01 November 2009

Fretilin Media Release: Dark cloud over Timor-Leste Heavy Oil Plant



Media Release

Dili, 29 October 2009

Dark cloud over Timor-Leste Heavy Oil Plant

Timor-Leste's capital city of Dili continues to receive only sporadic electricity supply, one year after the de facto Gusmao government boasted that all 13 of the nation's districts would have 24-hour power within one year.

Dili is hit by daily power cuts of up to four hours affecting a quarter of the city at a time. Baucau town was given 24 hours electricity by the previous FRETILIN government in 2006. But no other district capital or township has anywhere near 24 hours of electricity a day, said FRETILIN MP Inacio Moreira, a Minister for Transport and Telecommunications in the former FRETILIN government. "They are lucky if they have 4 hours a day," he said.

On 24 October, 2008, de facto Prime Minister Gusmao issued a media release titled "East Timor to Electrify the Nation". It read: "Today marked the official signing of the Government contract to build the Nation Wide Electrical Grid and Power Plant. Construction is anticipated to be a two year multiphase process, with 13 districts having 24-hour power by the end of year one and by the end of year two, all sub districts in Timor-Leste will have access to 24-hour power."

The national media in recent weeks has carried many reports on the lack of progress with the controversial heavy fuel power station. Mr Moreira said rumours persist that the project has been cancelled, but it has been difficult to obtain a clear statement from the government.

"Everyone can see that other than land clearing and some minor building works, the land allocated for the Hera heavy oil plant is virtually vacant and the project at a standstill. The Prime Minister and his Secretary of State, Agio Pereira have both made ambiguous and contradictory statements, from the project fully going ahead, to there being a revision of the project size and capacity. Both have said that the proposed power station in Manatuto has been cancelled and only Hera near Dili and Betano on the south coast will now go ahead. But we have information that the contract is in the process of being cancelled, if not already cancelled.

"We all know that the proposed plant and equipment is mostly second hand from China, de-commissioned many years ago. The government has not come clean on this very dirty project. Dirty because it was selected without a tender, or expressions of interest called but no actual tender. Sound and viable proposals involving cleaner energy were ignored altogether. Dirty because there has not been an environmental impact assessment as required by law," Moreira added.

Moreira said the de facto government had treated opposition parties and civil society groups with contempt over the issue. Despite repeated requests, the government had failed to provide copies of the agreement for MPs to analyse.

"Budget money allocated for the project has been illegally diverted without the knowledge of parliament to other rushed and ill-conceived projects in the 'Referendum Package'. A CNRT MP, Mr Arao Noe , who is the secretary of the parliamentary infrastructure committee G, this week said the projects' ‘quality could not be guaranteed’ because of the short time period for completion put on the contracts. Parliament has requested details of these projects, but has not been provided with them by the government. The de facto Finance Minister dodged all questions on it and deflected them to the Prime Minister.

"Many other concerns have been expressed from diverse quarters regarding the totally non-transparent manner in which the contractors for the Referendum Package have been selected. There have been no tenders, with the winners hand-picked by the de facto Prime Minister himself. Mr Gusmao has simply thrown our procurement laws out the window.

"Initially our main concern with the Heavy Oil Project was the dark cloud of environmental degradation on an unprecedented scale for our people. Now there is a dark cloud not only over the future of electricity in our country, but also over the tens of millions of dollars that will be wasted in this ill-conceived and illegal Referendum Package.

"Over a billion dollars of budget expenditure in two and a bit years and this is all they have to show for it - no expanded power sector, and an illegal and hurried bunch of public works projects doomed to fail," said Moreira.

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

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