Rule of Law or Rule of the Deal in Timor-Leste?

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Simbolu Lei

Simbolu Lei

Timor-Leste’s Parliament passed a resolution (Nu.05/2014) this week targeting both ex-guerilla commander Mauk Moruk along with his organization “Revolutionary Council of Maubere” or Consellu Revolusionario Maubere (RCM) and the CPD-RDTL. The resolution’s passage came in response to reports that CPD-RDTL and RCM members were wearing military uniforms and conducting military exercises in the area of Laga, Baucau district. In defiance of the resolution, Mauk Moruk visited the attorney general’s office in Dili this week accompanied by a military escort. Mauk Moruk stated that the intended purpose of his visit was to register the Revolutionary Council of Maubere (RCM) as a legal organization.

The CPD-RDTL organization that the resolution targets has been active for over a decade. Until now, the government of Timor-Leste has chosen to turn a blind eye towards a range of illegal activities that the CPD-RDTL has conducted. The organization has stolen from countless innocent Timorese over the years in the form of illegal “taxes”, demanding payment in the form of money, rice, goats, and other goods. Victims of the CPD-RDTL’s transgressions have waited years to receive justice for the wrongs committed against them.

Just days after finally deciding to take a long-overdue stance against the CPD-RDTL, how can the government now allow Mauk Moruk to freely roam the streets of the nation’s capital, let alone even consider his request to legalize the CPD-RDTL as a legitimate organization?

The facts available indicate that this case is just the latest example of the “rule of the deal” triumphing over the rule of law and the pursuit of justice in Timor-Leste. Once again, our nation’s leaders have chosen to make a mockery of Timor-Leste’s justice system.
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Furthermore, the presence of Timorese security forces guarding a man whom the government had denounced just days earlier, can be seen as a symbol of intimidation meant to prevent well-intentioned judicial actors from mobilizing.

Another troubling aspect of this situation stems from the government’s reliance on resolutions to attempt to compensate for the failed enforcement of existing legislation.
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These so-called “resolutions” have not been used by the government to respond to novel situations, but have instead been used to bolster governmental resolve to implement enforcement of laws that, by the very nature of their existence, should already be enforced.

The last resolution passed by Parliament outlawed the existence of Martial Arts Groups (MAGs) in Timor, and was enforced successfully. As with the CPD-RDTL, MAG’s had been established as criminal groups (responsible for all kinds of public disturbances and illegal activities) long before the government passed a resolution to ban them. Unlike the CPD-RDTL, however, MAG’s apparently did not have the bargaining power by which to strike a deal with government leaders.

Regardless of the different outcomes, the impact of the resolutions was apparent in both cases. The resolution against MAG’s led to their extinction, while the resolution against Mauk Moruk and the CPD-RDTL brought him to the bargaining table. Unfortunately, in the latter case, the “bargaining table” has equated not with the administration of justice, but with a backroom deal between Mauk Moruk and the government made at the expense of the Timorese people.

If the rule of the deal transcends the rule of law in Timor-Leste, then what purpose do our nation’s laws serve? What function does the very Constitution of Timor-Leste serve? If our nation’s leaders do not even respect the laws that they themselves set forth, then they cannot expect Timor’s citizens to abide by them. It is time that the government of Timor-Leste holds itself to a higher standard. Policymakers need to back their words up with action when it comes to enforcing the legislation they pass, and must work to uphold justice and the rule of law over corruption and the rule of the deal.
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1 thought on “Rule of Law or Rule of the Deal in Timor-Leste?”

  1. Well said FM. There have been too many occasions where governments of East Timor have disregarded the fundamental principles of democracy and it’s a critical role of civil society to report these aberrations, draw attention to them and criticise the government for its failings in this regard.

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