03 January 2013

Timor-Leste: The future and the Fifth Constitutional Government

Author: Agio Pereira, Minister of State and of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and Official Spokesperson for the Government of Timor-Leste Dili, Timor-Leste (East Timor)

It was the 8th August 2012. The appointed Prime Minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, after winning a historic election, and members of his government gathered in Solemn Hall in Lahane, the official presidential residence, to be sworn-in. After the two-hour ceremony was over, the Fifth Constitutional Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (VCG) came into being. This was around one 100 days ago; and that August the 8th also marked the complete five year mandate of the Fourth Constitutional Government. This was an important benchmark because, for the first time in history, Timor-Leste had a government that completed its full five-year mandate without interruption; and with a profound sense of optimism which the new government, the VCG, is expected to maintain, as it delivers further improvement across key areas of national development. 

It is, therefore, important to further outline some key reasons why 8 August 2012 not only marked a historic and positive occasion in the political history of the country, but also in the continued story of Timor-Leste’s development. First, this new government, the VCG, represented national stability and the promise of long-lasting peace in the context of a nation that since the 30th of August 1999had been supported by consecutive United Nations (UN) missions. At the start, it was UNAMET that organised the referendum, the Popular Consultation to determine whether the people of East Timor[i] preferred being within the Republic of Indonesia under an arrangement of special autonomy or detached from Indonesia completely to put an end to the illegal occupation, and become an independent and sovereign Nation-State. The result was unequivocal in favor of the latter

Within the realms of the May 5 Accord,[ii] the UN had to prepare the territory of East Timor for gaining full independence and sovereignty. This took two and a half years under the United Nations Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET). On May 20, 2002, Timor-Leste became a sovereign and independent State. The ceremony of independence was named the Restoration of Independence, reflecting the previous unilateral declaration of independence made by Fretilin on November 28, 1975, in Díli, the capital of the territory known then as Portuguese Timor.[iii] The road towards the consolidation of independence and full sovereignty is an ongoing challenge Timor-Leste struggles with to ensure success. This is why understanding the importance of the Fifth Constitutional Government and all the challenges ahead remains crucial to the understanding the process towards consolidation of independence and national sovereignty. 

Beyond transition  

Following May 20, 2002, the United Nations continued with a strong presence in the country. UNMISET replaced UNTAET until May 20 2004, when the responsibilities of defence and security were fully transferred to the sovereign government of Timor-Leste.[iv] Prime Minister Alkatiri and President Gusmão jointly received these responsibilities in a solemn ceremony in Heliport, Díli. The ceremony took place under a cloud of disagreement as to the most appropriate constitutional approach because some key members of Prime Minister Alkatiri’s government argued that the transfer of defence and security must not be to the President but to the Government.[v] Despite this disagreement, the ceremony took place and the transfer was successfully made to the President as well as to the Prime Minister, allowing both to sign the handover document, in a harmonious and amicable environment.[vi]

Second, the crisis of 2006. That crisis led to the call for help from the international community to restore order.  In response, the ISF, the International Stabilisation Force, landed in the country, under constitutional protection after all three pillars of sovereignty – Parliament, President and Prime Minister – formerly, and in writing, requested such assistance. This led to a tripartite agreement: the agreement between Timor-Leste and the United Nations for UNPOL to be established to forge institutional capacity building; the agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste[vii] to establish the ISF in the sovereign territory of Timor-Leste; and the agreement between the ISF and the UN for the ISF to be used as an extraction force in case such support was needed if the security situation deteriorated  as there was no UN peace keeping force to undertake this standard task.[viii]

 A third historical perspective was the fact that two years after the 2006 crisis, on February 11, 2008, the head of the State, President Ramos-Horta, was shot and almost killed and the Prime Minister, Kay Rala Gusmão, was also attacked but escaped injury.  Had the two men being mortally wounded the future of the country would have been seriously threatened, the road towards the consolidation of independence and sovereignty totally compromised; and perhaps the nation would have even been declared a failed state. The people of Timor-Leste knew the danger and – together – ensured that what they all had struggled and suffered and finally conquered was safeguarded: freedom and the consolidation of national independence. This was the proven trait of national resilience, which for 24 years kept the struggle for national liberation alive against all odds.  Therefore, the 8th of August of 2012 was, indeed, a historic event for the Nation and for all Timorese who desired nothing more, nothing less, than the consolidation of their independence and sovereignty.

