11 August 2009

Flawed, deficient and insufficient public consultations on East Timor's draft land law

ETLJB 11 August 2009 SYDNEY: East Timor Justice Minister Lucia Lobato continues to lead a flawed and deficient public consultation process on the draft land law. The East Timor Land Network has monitored the public consultation meetings and has reported that on each occasion of district meetings, only limited time, resources and opportunity have been provided to the community to participate in this critical legislative process - the confirmation of lawful titles to land in East Timor. It also seeks to regulate community land (communal land tenure systems) and foreign ownership of land. These are three of the most central problems in the complex area of land affairs in East Timor.

In Viqueque, a district well-known for a high level of violent and persistent conflicts over land, only one hour was provided for participants to speak. In Baucau, 90 minutes was allowed for public participation. Now, in Manufahi, one hour was all the time permitted for members of the public to convey their concerns about the draft.

Public meetings that provide such limited opportunity for the community to be heard are a clear indication of the inadequacy of the consultative process.

But more may be said about this charade of public consultations that is presently being conducted in East Timor on the draft land law. To begin with, it is worth noting that the East Timor land law program has been supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which has already committed several millions of dollars to the program.

The legislative process must be supported and informed by the democratic participation of stakeholders and persons affected by proposed new laws. It is axiomatic that the public consultations process be based on easily accessible information about the policies behind the draft, a lucid and comprehensive explanation of the provisions of the draft that is provided to stakeholders in advance of meetings or deadlines for submissions, and that a more sophisticated model be deployed to engage with the different groups - both formal and informal non-government organisations and entities; the business world, farmers and fishermen, women, traditional communities, the academics, law professors, judges and lawyers as well as the human rights sector are some of the many interest groups that need to be approached by the proponent of a draft land law (in this case the Minister for Justice).

And these approaches must each be individually designed and delivered to initiate a meaningful dialogue between the representatives of the government and civil society and its representatives.

In the case of a law such as a land law, it would ordinarily be expected that the consultative process would be at least a year long; preceded by proper preparations and the mobilisation of appropriate resources. And that should at least be a two-stage process - one that settles the policy; the other that settles the draft. To go directly to an unprepared community with just the draft in hand seems to be a deviation from the ordinary democratic process of community consultations on draft legislation. Not one, but many national, district and suco consultations should be undertaken.

To seek to regulate so many complex issues in a single draft is also a confusion of the legislative processes that ought to provide an entire legislative framework for each of those issues. This is something that is not reflected at all in the draft.

It is regrettable that the consultative process has so far been inadequate. Instead of merely extending the agony, the whole model needs to be revised and fundamentally reconceived - as does the draft itself.
Further critiques of the draft land law include:

Draft land law provisions on land rights for foreigners in East Timor will smother development

Communal Land Tenure Systems in East Timor to have no legal status under new draft land law

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