Fretilin calls for scrutiny of govt financial interests

Timor-Leste's opposition Fretilin party today called for parliament to back proposed legislation that would force all government officeholders to declare their financial interests.

Fretilin lawmaker Jose Teixeira said it was unfair that a "small layer of Timorese society" benefit from the government's spending decisions while many more live in poverty.

He cited as evidence the decision by lawmaker to back Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao over the release of Indonesian former militia leader Maternus Bere, who was indicted by the UN for his role in a string of crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste, including a brutal massacre in the southern city of Suai in 1999.

"Many people suspect that a number of politicians, including Ministers and MPs, have a conflict of interest, because they felt that their pecuniary interests in Indonesia may be put in jeopardy unless they were more accommodating on the Bere issue," said Teixeira in a statement.

Gusmao's government last month survived a no-confidence motion tabled by Fretilin lawmakers and allies over the release of Bere. Fretilin had threatened to pull its lawmakers out of parliament if the motion was not passed.

"This public suspicion of large bank accounts and apartments in Jakarta, Bali and Surabaya is not healthy for our young democracy," added Teixeira.

Bere's release has triggered a wave of international condemnation.

Michele Montas, spokesperson for the UN's Secretary-General, reiterated the UN's stance that "there should be no impunity, especially for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide".

Amnesty International slammed the release and said in a statement that "[Bere's] transfer to West Timor robs the victims of justice, as it occurred before his case had even been prosecuted by an independent court in a fair trial".

Bere was arrested by Timorese police on August 9 after crossing the border to visit family, but was on August 30 ordered by Gusmao to be released from prison in Dili into the care of the Indonesian embassy.

He was taken across the border into neighbouring West Timor on October 30 after a secretive few weeks in the Indonesian embassy in Dili.

Speaking for myself, I don't know how many government officeholders have financial interests in Indonesia and neither do I know how substantial these interests are. If they are as big as Fretilin suggests, then this is perhaps an issue that deserves more attention.

It would make sense for their to be a law that government officeholders, including lawmakers, should declare their assets, as in many other countries. It would certainly go some way to showing at least some effort is being made to tackle corruption, although I think the link with Bere's release is tenuous given present information. I'm open to being corrected on this matter though.

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