The Fifth Constitutional Government: a big government?

            There is so much to be done - the question is whether it is effective [ix]

Big government; but maybe because there is so much to be done, said Bishop Ricardo da Silva. In his usual honest tone, Bishop Ricardo[x] responded to the question of a female journalist:  in your opinion, is this big government? While the reply was expected, it was a very honest one; yes, I think this is a big government, but maybe because there is so much to be done![xi]  Our Bishop of Díli Diocese was right. There is so much to be done.  And as a result, there are more members of government than the previous one; but this responds to the priorities Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão identified as a consequence of leading the Executive for the entire five-year term of his Fourth Constitutional Government.  Another full five-year term requires an honest reflection on lessons learned and assessment of the right people for the right job,  while making necessary compromises to accommodate political parties’ and personal interests; as well as personalities which may complicate the adoption of preferred outcomes.

The swearing-in ceremony. For Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, there was no doubt that the solemn ceremony of the 8th of August 2012 was the beginning of a five-year mandate of action. Hence, on the following day, Prime Minister Xanana held his very first Council of Ministers with the presence of all his government members. In the meeting he stressed to all that his VCG would be a government of action; meaning that a business-as-usual approach could no longer be acceptable. He further repeated what he wrote into the VCG Program; that this government is a government of continuity, one that is going to make the best possible advance on the work of the previous government, ensuring the efficient delivery of services to the country, effective governance - the goal many governments today, in developing as well as developed countries, are striving for.  August the 8th was, indeed, the beginning of hope for an efficient and effective government for Timor-Leste, for the sake of improving the living conditions of every citizen.

Addressing the challenges pertaining to efficient and effective government - including managing the drawbacks caused by a deficit in fiscal capacity and the excessive expectations of citizens for rights to social assistance, jobs and housing, education and health - constitute the biggest hurdles for any government to overcome. Fiscal capacity becomes, therefore, the ultimate barrier to confront. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão was, and is, aware of this challenge. His five-year plan ensures that infrastructure continues to be a primary focus and that infrastructure development will have a wide reaching impact on every other way of life in the country as it contributes towards sustained job creation, which after all is the basis for long-term sustainable national security.  His five-year plan also demands that services be delivered as efficiently as possible, and that unnecessary bureaucracy or red-tape is eliminated, providing conditions for action for the advancement of national development.  This will allow us to leave conflict behind; and, above all, ensure that future generations believe that the sacrifices of the Nation to achieve national liberation mean that they too need to continue the struggle, under new emerging demands, to fully accomplish the consolidation of national independence.

Historic national event. The 8th of August 2012 produced a truly historic event for the country. With the swearing-in of the members of the VCG, this solemn occasion testified to the beginning of national assurance towards achieving, finally, after ten years, a sustained level of confidence  in the goal of consolidation of national independence. The only hick-up was that the chair for the minister of defence remained empty, a fact reflecting the challenges in achieving gender equity and the difficulty of some key elements of the political elite to accept a woman as minister of defence. In world history, many women across all continents have taken responsibilities as defence ministers. Even in Pakistan, for example, in 1988-90 Benazir Bhutto was the Minister of Defence.[xii]

