18 April 2009

FRETILIN: Open Letter to East Timor Development Partners




Dili, 2 April 2009

We welcome the representatives of Timor-Leste’s development partners to Dili.

The people of Timor-Leste, now more than ever need the engagement of its development partners to provide external assistance to re-establish the credibility of public administration (especially in public finances), which has been heavily politicized and weakened since 2007.

External assistance is also vitally needed to strengthen the institutions that are in place such as the Office of the Provedor (Ombudsman) for Human Rights and Justice, Office of the Prosecutor General, and the courts, to combat corruption before it increases beyond its current prevalent level.

Timor-Leste needs ongoing external assistance to strengthen the justice sector, especially the courts that have been subject to unprecedented interference and attacks since August 2007, with the aim of to reestablishing the rule of law in Timor-Leste.

We especially advocate for the increase in external assistance to build an independent, professional, ethical and effective police force. In essence security sector reform must move forward, but do so with an approach that has national consensus behind it. We are alarmed that this much-needed reform has remained stagnant since 2007.

Fundamental problems within and between the security and defense institutions, which resulted in the 2006 crisis, remain unresolved, and tensions remain.

We also call on the development partner community to ensure mechanisms are put in place to effectively and transparently manage and oversee the implementation of external assistance. We are concerned that especially some multilateral development partners have conducted themselves with questionable transparency and appear to have been too willing and malleable in acceding to the engagement of advisors” and “consultants” with doubtful, inappropriate, inadequate and even non-existent technical expertise or relevant work experience, simply because of personal or political connections to the de facto government.

Lack of transparency and probity has infected the AMP government’s dealings with the national parliament and civil society. There has been a total lack of transparency and accountability to the national parliament on very large proposed infrastructure and defense project (heavy fuel oil and single source acquisition of patrol boats). This has also been the case with the petroleum sector with “secret deals” of dubious probity and legality that have been entered into, but the details and documentation of which have been denied to the national parliament.

The parliament has generally been denied access by the government to contract and procurement documents which opposition parties have requested. The government has stated in parliament that government contracts such as those mentioned above are subject to “confidentiality” provisions and therefore not accessible by the parliament.

FRETILIN regards this as inappropriate from a good governance point of view but also unconstitutional and in most if not all cases, illegal.

Such lack of transparency and probity weakens all of our efforts to build up good governance and the rule of law in Timor-Leste.

Continuing external assistance to improve transparency and probity in governance by all concerned is in our view essential to Timor-Leste’s national development.

As all development partners are patently aware FRETILIN does not recognize the constitutional legitimacy of the so-called AMP government, the reasons for which extend back to the President of the Republic’s decision to invite Mr. José Alexandre Gusmão to form government despite having lost the elections.

FRETILIN maintains this position and continues to reserve its right to bring an appropriate constitutional appeal at a timing of our choosing. The legal advice we have is clearly that the President of the Republic erred constitutionally, and such a constitutionally null and void mistake on his part is not remedied or does not elapse with the lapsing of time, however much time.

The more time that has passed since being purportedly sworn in, our conviction of the unconstitutionality of the AMP executive has been alarmingly compounded with repeated acts of illegality and unconstitutionality, acts which have been declared to be so by the highest court in the land.

Interference with the judiciary, including unwarranted direct attacks on and removal of judges, as well as the trampling on the constitution and disregard for the rule of law has become the method of governance. This is all occurring whilst there has been an alarming increase in reports and allegations of official corruption, nepotism and collusion has become the rule.

Attacks on the freedom of the press have occurred by the executive, and constitutionally and universally guaranteed civil and political rights have been violated and disregarded with too increasing frequency and disdain by the police, whilst either sanctioned or left unaddressed by the executive and legislature.

All this has been occurring with a silent at least, at most passive and apparently acquiescent development partner community. All in stark contrast to active and vocal criticism that once was the case with the First Constitutional Government between 2002 and 2006.

In November 2007 FRETILIN presented to the Secretary General of the United Nations a proposal for Timor-Leste to move on from the impasse that beset us at the time. In short it called for a high level mechanism for reaching national consensus on problems such as the internally displaced persons, Alfredo Reinado and the “petitioners”, public administration, justice and security sector reform. In recognition of the need for national problems to be resolved by way of nationally debated and reached consensus, FRETILIN proposed participating in high level “commissions” to work through these problems with the de facto government.

