Contradictions in Public Statements Between the Minister of Defence and CEMGFA are Creating Controversy

Contradictions in Public Statements Between the Minister of Defence and CEMGFA are Creating Controversy post thumbnail image

FALINTIL-Defence Force of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) is a professional and modern military institution which was created from the FALINTIL guerrilla force in 2001. In a legal democratic state, the highest level of military command falls under civilian control. Within the defence hierarchy, the Minister of Defence is responsible for disseminating certain types of information to the public, while the military command is responsible for other information. However, on numerous occasions, the Minister of Defence and Chief of State Major General of the Armed Forces (CEMGFA) have made contradictory public statements which have led to controversies, such as the following example:

“Minister of Defence Filomeno Paixão stated that the Government gives priority to the children of veterans to join F-FDTL” (GMNTV, 26 January 2021).

“CEMGFA Major General Lere Anan Timur stated that recruitment into F-FDTL is based mainly on health status, and does not favour the children of veterans” (Tempo Timor Online, 3 February 2021

Although these two statements came from an institution which is supposed to coordinate its releases of public information, they clearly contradict each other. Based on these statements, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) notes that specifically on the issue of recruitment to F-FDTL, there is a lack of coordination with regards to how information is shared with the public. This is primarily because under existing laws and norms within the institution, there is a lack of clarity and no clear mechanism regulating how information is disseminated or which entity is responsible.

Moreover, while FM applauds the progress F-FDTL has made towards becoming a professional force, we are also concerned as the military is supposed to adhere to the decisions of the civilian command, which according to existing rules and regulations is responsible for military planning and recruitment.

In a democratic state under the rule of law, the military falls under civilian command. Within this context, the President of the Republic is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and is responsible for war decisions, as well as the nomination and removal of high-ranking military officers (Article 85, RDTL Constitution). The Minister of Defence represents the Government, and is responsible for planning and executing military and defence policies (Article 16, National Defence Law). Parliamentary Committee B on defence, security and foreign affairs controls and oversees F-FDTL activities (Article 15, National Defence Law). F-FDTL itself is responsible for operational and technical command, and for adhering to the plans and policies of the Minister of Defence (Article 29, National Defence Law).

However, as illustrated by the two statements referenced above, the Minister of Defence and CEMGFA have contradicted each other, leading to public confusion regarding the responsibilities of defence officials and processes within the military. Therefore, FM requests that the Ministry of Defence update the relevant regulations in coordination with F-FDTL, to clarify who is responsible for disseminating which kinds of information to the public.

In addition, FM strongly disagrees that F-FDTL recruitment should prioritize the children of veterans. While this issue has now become a major point of contradiction between the Minister of Defence and CEMGFA, it was CEMGFA Lere Anan Timur who originally announced this policy. The policy has been applied in F-FDTL recruitment during 2020, as illustrated by the fact that those submitting application forms much attach a special card which must be verified by the Veterans Committee.

F-FDTL is the only national military institution which guarantees independence, territorial integrity and protection of citizens from external threats, and is composed exclusively of Timorese citizens (Article 25, National Defence Law, Article 146, RDTL Constitution). The prioritization of veteran’s children in F-FDTL recruitment discriminates against other Timorese citizens who have an equal right to join the defence force. FM has heard complaints directly from young people who were rejected from even receiving the application form during the 2020 F-FDTL recruitment drive, illustrating that these incorrect requirements are dividing Timorese people while violating the principles of democratic rule of law which form the base of the RDTL Constitution.

According to Article 3 of the RDTL Constitution, all Timorese citizens above ten (10) years old, whether they are born and raised in the national territory, or born abroad to Timorese parents but chose Timorese citizenship, have equal rights irrespective of colour, race and social status. Thus, under the law, all citizens are equal, and not divided into separate groups or categories. FM agrees that veterans deserve much respect and even special recognition from the State for their contributions to national independence, which requires a special ministry for dealing with veteran affairs. However, vacancies in F-FDTL should must be open to all Timorese regardless of their background, to ensure equal opportunities and prevent discrimination based on past events.

Political influence and contradictory statements within the military contribute to a mindset that veterans can simply follow personal whims, and this threatens F-FDTL’s institutional integrity and contravenes existing procedures and laws. In order to combat this problem, the Government must create a strong mechanism to regulate defence and military communications. This will help F-FDTL to increase its public legitimacy and confidence, while facilitating operational management based on existing rules and military culture in Timor-Leste and the region.

FM therefore recommends:

  1. Parliament should oversee the laws and criteria which apply to new F-FDTL applicants and recruitment.
  2. The Minister of Defence should create a recruitment mechanism which should then be followed by F-FDTL.
  3. The military should comply with democratically controlled sovereign organs and regulations.
  4. The Minister of Defence and CEMGFA should have a single spokesperson which can prevent contradictory communications.

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