Day one, 9th of August of 2012. It began with serious discussions about the priorities of the country, about which programs should be adopted as the focus for each ministry. Reading through the draft program, one could gauge how solid was the vision for the future of the country that had been developed by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão. Each minister and secretary of state was asked to read his or her own section in the draft program, thus allowing for a full clarification of the allocation of tasks that were required to be focused on. Critical discussion followed. It was leadership at its best. Prime Minister Xanana leading his team towards achieving a higher understanding as to the role each was to play. Above all, he allowed for open and critical discussion, not only in regard to the overall program but also of the details. Members of Government were allowed to add and to clarify every minute detail they saw fit in order to make the five-year program the best possible program for the Fifth Constitutional Government. In the end, the core concern was the ability to implement; that each ministry was confident that it could deliver its part of the program; that there was a clear understanding as to how to break the program into annual plans of action for the State Budget and that by the end of the mandate, in 2017, the priorities would be addressed and implemented.[xiii]  

The supplementary budget. That is how Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão led his latest team to start the government. In the first one hundred days it is, by necessity, a matter of gearing up to clarify the government structure and defend the supplementary budget. The supplementary budget[xiv] was needed because the new government came into being before the end of the financial year and all the new ministries, including respective secretaries of state, needed a budget. The supplementary budget passed without difficulty. The debate even demonstrated a new attitude of the opposition party, Fretilin, which no longer muddled the discussion using the ‘de facto government’ propaganda. Leaving this attitude behind opens the door for a more promising national political cohesion beyond party boundaries. Therefore, August the 9th was the beginning of a new framework of national politics in Timor-Leste where the environment became more conducive to inclusionary politics and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão could sense a better chance to realise his politics of national unity in spite of liberal democracy’s intrinsic adversarial trait. It is up to the Prime Minister to forge this new willingness to ensure a harmonious environment which is much-needed, not only to implement the Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030, but above all to ensure the desired success, for the sake of improving the living conditions of the people of Timor-Leste, a goal Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão relentlessly reminds all members of his government never to lose sight of.

Since then; the Parliament has been working well and the relations between the Government and the Parliament greatly improved. The Government’s Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ms. Teresinha Viegas, was well chosen by the Prime Minister. She is not only the wife of a Veteran guerrilla commander, Mau Hunu Bulere Karataianu ,[xv] but she was also the Secretary of the Parliament for the previous full five-year mandate. Teresinha is experienced, understands how the Parliament functions and has been effective since taking office. The key political issues raised by the Honorable Members of Parliament are now registered and sent to respective ministers; and responses by ministers have been forthcoming through the Speaker’s office to the respective MPs. The Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs is supported by an operational Office[xvi] that was established and operated during the previous IV Constitutional Government.  This process has, so far, demonstrated how effective the Government has become, in terms of dealing with another pillar of sovereignty of the State – the National Parliament.

On November the 18th the VGC completed its first one hundred days in Office.  This period of 100 days saw the fulfillment of key activities, including the approval of the Organic Law of the VCG as well as, importantly, its Five Year Program which was submitted to the Parliament and endorsed.  The Five Year Program identifies priorities which require relentless focus to ensure that commitments are executed effectively and that the Annual Action Plan (AAP) of each of the ministries is delivered successfully. The aim was to focus on what Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão articulated in his speech to the Parliament:

We can never lose sight of the fact that there are no winners and losers when we contribute to solving the problems of the country. What we have is over a million Timorese citizens who can benefit from increased freedom, safety, stability and tolerance, as well as from better living conditions. Plans made in a coherent, sustained and responsible manner are always more likely to succeed, and this is reflected in the Program that we are presenting here today.[xvii]

During the same period, the Government started detailed planning for the 2013 Annual Budget, which led to the approval, by the Council of Ministers of November 20th, of the final draft produced by the Budget Review Committee chaired by the Prime Minister.        

Continuity. The philosophy of continuity, but with a higher degree of efficiency and effectiveness through minimising bureaucracy, constitutes the cornerstone of this government, founded upon a well designed mandate program and a clear and detailed outline of ministerial responsibilities in the Organic Law.  As such, the right steps have been taken towards achieving the goal of effective governance: a noble goal for developing countries. In addition, through continuing to refine the tasks through the implementation processes and reviewing and evaluating the impact of the implementation of the Annual Action Plans (AAPs), the government will ensure that the effectiveness of governance is enhanced. 

