30 May 2009

East Timor defends 'jobs for mates' allegations

ABC News E Timor defends 'jobs for mates' allegations By Steve Holland and Stephanie March
- Corruption allegations continue to be directed at East Timor's finance ministry, with the latest claims centring on Finance Minister Emilia Pires's hiring of foreign advisers, including Australians.

East Timor's opposition says the advisers are overpaid and are not qualified for the jobs and the country's deputy Prime Minister says corruption exists throughout government.

The opposition alleges Ms Pires hired unqualified friends as advisers.

The adviser positions are funded by the World Bank, and Fretilin vice-president MP Arsenio Bano says some of those hired do not have the educational qualifications outlined in the job advertisement's selection criteria, while others with higher qualifications were overlooked.

"It is becoming clear that the money that has been sent by the donor has not been used transparently enough," he said.

"One of the examples that we now continue to insist that the Government should be accountable for [is that] since 2008, we have be calling for accountability, responsibility of the Government, and Government has not provided any information at all to the Parliament of Timor-Leste."

The Opposition says a recently-appointed adviser is a long-time friend of Ms Pires and does not have a degree, but is being paid $US216,000 ($277,000) from the World Bank's multi-million-dollar Public Finance Management Capacity Building Project.

World Bank documents show that foreign advisors earn much more than the Prime Minister of East Timor, and nearly as much as the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

East Timor is the poorest country in Asia, where the medium income is $US1 a day, or around $400 a year.

Paper trail

According to some documents obtained by Radio Australia, the Opposition's claim that some of those hired by the Finance Ministry do not have university degrees is true.

But Ms Pires insists that the best people have been chosen for the positions, and educational qualifications only accounted for one part of the selection process.

"There were many other criterias: work experience in the field, understanding of the environment here, there were quite a few criterias, and all these people had to go through it," she said.

"Then you bring all that together and then you do a grading and then these people passed the test according to technical team that did the interviews and the screening."

Ms Pires says she has been fighting corruption since she came into office and believes the country's economy is improving, as figures suggest.

East Timor is now one of the five fastest growing economies in the world.

The country last year recorded non-oil GDP growth between 11 and 12 per cent, according to the World Bank.

"When we came in we inherited a country on the brink of becoming a failed state," Ms Pires said.

"We needed the best people to turn the country around. I think the results over a year and half have proven that. We would have been able to do that if we had incompetent people."

Whether or not the recent corruption allegations aimed at the finance ministry are simply the result of political bickering, the World Bank told Radio Australia in a statement that it is looking at the matter closely.

"The World Bank is reviewing contracts between the Government of Timor-Leste and consultants under the Planning and Financial Management Capacity Building Program (PFMCBP) in Timor-Leste as part of its supervision of the project. The World Bank's policy is not to finance consultant contracts that fail to meet appropriate standards of competition and expertise," it said.

"While good results have been achieved through the PFMCBP, the technical assistance has been costly.

"The World Bank has raised its concerns with Government about the need to reduce the number of consultants and ensure that international technical assistance delivers quality expertise and value for money for the citizens of Timor-Leste. The government shares these concerns and supports the review underway."

Corruption in government has been a much-discussed problem for East Timor since the country gained independence in 1999.

And the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Mario Carrascalao, says it is still very much an issue for East Timor.

He believes as much as 20 per cent of the country's Budget is squandered or lost to corruption.

"For instance, I went outside of Dili, about 20 kilometres, I found that there's 26 houses that have been built and then abandoned, nobody uses those houses you know," he said.

The Deputy Prime Minister says his government is making strong efforts to stamp out corruption in office. The Finance Ministry has recorded strong gains for the country and the Department's Minister also says eradicating corruption is a top priority. But a history of corruption in East Timor's Government and a relatively strong opposition means allegations will continue to surface amid the country's economic headway.

Editor's note (May 29, 2009): This story was amended to remove a reference to an audit into the finance department.


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