03 September 2009

FRETILIN: Gusmao government trying to shutdown parliamentary inquiry on “Ricegate”


Dili, September 3, 2009

FRETILIN: Gusmao government trying to shutdown parliamentary inquiry on “Ricegate”

Two members of the Timorese Parliament withdrew their signatures from a formal request for a parliamentary inquiry into the ‘Ricegate’ scandal, during the parliamentary session on September 1, 2009. They had been part of a majority which signed the request on August 25, 2009. The FRETILIN parliamentary leader, Mr Aniceto Guterres said today that he believed the two were pressured by the government in an effort to shut down the inquiry before it starts, but that the formal inquiry must go ahead.

The two MPs, Teresa do Amaral from ASDT and Mateus de Jesus, formerly from PUN and now an independent, withdrew their support, saying they did not read it at the time and therefore did not know what they were signing. These two MPs had previously criticised the government’s handling of the sale of rice.

“The request was formally admitted by the acting president of the parliament on 25 August 2009, and endorsed as being in compliance with the parliamentary inquiry law for the purpose of establishing and composing a commission of inquiry. All that is left is for the commission to be formally comprised and sworn in, so it can begin its very important work. Just this week again there are reports of a shortage of rice in the market, and prices almost doubling in just a few days. This is incredible given the tens of millions that have been spent by the state from the national budget for rice acquisition,” said Mr Guterres.

“We are concerned that this is a move to shut the inquiry down and force us to resubmit a request which will not be dealt with until the new parliamentary term starting on 15 September 2009. If it happens, then again this government’s seriousness about accountability is in grave question,” Mr Guterres said.

“There are 22 signatures required from MPs. We could have obtained those from FRETILIN and its allies alone, but wanted to give others who shared our concern the opportunity to make a stand on the issue. However, it must have displeased certain people and we know of at least one MP who was pressured by a current serving Minister to withdraw her support,” said Mr Guterres.

“We had called for and welcomed the parliament’s decision on 25 August 2009 to accept a request by MPs from five political parties represented in the national parliament, including FRETILIN MPs, to create a parliamentary inquiry into the Ricegate scandal,” said Mr Guterres.

Ever since multiple large contracts were given without any tender process last year, and rice imported by the government has plainly been corruptly sold in Indonesia, FRETILIN has been demanding the relevant documents be presented to the parliament, which has a formal responsibility to oversight the budget.

In recent weeks Ricegate has become a media conflict between local and overseas reporters and the office of the Prime Minister.

“This inquiry must still go ahead, despite these withdrawn signatures, to be able to resolve the public concerns about these rice import contracts, by establishing exactly what happened. It will also improve the quality of government by demonstrating to our institutions – the Ministers, the civil service, and the judiciary – how the laws passed by this parliament are meant to work for the benefit of all the people of Timor-Leste”, Mr Guterres concluded.

For further information please contact Jose Teixeira MP on +670 728 7080

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