ABC Radio Australia 15 July 2009 - East Timor's prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, says he welcomes aninvestigation by the country's anti-corruption commission into allegations that he signed off on a multi million dollar deal for a company, part owned by his daughter, to import rice. Responding for the first time to the allegations, which are now being described as 'Ricegate' by East Timor's government spokesperson, Mr Gusmao says he doesn't believe his daughter used her relationship with him to negotiate the deal.
Presenter: Stephanie March
Speakers: Xanana Gusmao, East Timorese prime minister; Arsenio Bano,
deputy leader, opposition Fretilin party, Dili
MARCH: Fearing a looming food crisis, East Timor's government last year handed out tens of millions of dollars in government contracts for companies to import thousands of tonnes of rice.
As Radio Australia recently revealed some of the companies that profited are part-owned by relatives of the prime minister and another government minister. The prime minister's daughter has a stake in one of those companies.
And the opposition Fretilin party says it's a case of nepotism and corruption, and is calling for the prime minister to resign.
Now, after weeks of silence, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has now responded.
GUSMAO: In the law, it states that the wife, or husband, and children, and also others, can only have a 10 per cent share. They are not allowed over 10 per cent. If there is proof that the share is more than ten percent, then declare that I did wrong, it means I'm wrong.
MARCH: Radio Australia has obtained documents that indicate Zenilda Gusmao secured an 11.1 per cent stake in Prima Food. Prima Food was one of 17 companies which last year received government contracts to import rice to East Timor. Together, the contracts were worth US$56 million.
GUSMAO: I don't want to respond. Even the ABC came here, it seems like they are making a big deal of it. I didn't even meet them, and I don't even want to. Because now you are asking, I'm answering. Now, I respond that I don't worry about it.
MARCH: But the prime minister says he will face an investigation by East Timor's recently established anti-corruption commission.
GUSMAO: I don't want to explain any more, I don't want to explain any more. The anti-corruption commission can dig, and will dig, including into what happened in the past. Then we will see.
MARCH: Government ministers have stood by the prime minister through and have restated their defence of Xanana Gusmao in an official press release entitled 'Ricegate'.
GOVERNMENT STATEMENT: In regards to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's reports regarding rice, rice and more rice, boiled, baked and fried Fretilin style, the spokesperson of the IV Constitutional Government, and the secretary of state for the council of ministers, Agio Pereira, said 'While the continued campaign ad nauseam is becoming domestic fodder, Arsenio Bano is still repeating this propaganda'.
MARCH: But Arsenio Bano, the deputy leader of the opposition Fretilin party, says he's concerned about the government's use of the term 'Ricegate' - and says it suggests the government knows it has done wrong.
BANO: I don't know if they realise what they are saying about rice gate. For me, it's really a scandal, and the government says the same thing. I don't know where this country will end up with this kind of situation.
MARCH: Despite Xanana Gusmao's willingness to face the anti-corruption commission, Arsenio Bano is still calling for the prime minister to step down.
The anti-corruption commission has yet to be properly set up and there's no deadline for when it might release its findings.