Vice-Minister of Interior is dismantling PNTL

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On 9 January 2021, Vice-Minister of the Interior Antonio Armindo, who was nominated by the KHUNTO party, expressed his view to media regarding the dismissal of the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) Commissioner, Faustino da Costa (Tempo Timor, 9 January 2021). However, the Vice-Minister did not clearly explain the motivations behind the dismissal of the Commissioner as Commander-General of PNTL.

According to PNTL’s 2009 Promotion Regime, the mandates of PNTL’s first and second commanding officers should last for a period of four years, and may be renewed once for an additional four year period. According to the PNTL Organic Law 2009, the process for nomination or dismissal of commanders begins with a request from PNTL’s Supreme Council to the Minister responsible for security affairs, namely the Minister of the Interior. The Council of Ministers then accepts (or rejects) the nomination or dismissal proposed by the Minister of Interior.

Police Commissioner Faustino da Costa was nominated as Commander-General of PNTL by Government Resolution No. 13/2019 of 20 March 2019, and assumed his position on 27 March for a period of four years, which will end on 27 March 2023. As mentioned above, on 9 January 2021, the Vice-Minister of Interior Antonio Armindo publicly stated that the mandate of Commissioner da Costa will be terminated early.

According to the Ministry of Interior Dispatch No. 062/MI/VII/2020 of 22 July 2020, the competency of the Vice-Minister of Interior is limited to the following:

  1. Authorize the enrollment and participation of staff in internships, congresses, seminars, colloquia, meetings, training courses or other similar initiatives that take place in Portugal or abroad, including the processing of the corresponding charges;
  2. Authorize the attribution and payment of the remuneration supplements to which the staff is entitled;
  3. Authorize the expenses of meals for staff;
  4. Approve the vacation map, agree to the accumulation of the same for convenience of service and justify or not justify the absences of staff;
  5. Authorize acts related to the management of the budget of the services of the National Police of Timor-Leste, namely the signature of the payment commitment forms and the order and payment order forms;
  6. Authorize the constitution, reconstitution and maintenance of the working capital, as well as the realization of expenses on its behalf;
  7. Authorize requests for cash advances, in accordance with the activities contained in the annual service plan;
  8. Authorize the work travel of personnel within the national territory or abroad, whatever the means of transport, as well as the processing of the corresponding expenses with travel and subsistence and the payment of the corresponding allowances;
  9. Authorize the requisition of transport;
  10. Authorize the personnel to drive State vehicles and to use a rental car, when indispensable and the interest of the service so requires;
  11. Authorize the execution of expenses, the opening of procurement procedures, the awarding and signing of public contracts, in accordance with the law, except for those referring to the acquisition of arms;
  12. Sign fixed-term employment contracts, contracts for the provision of professional services, requests for secondment and requests for staff.

Thus, according to the dispatch above, the dismissal of the PNTL Commander by the Vice-Minister of Interior is not within the latter’s authority. Moreover, when questioned about the dismissal by journalists, current Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Taur Matan Ruak stated that he had not received any information on this issue (Tatoli, 14 January 2021). This indicates that the Vice-Minister of Interior lacks understanding of the nomination and dismissal process, and is attempting to interfere in matters which are outside his authority. In addition, it calls into question the Vice-Minister’s loyalty to his superiors, particularly the Minister of Interior and Prime Minister.

FM is extremely concerned about the recent actions of the Vice-Minister, not only in relation to the proposed dismissal of the Commander of PNTL, but also the politically-motivated recruitment of PNTL members and other actions which contravene existing laws and regulations. These controversies should serve as a warning of the possible disintegration of the PNTL’s institutional hierarchy. We remind the Vice-Minister that the process for police to reach the highest levels of command is not something easy, especially when compared with the Vice-Minister’s statement to the media regarding the Commander’s dismissal.

Furthermore, the Vice-Minister’s latest interventions can be linked with previous decisions regarding PNTL members in the Migration Service which were involved in corruption cases during the mandate of previous Minister of Interior, Filomeno Paixão. While the PNTL Command imposed disciplinary and even criminal sanctions on these members, when Antonio Armindo took up his current position as Vice-Minister, he brought these PNTL members back to the Migration Service, thereby reversing the Command’s earlier decision and contravening the applicable laws governing PNTL.

Therefore, we ask politicians: how much longer will you tolerate these actions against PNTL, or politicians who deliberately attempt to weaken PNTL through decisions driven by partisan interests?

In order to address this serious problem, Fundasaun Mahein recommends that policy makers take the following actions:

  1. The Prime Minister must dismiss Antonio Armindo from his duties as Vice-Minister of the Interior, as his actions present a risk to national stability and the integrity of state institutions such as PNTL.
  2. Committee B of National Parliament should demand that the Vice-Minister of Interior be held accountable for his statement regarding the dismissal of the PNTL Commander, and open a parliamentary inquiry to investigate the actions and intensions of the Vice-Minister.

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