The outcome of the implementation of the program of the Fifth Constitutional Government led by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão will certainly be one which moves the country forward. However, the degree of success in managing higher expectations as well as developing effective responses to the priorities of the country, remain and will continue to be the barometer of efficiency and effectiveness in governance. This historic swearing-in of the VCG on August the 8th (2012) was certainly the stepping stone for this vital approach to become, not only viable but sustainable! In addition, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão stressed two crucial principles for the VCG. First is that the Fifth Constitutional Government is not owned by any particular political party or parties. Its functionality or responsibility, in political terms, is to deliver results which depend not only on the three political parties operating as a collective - the Coalition partners that established the majority in the Parliament and the Fifth Constitutional Government, but also critically important, that progress also depends on the effectiveness of the opposition party, Fretilin. The contribution of Fretilin towards efficient and effective governance through constructive criticism of the manner in which the Five Year Program is being implemented will always be of paramount importance to the degree of success of governance of Timor-Leste.  Second, and finally, that the VCG must be a government that is an action-oriented government.[xviii] 

TO CONCLUDE. The 8th of August 2012 was, no doubt, a solemn ceremony. The solemnity also helped those taking part to reflect on the meaning of the motto ‘to serve the people’.  It was held at a time when Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão became even more conscious than ever of the need for his government to focus. Such a need is critical because the Fifth Constitutional Government is charged with the responsibility to oeprationalise the Strategic Development Plan of the Nation. Drawn from the SDP is the five-year Program of the VCG; and deriving the Annual Action Plans from this Five-Year Program means that the respective ministerial programs proposed for each Annual Budget must be implemented effectively. This means not only the planning process has to be right, but that it also requires more focus on doing the right things rather than doing things right. Focusing on the goals to be achieved means strengthening the ability of the entire government to find solutions to overcome constraints. Over the coming years, there will be more days like that of the 8th of August 2012. In May 2017 there will be new legislative election; and the outcome will depend on how the people judge the ability of the current government to move the country forward. If these five years ahead of us bear some uncertainties, there is one thing everyone can take for granted; that in the next legislative election, the degree of success or failure of Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão’s ‘government of action’ will certainly dictate the outcome.

Agio Pereira
December 2012

[i] Timor-Leste was the new name adopted on 20 May 2002.

[ii] The title of the agreement is ‘Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Portuguese Republic on the Question of East Timor’, done in New York on 5th May 1999, signed by Ali Alatas, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Jaime Gama, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Portugal and witnessed by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, accessed 24.12.2012, http://etan.org/etun/agreemnt.htm

[iii] The status of Portuguese Territory under international law prevailed until the end of 1999. East Timor was registered under the United Nations as a non self-governing territory which requires decolonization. It was this reason that made it impossible, under international law, for the Republic of Indonesia to annex the territory on a permanent basis without a referendum allowing the people to have their say.

[iv] The United Nations Office for Timor-Leste (UNOTIL) replaced UNMISET, but the crisis of 2006 resulted in the return of a similar arrangement as UNMISET, where UNPOL and the ISF had responsibilities covering, respectively, law and order as well as security.

[v] See endnote 2, the process of understanding the intricacies of the Constitution. Recently, a team of constitutional law experts, under the coordination of Professor Pedro Bacelar Vasconcelos of the ‘Universidade do Minho’, completed a seminal work in interpreting every single article (Section) of the Constitution of Timor-Leste. The book was published under the Portuguese title of ‘Constituição Anotada - República Democrática de Timor-Leste’, can be accessed online via http://timor-leste.gov.tl/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/CRDTL-Anotada_PORTAL1.pdf

[vi] Timor-Leste opted for a liberal constitutional democracy and the Constitution needs to be gradually understood in terms of constitutional theory as well as how to transplant the provisos into practice. For example, the absence of the President of the Republic (Head of State) and how and when should the President by substituted by the Speaker of the Parliament took some years of uncertainty before the theory became absorbed, understood and operationalised. Translation of the original Portuguese version of the Constitutional into Tétum added more difficulties.

