UNMIT and the PNTL, the agreed criteria are "the ability of the PNTL to respond appropriately to the security environment, final certification of at least 80 percent eligible PNTL officers in a given district or unit before handover, the availability of initial operational logistical requirements and institutional stability".
A joint team including members of UNMIT and the PNTL will carry out the assessment. UNMIT spokesperson Gyorgy Kakuk said that no date has been set for the final transfer of responsibilities but that it will take some time for the process to be completed.
In her latest paper, "Timor-Leste: the curious case of the fake policemen", East Timor researcher from the Australian National University Bu Wilson wrote that "the Timorese police are weak, unaccountable and factionalised". Wilson last year conducted a review of the PNTL’s capability.
Wilson’s paper about the "fake policeman" drew attention to confusion surrounding whether power currently lies with Unpol or the PNTL. With the UNMIT mission extended until Feb. 2010, the exact role of Unpol is unclear.
In October last year, Interim PNTL Commander of Baucau Adérito da Costa Ximenes Neto was suspended from duty by Unpol for a false-identity crime.
The decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal after it found that the Supplementary Policing Agreement between the United Nations (U.N.) and the government of Timor-Leste that gives the U.N. executive policing powers in the country had not been ratified by parliament.
This meant that then-Unpol interim commander Juan Carlos Areval didn’t have the legal authority to suspend Neto.
Unpol quickly released a statement saying, "We have no doubts as to the applicability of the Supplemental Arrangement that is under international law a legally binding agreement between the United Nations and the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste."
Secretary of State for Security Guterres told IPS: "The court didn’t decide that the Supplementary Agreement is invalid, but that there is no authority because the affidavit of the supplementary agreement did not go through several steps to become regulation. We have already signed an agreement with the U.N. and we have to honour the agreement."
Guterres added that the government is in talks with the U.N. to review a new Supplementary Agreement. "We hope that maybe in two months’ time we can have the final agreement," he said.
Regardless of paperwork, there is tension between Unpol and the PNTL in Dili. Speaking from his home in the capital under the condition of anonymity, the commander of one of the PNTL units told IPS, "I am unsatisfied with Unpol because if Unpol had been doing its job then there would be no need to change the PNTL commander.
"There is no progress inside the PNTL. The Unpol who are now working with the PNTL, most of them are not professional. Unpol’s mentoring system is not progressing and they keep pending all the cases that proceed in court."
Monteiro will soon face the task of leading East Timor’s 3,000-strong PNTL force.
Sampaio from JSMP added, "We don’t want people to use Monteiro’s position to influence the institution for private or political interests." ea(END/2009)
Image added by ETLJB: East Timor police officers.
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