Liquiça District Commander’s Abuse of Power and Underage Driving

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Traffic collisions are one of Dili’s greatest hazards to health and safety. On October 12th, 2016, an adult was driving down Av. Praia de Coquieros. The driver slowed and signalled to turn left onto the small connector road just after the US Embassy. The entry to this road is very narrow permitting only one car to enter or exit at one time, so the driver slowed to a near stop before making the turn with the indicator signal on as legally required. As the driver started to turn, a motorcycle travelling at excess speed attempted to overtake the turning vehicle on the left hand side, a maneuver prohibited by law. The motorcycle scraped along the left hand side of the car before hitting the mirror and front driver’s side before crashing.

A large hostile crowd gathered, the motorcycle was moved and blame was pointed at the driver of the car. Transit Police arrived quickly and took control of the situation, taking measurements and photos. The driver is a member of the UN system and a security officer from the UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) accompanied to observe proceedings as a witness and facilitate as required. Transit Police asked both drivers to accompany them to the Transit Police HQ in Caicoli.

Upon arriving, the transit police took licenses and details from both parties. The motorcycle driver’s license indicated he was born in late 2001 – meaning the driver was only 15 years old, a child, and had a driver’s license. The Transit Police involved wondered out loud how a 15-year old could possibly have a license, noting it was either a fraudulent document, or that someone had produced it illegally. Forgery of a driver’s license is a crime in Timor-Leste carrying up to 3 years imprisonment; as a public document, if it was forged by a state official, it carries up to 6 years imprisonment. The Highway Code of Timor-Leste sets 16 years of age as the minimum age at which anyone can obtain a driver’s license of any kind in Timor-Leste and sets numerous basic requirements, such as having passed a driving test. Further, anyone under 18 years of age would have had to present written authorization from a parent in order to obtain that license.

The Transit Police proceeded and took an official statement from the driver of the car, however, because the motorcycle driver was a child, in line with national law, the Transit Police did not take a statement and requested both parties return later in the day at 16:00 when the child’s mother or father would be present.

At 16:00, the driver returned to the station. Seeing the child sitting, the driver asked to begin proceedings. Immediately a senior PNTL officer (rank of Superintendente Policia) who was not a member of the Transit Police stood up and intervened. He identified himself as the District Commander of Liquica and the child’s father. The District Commander began speaking in a loud aggressive tone and threatened that if anything had happened to his son, the driver would have been in serious trouble – a statement intended as a threat. The District Commander spoke loudly, aggressively and showed total disrespect to all present. He refused to listen to either the Transit Police officers present or the driver and did not allow his son to speak on his own behalf. The District Commander completely refused to acknowledge any of the factual evidence (e.g. the impact damage on the driver’s car and injury to his son’s right arm where he had hit the car, indicative of excessive driving speed) – but did acknowledge his son was only 15 years old when a Transit Police officer pointed this out. The District Commander stated clearly and unequivocally multiple times that he was intervening to “defend his son”.

The District Commander forced the Transit Police to drop the matter after taking his son’s statement. No charges were filed under the Highway Code or the Penal Code despite apparent violations of both. The driver left as quickly as possible to avoid the situation escalating and abandoned his right to compensation for damage to their vehicle.  The motorcycle was badly damaged, but in contrast to many other traffic collisions involving foreign drivers, no compensation was mentioned for damage to the motorcycle.

Traffic collisions are nothing new in Dili – it is well known that many people are not qualified to drive, do not have licenses, or have fake licenses, and drive dangerously, recklessly, and irresponsibly in full violation of the Highway Code. However, what is not normal, or acceptable, is the direct intervention of a senior PNTL officer abusing their position of power and quashing legal proceedings in favor of a family member – in complete contravention of any sense of professional ethics, and more importantly, in violation of the Penal Code of Timor-Leste.

Abuse of power is defined in Article 297 of the 2009 Penal Code as: “Any official who abuses powers or violates duties inherent to his or her office, with the intent to obtain, for themselves or any third party, any unlawful benefit or to cause loss to another … “It is punishable with 1 to 4 years imprisonment barring any other heavier penalty available under the law. In this case, the District Commander clearly abused the power inherent to his PNTL rank to overrule and override the Transit Police to prevent criminal proceedings, to the unlawful benefit of his son who was driving with a fake license, underage, and attempting to pass illegally on the left while speeding.

The intervention of public officials in criminal matters undermines the rule of law in the country and represents one of the worst forms of corruption by an official who has sworn to serve and protect the nation. It not only brings the individual officer into disrepute, but unprofessional and illegal behaviour also tarnishes the entire PNTL . In this case involving a child, a clear message has been sent to the child that authority can be used to circumvent and overcome rules and laws.

FM Recommends that:

1. Training becomes mandatory for all PNTL staff and public officials on what constitutes a conflict of interest and what abuse of power is.

2. Specific instructions are issued for all PNTL to recuse themselves from any matter or situation where conflicts of interest are evident, likely or possible, implemented as Standard Operating Procedure for all PNTL.

3. Proactive investigation and prosecution of PNTL officers suspected/alleged to have abused their power. Such investigations should be undertaken by the Inspector General PNTL.

4. Institute mandatory driver training courses for all license seekers, developed and administered by qualified driver education teachers. This would come under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior.

5. Training and socialization of the Highway Code – for the general population, but in particular in-depth training for Transit Police.

6. Full enforcement of the Highway Code by Transit Police – not just piecemeal enforcement of the law. This would require the provision of the necessary equipment for Transit Police to accurately determine if vehicle/motorcycles are driving in excess of speed limits.

For more details on this issue, please contact:

Nélson Belo
Executive Director of FM
Phone: +670 78316075 or 7756 1184

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