These issues have still not been resolved at their core, and remain festering sores, and will remain so. FRETILIN maintains that peace and stability are built with long-term sustainable policies to build social and political cohesion through the participation of the citizenry, and not “bought off” as the de facto government has chosen to do. This is a policy fraught with danger the impacts have not yet emerged due to the deep-seated ramifications of the dependency and entitlement mentality it has already entrenched.

Resolving these issues will involve well developed and publicly debated policies and planned actions to reconcile communities with respect to the politically motivated violence that broke out in 2006 and which resulted in the large numbers of internally displaced persons. Unresolved land and property disputes and the failure to bring perpetrators of crimes in the communities to justice unless resolved will be a hindrance to ongoing peace and stability.

Similarly, as earlier cited, security sector reform has been stagnant. It is more than FRETILIN who thinks that the police force is rife with the divisions from 2006, with discontentment and uncertainty being rife.

The politicization of the police has reached new heights with the very “political” appointment of the former Prosecutor General to the post of Commander General.

Much has been made of a deliberate, but in our view, mistaken policy of “buying peace”, with unsustainable and ill implemented handouts and payouts. Our question is “what will happen when the handouts run out”, which they will at current rate of excessive spending, and low petroleum prices. We know many development partners are asking the same.

The internationally recognized Timor-Leste Petroleum Fund Law and the prudent, sustainable and human development oriented model established by the First Constitutional Government, is under challenge from the AMP de facto government.

FRETILIN is committed to defending the petroleum fund, as well as its prudent and sustainable model from further attempts by the AMP to annually withdraw funds in excess of the sustainable income provisions in the law for the aimless public expenditure largess that has characterized state budgets since the AMP was handed power in 2007.

Budgetary and fiscally irresponsible policies such as the subsidization of national rice acquisition by the government, ill conceived and non-transparent capital investment programs such as in non renewable energy generation (heavy fuel oil), lack of proper planning and programming in all sector investments, beyond the capacity of the economy and public administration to absorb and implement, will result in an unsustainable depletion of the petroleum fund capital without any medium or long term development benefits.

The time has passed for us to speak of Timor-Leste “avoiding the resource curse” but to talk of how Timor-Leste should now be “saved from the resource curse” in which we are already immersed.

The Petroleum Fund Law was drafted during a two-year period, involving a draft policy then subsequently draft legislation proposals, that were both the subject of wide national and international public consultation and scrutiny prior to approval by the government and then further parliamentary public consultation taking place. The result was a law that had wide public consensus at all levels, reflected in the fact that it was passed by the parliament unanimously.

The development partners were indispensable in the assistance provided, especially the Norwegian Government, the World Bank, and the IMF.

FRETILIN is concerned with proposals being floated for wide ranging and substantial amendments to this law, none of which have been publicly consulted or discussed to anywhere near the same extent as the current law was.

This lack of public consultation though has become the modus operandi for the AMP de facto government.

Any proposals for amendments to the law should not be effected unless it passes the test of thoroughness, inclusiveness and transparency in the public consultation and legislating process that the current law underwent.

We seek the support of development partners to ensure that this occurs.

FRETILIN is committed to continuing to contribute to building peace and stability in our nation, by strengthening our democratic institutions, our economy and the rule of law. We will continue to do this as we have done, through our role as a strong de facto opposition in the national parliament and through the courts.

FRETILIN laments that the national parliament has merely become a rubber stamp for the de facto Prime Minister, when constitutionally it can be a necessary and vital check and balance to the excesses or errors of government.

A draft Law for Parliamentary Inquiries has been tabled in the national parliament for approval, which will establish the legal regime for initiating and conducting public parliamentary inquiries of the conduct of government and state institutions and bodies, except the courts. The proponents of the draft law include MPs from all political parties in the National Parliament.

This inquiry procedure is constitutionally mandated and will enable the minority non-government parties to establish inquiries, with the same number of proponents as who can currently initiate legislation, on matters of public interest.

The approval of this law with the support of the de facto government parties will prove their bona fides to ensuring that parliament can play its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the government and other institutions of state, and thereby an effective and necessary check and balance to the executive arm of government.

FRETILIN sees this as another measure that will help to strengthen democracy, good governance and the rule of law in our country, thereby ensuring future peace and stability for our nation and people.

The role of development partners has always been to support the Timor-Leste “state” to achieve these. The institutions of state, for ensuring national development, good governance and the rule of law, are not just the government, but include the parliament, an institution which has thus far been less favored by development partners.

We urge all development partners to review this situation and give due consideration to strengthening the national parliament as a way of ensuring good governance and the rule of law prevail in Timor-Leste.

With warmest regards

Aniceto Guterres
Parliamentary Leader

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