Fundasaun Mahein (FM) would like to call attention once more to the dangers posed to people driving on Timor-Leste’s roads. Almost every day people are injured and often killed whilst driving motorbikes and cars, due to the poor level of driving skills possessed by most drivers in Timor, and the failures of the PNTL Transit Unit to enforce the Highway Code, Law No. 6/2003, and pursue and charge citizens for dangerous driving.
FM has written on this subject on numerous occasions, yet successive Governments have failed to heed FM’s recommendations regarding the development and implementation of driver training and certification, nor has the PNTL effectively enforced the Highway Code. An FM staff member was almost killed this morning on Rua Fomentu whilst driving to work on the correct side of the road and within the speed limit, due to a Toyota Hilux driving towards them at at least 100km per hour on the wrong side of the road. The Hilux came within 5 meters of the FM staff member before crossing to the correct side of the road. Not only did this almost result in what would have been a road fatality, but children walk this road every day as well, highlighting the disregard many drivers have for the lives and safety of their fellow citizens.
The type of vehicle involved also highlights another common issue in Timor-Leste. The road rules seem to be determined by how big and expensive a person’s car is rather than respect for the rule of law and the safety of others. Nor are regular Timorese citizens the only ones at fault, as State Vehicles are often seen driving in a reckless manner. In particular FM would like to draw attention to the unprofessional conduct of the PNTL Close Protection Unit (KSP). This unit is tasked with the protection and escort of Government officials, senior PNTL officers and dignitaries (VIP’s). Everyone living in Timor-Leste has had at least one experience of a KSP convoy driving at high speed, aggressively overtaking other vehicles and using their horns to intimidate other drivers out of their way. FM staff have also nearly been killed on numerous occasions by the reckless driving displayed by KSP vehicles.
This misconduct is totally unacceptable for several reasons. The PNTL’s mandate is to serve and protect the people, yet the actions of some PNTL members undermines the legitimacy and accountability of the institution as a whole. Secondly, the KSP in particular is supposed to be ensuring the safety and security of State officials, yet their misconduct gives Timorese citizens and the international community in Timor-Leste the impression that State officials and their KSP bodyguards have no respect for the rule of law and are in fact above it, and furthermore have no respect for the safety and lives of their fellow human beings.
Remedying this situation requires immediate action by the Government, via the National Directorate of Land Transport (DNTT) and the PNTL. Firstly, DNTT must design and implement an actual driver training and certification course. The current system requires drivers and riders to travel to Hera, complete and obstacle course, then in the afternoon drive as part of convoy around Balide that merely drives around the block at 15km per hour. This does NOT involve any real driver training or certification, and does not reflect the realities of driving on Timorese roads. To further illustrate how insufficient the current system is, consider that if a driver fails the obstacle course at Hera, they are instructed to just return and take the test again a week later. So, despite DNTT officials not having confidence in a person’s driving abilities to complete an obstacle course that is not in any way relevant to driving in Timor, they knowingly let said drivers get back on the road. This is a totally unacceptable outcome for the safety of other drivers and pedestrians using Timor’s roads.
Secondly, although FM applauds recent efforts of the PNTL Transit Unit in conducting traffic control operations at busy intersections during peak hour traffic, thereby ensuring safer traffic flows, and in conducting more regular checkpoints, these efforts fall far short of actually enforcing the Highway Code. Although checkpoints allow the PNTL to check the license and registration of drivers, and therefore get unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles off the road, this has a limited impact on ensuring and enforcing road safety, especially when one considers how irrelevant the current licensing process is. The PNTL needs to be actively enforcing the Highway Code by pulling over and charging drivers who are driving dangerously and at high speed, to set a precedent of consequences for reckless driving. Although the PNTL currently lacks radar speed guns to determine how fast a vehicle is driving, it should be relatively easy for PNTL officers to determine if a vehicle is driving at excess speed and dangerously. The lack of maximum speed signage also needs to be addressed.
Finally, the Government must denounce the culture of impunity surrounding driving for State officials, and require Government officials to pass the driver training and certification DNTT must introduce. Furthermore, the Commandant General of the PNTL, the Commander of KSP, and the VIP’s that are escorted by KSP convoys must convey to KSP personnel that they are not above the rule of law, are required to driver safely and responsibly with due consideration for the safety of others, and that driving dangerously and aggressively represents an abuse of power by both the KSP and State officials.
• DNTT create and implement a valid driver training and certification course that reflects the reality of driving in Timor-Leste. Furthermore, if candidates fail this course, they are not allowed to drive off in their vehicles and take the test at a later date, as the current system allows.
• The PNTL actively enforces the Highway Code, pursuing and charging drivers guilty of dangerous and reckless driving endangering the safety of others.
• The PNTL Close Protection Unit (KSP) drives within the rule of law, respecting the road rules and the safety of other drivers, and ceases to abuse the power they are given. This exercise of professionalism must be reinforced with the PNTL Chain of Command, and by the State officials they escort.
• State officials face dismissal and/or loss of State Vehicle privileges for driving contrary to the Highway Code.
• Funding be allotted by the State for the acquisition of radar speed guns for the PNTL so they are able to more accurately enforce speed limits.
• Speed signage be placed on all major roads in Timor-Leste.