[vii] Through an Official Note, New Zealand also agreed to the terms of the Agreement establishing the ISF and became part of the Force

[viii] For more information consult A. Pereira, “Timor-Leste: From Peacekeeping to Peacebuilding – A Timorese Perspective” ‘Civil-Military working Papers’, accessed via http://acmc.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/5392civmilcoe-workingpapersa4webbooklet10-pereira-110501223224-phpapp01.pdf

[ix] Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão was asked why his government, the Fifth Constitutional Government has so many members, a big government. His replied was, like President Obama said; the question is whether it is going to be an effective government. And Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão believes this will be the case in terms of delivering efficiency and effectiveness, resulting in quality services and infrastructures for the Nation. His reply reflecting Obama’s effective paradigm, reminds us that President Barack Obama was elected into office and his first government was expected to save America from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). For Obama the question of effectiveness included dealing with “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009­the $787-billion stimulus package”. Read more on: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2012/10/29/121029taco_talk_editors#ixzz2G1AsboDJ

[x] Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva is the Bishop of the Diocese of Díli, a hero of the struggle for independence. He was pivotal in the events leading to the infamous massacre of Santa Cruz on November 12, 1999; at that time Bishop Ricardo was the Parish Priest of Motael.

[xi] Evening television news, TVTL, 9th of August 2012

[xii] ‘Female Ministers of Defence’, World Guide to Women in Leadership, accessed via http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Defence_ministers.htm     

[xiii] A Summary of the achievable and quantifiable goals was drawn from the program and distributed to all the respective ministers. For example, it is expected that by the end of 2014 the National News Agency of Timor-Leste will be established, before the end of 2017 the Timor-Leste Press Council will be established, and by 2015 the National Institute of Journalism Studies will also be created. These are part of the National Annual Plan of the Secretary of State for Mass Communication. The document ‘Summary of the Annual Plan – Major Outputs in Five Years’ (2012 – 2017), the goals to be achieved by 2017 provides for other important targets to be achieved.

[xiv] In Portuguese this is known as ‘Orçamento Rectificativo’, best translated as Adjusted Annual Budget. This time it was, indeed, a case of budget adjustment because of the need to accommodate new ministries and address social expenditure commitments.  ; The budget of approximately USD$50 million was reallocated from the Secretary of State for Natural Resources which was dismantled in the new Government and a  equivalent ministry, the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals Resources (MPMR), was created. This money, which sat within the Infrastructure Fund, was distributed to all the new ministries, with the undertaken that in the 2013 Annual Budget the same funding would be made available for the MPMR.

[xv] Commander Mau Hunu was the first to replace the Commander-in-Chief of FALINTIL Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, when the Commander-in-Chief was captured by the enemy on 22 November 1992. Mau Hunu was also one of the three members of the Fretilin’s Directive Committee, operating within the guerrilla structure. The other two were Mau Hodu Ran Kadalak and Nino Konis Santana, both deceased.

[xvi] In Portuguese the office is ‘Gabinete de Assuntos Parlamentares’

[xvii] “Program of the Fifth Constitutional Government  2012 – 2017 Legislature”, Presidency of the Council of Ministers, August 26 2012, p.4 (English version)

[xviii] In part, this action-oriented paradigm is one that responds to the process under the previous government, where much was necessarily done to accommodate the demands of national security and stability, but which consumed energy and resources that, in a different set of circumstances, would have been applied to national development. It follows that in this new government, and in the context of new circumstances in which national security and stability are no longer major constraints, this government is free to pursue actions and programs aimed at enhancing national development, including improving the national economy and the well-being of the people.

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