In the Parliamentary Election on July 22nd 2017, five political parties crossed the 4% threshold required to gain seats: the Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste – FRETILIN, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor – CNRT, the Popular Liberation Party – PLP, the Democratic Party – PD, and the Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nacional Timor Oan – KHUNTO. Soon, the 65 new national members of parliament (MPs) will be inducted as representatives of the Timorese people, assuming their responsibilities for Timor-Leste’s fourth legislature.
Under the new parliament, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) believes that civil society organizations will become vital and constructive partners. FM believes they should have the chance to participate in debates about national policy in order to contribute to development, stability, accountability, and good governance.
Consequently, the national parliament should become productive. The opposition must contribute actively to debates about policy, legislation, and decision-making in the people’s interest. Debate should focus on security, defense and foreign affairs issues, including the CPLP (Community of Portuguese Languages Countries), ASEAN (Associations of South East Asian Nations), strategic partnerships, and transnational crime.
To promote constructive and productive debates with public participation, the national parliament should obey the constitution and laws. Since Timor-Leste’s official languages are Tetun and Portuguese, all political documents and drafts of legislation must be produced in Tetun as well in Portuguese. The majority of Timorese people speak Tetun and only a few people speak Portuguese. Furthermore, even some MPs do not know Portuguese, meaning that it is hard to discuss proposed laws written in Portuguese during debates in the national parliament. Ironically, international advisers currently wield huge influence in writing laws, excluding Timorese people and creating dependence on Portuguese-speaking foreigners. Therefore, the national parliament should use Tetun in order to involve the Timorese people in the legislative process.
Furthermore, many MPs act as if the national parliament is a place to elevate one’s status and accumulate wealth. For example, Parliament has refused to discuss the proposed Anti-Corruption Law, which should be a priority. Instead, it speedily approved the new pension law and the purchase of vehicles for new MPs in order to benefit a small group. The national parliament is therefore using its power to look after the MPs’ private interests. This is legalized corruption, and it indicates that the national parliament is not a place that represents the people but a place for powerful individuals to enjoy privileges such as large salaries and cars. This means that the MPs do not have the moral standing to represent the people.
The national parliament should not become a place that promotes a culture of impunity. It should not shield MPs or government officials from justice when they are accused of crimes such as corruption. The national parliament frequently refuses to cooperate with the judiciary’s decision to have government officials face trial when they have committed crimes. This pattern should stop in this new national parliament, which should not interfere with the duties of other government institutions.
The national parliament should better fulfill its task as a legislative organ, oversight body, and political decision-maker. It should not act as the government’s spokesperson, but as a spokesperson for truth and the people’s interest. In the last few years, there was no active opposition during debates at the national parliament. This political homogeny meant that civil society did not become a partner that could provide ideas regarding national issues. Instead, the government tended to ignore the voice of civil society. Indeed, critics of the government and constructive civil society organizations were painted as ‘foreign agents’.
Therefore, for the next five years the opposition at the national parliament, with support from civil society, will play an important role in defending the people’s interests. Civil society organizations should get a chance to participate in debates at the national parliament.
1. Timor-Leste needs a constructive and productive opposition to debate national issues and defend the people’s interests, in accordance with MPs’ roles as legislators, overseers, and political decision-makers.
2. The public must be able to participate in debates about public issues. Civil society is also an important partner in constructive debates about policy.
3. The national parliament should respect and cooperate with the judiciary authorities’ decisions. It should not shield MPs and government officials from justice. Impunity must disappear.
For more details on this issue, please contact:
Executive Director of FM
Phone: +670 78316075 or 7756 1184