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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Timor Leste: Xanana Gusmao govt depletes Petroleum Fund, arrests protesting students By Tomas Freitas*, Dili

On Monday July 7 at 9am, approximately one hundred students held a protest on their campus, East Timor National University, against the members of the national parliament. The students are not happy about the MPs who are about to buy an imported luxury car each for each themselves. The students protested peacefully by holding banners yet 21 students were detained by the Timorese National Police.

Messages of solidarity can also be emailed via Tomas Freitas* Watch NNC TV report on the student protest

Timorese law states that there may be no demonstrations within 100 metres of government buildings. However the students were protesting on their own campus. The location of the campus is indeed less than 100 metres from the National Parliament; however this is the student's campus, an important place for expression of free speech and demonstrations.It is not clear who issued the order to arrest the students but it is widely believed that the order came from Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao himself.BudgetOn May 23, 2008, the Council of Ministers has approved the final draft of Mid Year Budget 2008.

The total proposed amount is US$773.312 million, to be spent as follows: US$59.4 million for 12,600 civil servants' salaries including police and defence forces; US$240 million for the food crisis and US$207.4 million for goods and services; US$1.4 million of US$39.4 million will buy luxury cars for each member of the National Parliament; US$114.7 million for infrastructure development and US$112.2 million for pensions and other social security.The Gusmao government has cut down the domestic income tax to almost 10% flat rate and spent almost 30% of the Petroleum Fund to cover his budget deficit.Petroleum FundThe Petroleum Fund was established by the previous Fretilin government its operation has been recognised as the third best transparency model in the world. But and now the fund itself is under threat.

In order to be sustainable, only US$396.1 million should be taken out of the fund this year, however the Gusmao government has taken an extra US$290.7 million to balance the prices of construction material and to assist in the food crisis, through tasking his friend, the vice-secretary general of CNRT, to purchase rice in Asian countries without tender.The continuing inability of the government to carry out the previous budget did not stop Gusmao increasing budget allocations. Only US$31.9 from US$347.5 million of budget allocations has actually been executed for this first trimester.

The previous execution on the Gusmao government's transitional budget was not certified by the Delloitte Company, which usually certifies the execution report from the Timorese government.Students' roleThe issues of the purchase of luxury cars and the petroleum fund are now big issues in the country. Civil society, media and the Timorese people have criticised this budget, but the academics are silent because their money comes from the government. In turn, the minister of education Joao Cancio has criticised the students, and asked them not to use the Campus as a place for demonstrations. Ironically this minister was previously the Head of the Dili Institute Technology, one of the country's universities.

The student demonstrations are continuing. The police continue to protected the parliament zone and have arrested more than 17 student in this morning.The crackdown on the students is ironic, considering the pivotal role that students played in East Timor's struggle for independence, a role that PM Gusmao himself has previously acknowledged.* Tomas Freitas is director of Luta Hamutuk, a progressive Timorese NGO
Timor Leste Students' PetitionA petition was delivered July 7, 2008 to the Parliament (received by the President of the Parliament, Fernando Lasama and the two vice-Presidents of the Parliament, Vicente Guterres and Maria Paixão), the Office of the President (received by the Chief of the Cabinet, Ms Natalia Carrascalão), the Office of the Prime Minister (received by Ms Elisabeth Exposto). F-FDTL (received by Colonel Lere). The students will also deliver the same petition to the Court of Appeal and the Office of the Ombudsman. The petition was presented by Timor Leste University Students Solidarity Action (ASUTIL).

It demands the following:1. that state institutions look into measures to decrease food prices to allow people to have greater access to food.2. that the President of the Republic uses his power of veto to block the rectifiying budget because it is too high, the government is incapable spending it appropriately, it is only going to further benefit the powerful elite, it would lead to corruption and also lead to greater dependency of Timor-Leste on debts when the country stops receiving revenues from the petroleum resources. This could happen in the very near future.3. that the Parliament blocks the proposal on the arms law in which article 4 is a major concern.4. that the President and the both Vice-Presidents of the Parliament should not change the agreement they had made with the students on the June 12, 2008 in regards to the purchase of the luxury cars for the parliamentarians. On this agreement they were told that only 26 cars would be purchased for the Parliament Committees.5. that Mariano Sabino, the Minister of Agriculture should stop making agreements to provide land for foreign companies for sugar cane and rubber plantations because people need this land for food production.6. that the President meets the students to hold talks on scholarships which should have taken place on February 11, 2008 (the date of the assassination attempt on the President).7. that government should resolve the issue of Internally Displaced People to avoid having refugees in our own countryA peace march will be organized to defend people's rights if thestudents' demands are not met.
Action Coordinator: Santiago Ximenes Vaz "Kilikai Mata"Spokesperson: Marcos Guterres Gusmão "Auraga"Dili, 7 July 2008Contact: +670 737 9007


Reuters: E.Timor police arrest student protestersJul 8, 2008: East Timor police have arrested nearly 40 people and fired tear gas to disperse a protest against a parliament decision to buy 65 luxury cars - one for each member of parliament - in one of the world's poorest nations.East Timor's parliament decided last month to buy the Toyota Land Cruisers amid soaring food and oil prices in a country where the average income is about 50 US cents a day and 42 percent are unemployed.Around 1,000 protesters, mostly students, staged a rally at the parliament building, carrying the national black and red Timorese flag and banners saying, "Stand up East Timor, Fight Against Immoral Decisions".They were also protesting against a bill being discussed in parliament which will allow prosecutors and members of the intelligence service to possess weapons."Do they want students to keep silent and let them buy luxury cars and allow civilians to own weapons? We are not yes men and we say no to the decision," Agusto Pinto, the rally's coordinator, said."Petroleum funds must be used for people's interest, not to buy cars and weapons ... we are ready to die if the decision is not revoked."
We agree if they buy rice to feed the people but not to permit civilians to kill each other like the 2006 crisis." The youngest Asian nation descended into violence in 2006 when the government decided to lay off 600 soldiers, which led to a clash between the two main tribes and left 37 people killed and 150,000 displaced from their homes.The students said they would continue to protest until Friday.
The tiny nation that won their independence from Indonesia in 1999 has been striving to maintain political and social stability ever since. The country has substantial oil reserves but has only started to develop them.

The former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesia in 1975, won independence in a violence-marred vote organised by the United Nations in 1999. It became fully independent in 2002 after a period of UN administration.The government and the United Nations launched a programme early this year to relocate some 30,000 refugees living in camps that dot the capital.
Source: Reuters

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