09 September 2010

Row over graft charges rocks Timor coalition

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD Lindsay Murdoch September 9, 2010 DARWIN: A bitter row over allegations of corruption has destabilised East Timor's ruling four-party coalition, leading to the resignation yesterday of a deputy prime minister appointed early last year to crack down on ministerial corruption.

Mario Carrascalao, 73, the patriarch of the one of the country's most powerful families, said he was left with no option but to quit over personal attacks on him by the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, which included calling him an ''idiot''.

Mr Carrascalao said that Mr Gusmao had ignored the alleged loss of $US3 million ($3.3 million) in government funds and instead spread untruths about him. Mr Gusmao could not be reached for comment.

In a blistering resignation letter obtained by the Herald, Mr Carrascalao detailed 29 criticisms of the government that he said he identified in the first four months of being appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinator for State Administration.

His criticisms included failure to curb domestic violence, lack of compulsory education, problems creating laws that established a rule of law, lack of justice and one of the world's slowest bureaucracies.

Late last month the government's Council of Ministers stripped Mr Carrascalao of his powers over government procurement, handing the powers back to ministers and accusing him of making unfounded allegations. A week later a government spokesman, Agio Pereira, issued a statement saying Mr Carrascalao's actions and lawsuits emanating from his office had caused budget delays and impaired service delivery in government departments.

''To date the Office of Vice-Prime Minister Carrascalao has made no advancements in identifying, discovering or uncovering any corrupt activities,'' Mr Pereira said.

Instability in the government will make it more difficult for the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to negotiate her proposal for a regional asylum centre in East Timor, although Mr Carrascalao was a vocal opponent of it.

Mr Gusmao yesterday issued a statement congratulating Ms Gillard on her election victory and said there were ''matters of significance that our governments will discuss in the shared interests of our people.''

Mr Carrascalao's Social Democratic Party, or PSD, is likely to withdraw from the governing coalition as early as this weekend, giving a majority in parliament to an opposition led by Fretilin, the largest political party. The PSD president, Zacarias da Costa, who is the Foreign Minister, has not spoken with Mr Gusmao since a bitter falling-out in April. In recent months Mr Gusmao has sidelined Mr da Costa and intervened in foreign issues.

Fretilin's secretary-general, Mari Alkatiri, has said the opposition would not use any majority it might get as a result of the crisis to bring down the government at the moment. But he has made clear the opposition would demand that national elections be brought forward from 2012 to next year.

Dr Alkatiri said Mr Gusmao had waged an offensive against Mr Carrascalao aimed at stopping him exposing ministerial corruption. ''Mr Carrascalao's treatment shows that incompetent and crooked ministers will be allowed to stay in their posts long after Mr Gusmao should have got rid of them,'' he said.

''This incident shows the rot that has clearly set in, and there is a crisis of trust between the ministers and leaders of the various factions of the government.''

Mr Carrascalao is a former Indonesian-appointed governor of East Timor, whose family has vast business interests in the country.

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