As the new government continues to take shape, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) wants to emphasize the importance of a political opposition. After five years in which Timor-Leste lacked an opposition party, the results of the July parliamentary election revealed that the new legislature will include an opposition. Regardless of which specific parties are involved, this new pluralism represents an important step forward for Timor-Leste’s young democracy. FM wants to take advantage of the occasion to emphasize that the opposition should be active, critical, and constructive.
An effective democracy relies on the existence of checks and balances, which ensure that decisions are made legally and not by arbitrary decree. FM hopes that during the next four years the opposition and civil society can hold the government accountable and thereby promote effective policymaker. Above all, the opposition must prioritize the national interest, so that the government develops policies that benefit all of Timor-Leste’s people.
In order to support this goal, FM hopes to act as a source of information for the new opposition MPs. FM also wants to engage with the governing parties in order to make constructive contributions to new legislation. By doing so, FM hopes to forge partnerships that will promote professional and effective policymaker concerning the security sector and foreign affairs.
Specifically, FM hopes to contribute to the development of policy around border/maritime issues, terrorism, and other transnational crime. FM also believes it can provide useful insights about the security sector’s budget.
FM seeks to promote defense cooperation between the Timor-Leste Defense Forces (FDTL) and various international partners. First of all, Timor-Leste should cooperate with nations bound to Timor-Leste by shared geography and history, specifically Australia, Indonesia, and the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Language Countries). Timor-Leste should also engage in strategic cooperation with important global and regional powers such as the USA, China, the UK, and ASEAN member countries.
On the level of implementation, FM intends to discuss the PNTL’s performance with the new MPs and the ministers of the interior, defense, foreign affairs, and finance. FM intends to use these discussions to boost accountability in the new parliament.
With regard to accountability, FM unequivocally condemns the recent decision by which the MPs have obtained a new fleet of car for themselves. This purchase allows the outgoing MPs to retain their state cars as private vehicles. This deplorable misuse of state resources reveals that MPs care more about enriching themselves than about benefiting the people.
While the public has received no reports about the transition of power between parliaments, FM learned about this misuse of public money when examining the 2017 state budget. Each vehicle costs $65,000. This step represents legalized corruption, in which politicians use their power to legitimate their shameless greed.
MPs’ trips abroad also highlight their greed and irresponsibility. While the ostensible purpose of these trips is to conduct comparative studies, the MPs in fact use these trips to go on state-funded shopping sprees. As a result, many politicians travel to foreign countries more often than they visit their own constituencies in Timor-Leste’s districts.
Given this shameless corruption—and particularly in light of serious corruption accusations against the speaker of parliament—the government should immediately remove MPs’ legal immunity. If MPs commit crimes, they are clearly unfit for public office and should face justice. The incoming parliament should demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law by removing immunity and strengthening penalties for corruption. If MPs continue their institutionalized corruption, they will pass on a culture of legalized thievery to the next generation of Timor-Leste’s leaders.
Timor-Leste’s MPs should also be more informed than they currently are. The parliament currently suffers from a woeful lack of debate, which indicates that MPs do not learn about new legislation and instead rely on their predominantly Portuguese advisors. While researchers are present in parliament, the MPs frequently do not read the reports they produce. This ignorance and irresponsibility erodes the Timorese people’s trust in their representatives.
MPs should constantly improve their capacity to serve the people by educating themselves about ordinary people’s problems and possible ways to solve them. This requires engaging in a culture of reading and learning. In order to effectively serve the public, MPs must develop expertise on the subjects they discuss.
This self-education should accompany a broader effort towards more effective policymaking. During the last parliamentary term, the MPs passed legislation slowly and inefficiently except in cases where it directly benefited themselves. For example, while crucial anticorruption legislation took years to pass, the MPs wasted no time approving an increase in their own pensions. This self-serving attitude reveals that for most MPs parliament is more about gaining status than representing the people. If they want to remain in office, MPs will have to produce results and uphold reputations for honesty and efficacy.
In addition, MPs should speak for the people, not for their party. Consequently, MPs should debate all good laws, regardless of which party proposes them. Similarly, they should reject every bad law, even if their own party has proposed it. For their part, political parties should stop keeping ineffective individuals in parliament.
Lastly, parliament should begin drafting laws in Tetun. This step is crucial for enabling genuine public participation in the legislative process. Currently, the drafting of the laws in Portuguese means that people can only understand them once they’ve already been approved. This use of the Portuguese language also leads to dependence on Portuguese advisors, so that a handful of foreigners have more input on Timor-Leste’s legal system than the Timorese people themselves.
These foreign advisors generally lack an adequate understanding of Timorese politics and culture, meaning that politicians should employ advisors who are more familiar with the country. Furthermore, these advisors should conduct in-depth research about Timor-Leste specifically, instead of just copying legislation from Portugal, Angola, or Mozambique. Due to foreign advisors’ influence, the laws passed by parliament are often irrelevant to the lives of the 70% of Timorese who live in rural areas. These laws are so ineffective that they frequently only last one or two years before requiring revisions. The same foreign advisors then conduct the revisions, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle. Instead of the current system, the parliament should employ informed advisors, draft laws in Tetun, and publicize them thoroughly before approval.