Photo: Fundasaun Mahein held Press Conference, 25 July 2022
Fundasaun Mahein, 25 July 2022
On 14 June 2022, the National Parliament approved the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation, and the President of the Republic promulgated the Law on 8 July 2022, after which it was published in Jornal da Repúblika (Law N.o 9/2022 13 July). This law is extremely important for regularizing the organization and functioning of criminal investigation under the scope of criminal procedural law. The law also defines the criminal police organs in terms of their generic and specialised competencies. Therefore, Fundasaun Mahein (FM) deeply appreciates the efforts made by National Parliament to approve this law.
However, FM is concerned that this Law will not resolve the ongoing controversy or rivalry between the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) and the Scientific and Criminal Investigation Police (PSIK), which has provoked much discussion within Timorese society. The main reason is that FM see that this Law gives greater competencies to PSIK, while removing competencies related to criminal investigation which until now have been exercised by PNTL. Moreover, the Law only allows PNTL to act on criminal investigation based on specific request from the Public Prosecutor, in juridical areas when PSIK does not have a presence. This means that PNTL will only focus on public order issues, while criminal investigation becomes the competency of PSIK only, as the superior body of the criminal police.
Because of this Law, FM is concerned that PNTL or the Timorese public may perceive that PNTL is “inferior” to PSIK, due to the designation of PSIK as superior criminal police body, as compared to PNTL’s community policing philosophy and ordinary public order police. As a result, rivalry and competition between PNTL and PSIK is likely to continue, while institutional ego and arrogance can emerge. This will negatively impact cooperation between criminal police organs and operations on the ground, while potentially provoking conflict between state institutions.
For a long time, FM has observed that policing models and practices in Timor-Leste have been “copy-pasted” from Portugal or CPLP countries, such as public order policing modelled on Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP) and criminal investigation on Polícia Judiciária (PJ). We have also noted the problem of over-dependence on foreign advisors in Timor-Leste, especially when such advisors lacking in knowledge of Timor-Leste’s context are heavily involved in drafting laws, and simply copy-paste laws from Portuguese-speaking countries. Policies or institutions which are directly copied from other contexts without adequately adapting them to Timor-Leste’s context can provoke institutional fragility and weaken existing practices.
Furthermore, although the National Parliament approved this Law, FM considers that the approval process was insufficiently democratic, due to the lack of discussion between relevant institutions and stakeholders such as PNTL itself, civil society, Government members and academics. The Council of Ministers did not discuss the draft Law before it entered Parliament – instead it was proposed directly by the Ministry of Justice to Parliament, which then approved it. PSIK is under the Ministry of Justice, so the result of the Law is that it greatly increases the authority and power of the Ministry of Justice.
FM sees that this Law is likely to provoke further institutional fragility while not providing a meaningful solution for PNTL’s institutional development, which is an extremely pertinent and important issue. Moreover, this Law does not value or uphold the institution of PNTL, which has existed since our independence, and instead weakens PNTL while strengthening PSIK. Therefore, FM is concerned that this Law can provoke tension and conflict between these two institutions. Timor-Leste’s past experiences – including the 2006 crisis through to the political impasse of 2017-2021 – teach us that conflict between security institutions is a major threat to national stability and security.
Finally, this Law also shows a lack of seriousness from the State to appreciate the efforts of Timor-Leste’s international partners which have supported the institutional development of PNTL, especially in, but not limited to, the area of criminal investigation. This undermines the investments in PNTL made by the Government and donors which have improved PNTL’s service and infrastructure. Thus, instead of strengthening this institution which has existed for 20 years, the new Law on Organization of Criminal Investigation weakens it, while potentially creating conflict.
- This new Law has major implications for the functioning of the policing and judicial institutions in Timor-Leste. However, the Law was almost “copy-pasted” from Portugal, and quickly approved in Parliament without consultation or serious discussion between key institutions and stakeholders, including PNTL itself, civil society, international partners, academics and government members with responsibility for security issues. Therefore, FM believes that we need an open and serious discussion, to guarantee that this law is properly adapted to Timor-Leste’s conditions and needs. In this way, the Law will not contribute to institutional fragility or conflict, and instead will strengthen security and justice provision in our country.
- FM has written frequently about the issue of Timor-Leste’s dependence on international advisors, especially in the area of law. It is a serious risk to adopt laws or institutional models from abroad without adequately adapting them to Timor-Leste’s context. Therefore, FM reiterates the need to reduce the State’s dependency on foreign advisors through training and education of Timorese people, particularly in technical areas related to drafting laws and regulations.
- This Law has not been translated to Tetun, meaning that most people cannot read it. Even through Portuguese is one of Timor-Leste’s official languages, it is important to recognise that this excludes the majority of Timorese people, including many with high levels of education and knowledge. The current language policy weakens our democracy because it excludes those who cannot speak or read Portuguese. Therefore, FM asks the Government, Parliament and civil society to examine carefully the official language issue, and we also remind the Government that all laws must be translated to Tetun during both the discussion phase and after they are promulgated.
- It is not only FM which considers the approval of this Law to have been undemocratic and bringing various risks, but many people and institutions such as civil society, state officials and international partners. Therefore, we ask the Parliament and President to review this Law before 60 days have passed, even though the President has already promulgated the Law.
For more information about this issue, please contact:
Diretor Exekutivu Interinu
Telemovel: (+670) 75771766