On 1 December 2021, the Council of Ministers approved a decision to dismiss Brigadier General Coliati from his position as Chief of Staff of F-FDTL (Tatoli, 1 December 2021). This news generated public controversy, and Brigadier General Coliati responded to the decision the following day, as the use of the term “dismissal” came as a personal shock to him. Major General Lere Anan Timur explained that this “dismissal” was simply a change of position, and that Brigadier General Coliati has been nominated instead as Director of the National Defence Institute, while Commodore Pedro Klamar Fuik has been nominated as F-FDTL’s Chief of Staff. Minister of Defence Filomeno Paixão stated further that the dismissal was “normal” and will be proposed to the President of the Republic to make the final decision (Tempo Timor, 2 December 2021).
Fundasaun Mahein would like to share our observations regarding the controversy around the Government’s decision, including discussing the rules and mechanisms which regulate dismissals and nominations within the highest levels of F-FDTL.
A key factor behind the current controversy is that the deliberation by the Council of Ministers did not include a clear explanation about the fundamental basis of the proposed dismissal. Furthermore, the media failed in their responsibility to demand a clear explanation from the Government about its decision. As a result, there has been a negative interpretation of the word “dismissal” – “exoneração” in the original decision – which has driven the public controversy.
Together, Decree-Law No. 33/2020 on the New Military Statute of F-FDTL and Government Decree No. 6/2016 on the Regime of the Supreme Military Defence Council regulate the mechanism for the nomination and dismissal of F-FDTL’s Chief of Staff. The process begins with the Minister of Defence or other members of the Government with competency in defence conducting auditions, while also consulting with the Supreme Military Defence Council composed of the General Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMGFA), Vice-CEMGFA and Commanders, and presided over by the Minister of Defence. After receiving approval from the Supreme Council, the Minister of Defence presents the proposal to the Council of Ministers for approval. The final part of the process is that the approved proposal is presented to the President of the Republic to nominate via Presidential decree and publish in the Journal of the Republic.
In the current case, the proposal to dismiss Brigadier General Coliati was only just approved by the Council of Ministers. This process is therefore not yet finalised, as the Council of Ministers must still send the proposal to the President of the Republic. While the authority for the dismissal and nomination of the F-FDTL Chief of Staff lies with the President, he will also consult with the Supreme Defence and Security Council before making the final decision. In addition, the Government’s proposal regarding the dismissal does not bind the President’s decision, as the ultimate responsibility for nomination and dismissal lies with the President. This means that the President can either accept or reject the Government’s proposal.
Brigadier General Coliati was nominated for the role of F-FDTL Chief of Staff on 29 October 2018 for an initial two-year mandate, based on Article 75 of Decree-Law No. 7/2014, altered by Decree-Law 28/2016 on F-FDTL Military Statute and Presidential Decree No. 45/2018. The Chief of Staff’s mandate can be renewed once only for the same duration (two years).
Based on the above legal framework, Brigadier General Coliati’s mandate as F-FDTL Chief of Staff ended on 29 October 2020, and the Government should have put forward a new nomination at that time or extended the mandate of the current Chief of Staff. However, the Government simply left the Chief of Staff in place until now, then proposed his dismissal, leading to the current controversy.
It is also important to note that a month before Brigadier General Coliati’s mandate ended, in September 2020, the Government issued F-FDTL’s New Military Statute (Decree-Law No. 33/2020), revoking the previous Military Statue (Decree-Law No. 7/2014, altered by Decree-Law 28/2016). Under the new Military Statute, the mandate of F-FDTL’s Chief of Staff is regulated by Article 92, which states that the mandate should be two years in length and can be renewed once for the same length of time (two years). However, the Government has still not proceeded with a new nomination or reappointment since the New Military Statute entered into force.
With these observations, Fundasaun Mahein concludes that:
- Although the Government has proposed to dismiss Brigadier General Coliati from his position of F-FDTL Chief of Staff, this does not automatically result in his dismissal, as the Government’s proposal does not bind the President’s decision according to the law (Article 86 of RDTL Constititon, Article 14 National Defence Law, Article 92 New Military Statute of F-FDTL).
- If the President of the Republic rejects the Government’s proposal regarding this dismissal, the Government is required to present a new proposal, according to Article 92 of the New Military Statute.
- Brigadier General Coliati may still be nominated again for Chief of Staff, as he assumed the role for two years from 2018 until 2020, and this can be renewed again from 29 October until 29 October 2022 according to Article 92 of the New Military Statute.
- A separate issue is that Brigadier General Coliati has passed the retirement age, according to Article 224 of the New Military Statute. However, general officers who can still work effectively may continue to retain their position in F-FDTL, according to Article 300 of the New Military Statute.
- When the President of the Republic receives the proposal for dismissal from the Government, and issues a Presidential Decree, this decision must be accepted. However, if Brigadier General Coliati is indeed “dismissed” from the position of F-FDTL Chief of Staff, this is not a “dismissal” from F-FDTL, nor is it based on some action committed by the General. Hence the explanation from Lieutenant General Lere Anan Timur stating that the intention of the proposed “dismissal” of Brigadier General Coliati’s from his current position is to nominate him for a new role as Director of the National Defence Institute, which is a normal occurrence in military careers to gain experience in various areas.