27 March 2013

Inappropriate executive intervention interferes with judicial independence in Timor-Leste

ETLJB 27 March 2013 - A contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has submitted a comment on the press issued on behalf of the government of East Timor by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and official spokesperson, Mr Agio Perreira, on the ongoing trial regarding tax arrears alleged to be owed to the State by a certain oil and gas operator in East Timor's oil reserves in the Timor Sea.The text of the comment follows.

The trial is not completed and it is completely inappropriate for a formal government statement on the matter until such time as it is completed.  The press release details a series of alleged facts as put forth by the government in the case, facts which are certainly being debated and obviously fundamental to the case.  Representing these alleged facts, which have yet to be accepted or rejected by the courts as evidence, as facts instead of alleged facts represents overt meddling in the independent functioning of the judiciary and a publicity side-show meant to further pressure the company in question.

Government officials as a rule should never comment on ongoing court proceedings in which the government is a party or has a vested interest.  This is a negative step forward in terms of developing a nation based on the rule of law which requires an independent and impartial judiciary (or at least maintaining the illusion thereof!).  If the government does indeed win, the impression of government interference will remain - whether real or not.  This is an extremely unfortunate negative given the potentially positive context, where the government stands to gain significant credibility in the international business and investment world while reaping substantial financial reward in the form of back-taxes should the case be decided in the government's favor.  Agio Perreira is an extremely competent and accomplished individual and definitely ought to have known better.

Regarding the actual progress of the case, if Agio Perreira is so convinced of the government's rightness based on the facts, then why would the government even countenance the premise of out of court settlement which will likely reduce the overall amount awarded via the court?  Millions of dollars have already been spent on lawyers (including an alleged $1million surreptitiously paid to a Timorese lawyer for 10 days of supposed work!), so why would the state reduce the potential windfall through a lower settled amount?  Are they worried about hurting the company's feelings, or are they not as rock-solid in terms of the facts as Agio publicly portrays.

ETLJB respectfully agrees with these observations, regrets the Government's action  and urges the Government of East Timor to adhere striclty at all times to the fundamental democratic principle of judicial independence.

 ETLJB Editor: Warren L. Wright

Related posts
Timor-Leste goes to court to protect tax revenue
East Timor Government corrects inconsistencies in international media on oil and gas and criticises local NGO Lao Hamutuk for misinformation and "leaking" reports

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