Timor Leste: Xanana Gusmao govt depletes Petroleum Fund, arrests protesting students (+ video)

By Tomas Freitas

Dili, July 8, 2008 -- On Monday July 7 at 9am, approximately 100 students held a protest on their campus, the East Timor National University, against the members of the national parliament. The students are not happy about the MPs who are about to buy a imported luxury car each for themselves. The students protested peacefully by holding banners, yet 21 students were detained by the Timorese National Police.

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 students' 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.

On May 23, 2008, the Council of Ministers approved the final draft of the Mid Year Budget 2008. The total proposed amount is US$773.3 million, to be spent as follows: $59.4 million for 12,600 civil servants' salaries, including police and defence forces; $240 million for the food crisis and $207.4 million for goods and services; $1.4 million will buy luxury cars for each member of the National Parliament; $114.7 million for infrastructure development and $112.2 million for pensions and other social security.

The Gusmao government has cut domestic income tax to almost 10% flat rate and spent almost 30% of the Petroleum Fund to cover its budget deficit. The Petroleum Fund was established by the previous Fretilin government. But now the fund is under threat. In order to be sustainable, only $396 million should be taken out of the fund this year, however the Gusmao government has taken an extra $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 the 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 $31.9 million from $347.5 million of budget allocations has actually been executed for this first trimester. The previous execution of the Gusmao government's transitional budget was not certified by the Delloitte Company, which usually certifies the execution report from the Timorese government.

The 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 protect the parliament zone and have arrested more than 17 students 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: Video of police attack on student protest

Students of East Timor National University chanted slogans outside a campus building, which faces the parliament, against a plan by lawmakers to buy themselves new cars with state funds.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 15:38


A petition was delivered July 7, 2008 to Timor's 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) and the 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 country.

A peace march will be organized to defend people's rights if the
students' demands are not met.

Action Coordinator: Santiago Ximenes Vaz "Kilikai Mata"
Spokesperson: Marcos Guterres Gusmão "Auraga"
Dili, 7 July 2008
Contact: +670 737 9007

See updated report on the Timorese students' campaign at:

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 17:54


Media Release: FRETILIN July 9, 2008

FRETILIN MPs back Amnesty International concern at student arrests

The Gusmao de facto AMP government and its allies in the national parliament have to listen to Amnesty International's concerns, said the MPs from FRETILIN yesterday, as a further 21 students were arrested while holding another peaceful protest against government corruption.

FRETILIN is the largest party in the Timor-Leste parliament.

"We as Timorese who resisted against the Suharto military regime, in many instances have Amnesty International to thank for helping to save our lives," said Aniceto Guterres, leader of the FRETILIN parliamentary group.

"Many Timorese escaped death and torture because Amnesty International was our defender throughout the world, at a time when we did not have a voice, when there were few who would listen to our cries. They were listening only to the large nations, big powers, listening mostly to the Indonesians.

On Monday, July 7, Amnesty called on police in Timor-Leste not to use excessive force on student protestors.

They also said: "We urge security forces to respect people's right to protest peacefully. Individuals should have the freedom to express their views in public through legitimate protest.

"According to press reports, today saw a number of people detained 'for investigation purposes' at one demonstration in Dili. We also ask for any individuals detained for protesting to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence, or released immediately," said Amnesty International.

Guterres urged members of parliament and the de facto government not to forget that their constitution consecrates the right to demonstrate as a basic right in their democracy. "We want to remind everyone of this basic principle and give our unqualified support to the exercise of this right," he said..

"All FRETILIN members of parliament would also like to make it clear that after we investigated Monday's events, we found that the students had acted peacefully and in accordance with the law.

We condemn the use of what we regard in the circumstances to have been excessive force by the Police," Aniceto Guterres said.

The law on public demonstrations does not require police authorization before a demonstration can proceed. It merely requires notice be given to the police. "We have seen the letter from the police to the students 'denying authorization' for the demonstration. This is not required by law," said Guterres on behalf of the FRETILIN MPs.

As has been widely televised and witnessed, the students involved on Monday were not on the road, they were standing on the verandah of the university. The police entered the verandah to arrest them. The students were standing peacefully and with dignity. "Our view is that Monday's actions by the police were illegal and we do not accept their actions," said Guterres..

"FRETILIN members of parliament clearly declare that we have no objections to anyone demonstrating in front of the parliament peacefully and in a democratic spirit. That's democracy. In 2006 and 2007, the FRETILIN government was faced with many such demonstrations. We do not mind if people want to express their criticism of their politicians. That is their right.

"Long live democracy. Long Live the RDTL. Long live the Maubere People," concluded Guterres.

Contact: Jose Teixeira +670 728 7080

Nilva Guimaraes: + 670 727 0458

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 19:44


Eyewitness report from Timor Leste: 52 students in jail after 3 days of protest

Students protest outside Timpor Leste Parliament, July 9By Tomas Freitas, Dili, July 10, 2008: Over the last three days, the students at the East Timor National University have continued to run their protest against members of the national parliament, regarding the purchase of luxury cars for each National Parliament member. Yesterday, the Xanana Gusmao Government arrested 15 students, two days ago 17 and on the first day 21.

The protest which was initiated by a group of students has spread to other parts of Timor Leste’s society. Solidarity messages from inside and outside country were delivered, showing the strong spirit of solidarity that exists between movements in the region. Former Timorese political prisoners have condemned this awful attitude shown by the Timorese government led by Xanana Gusmao. Yesterday the National Youth Association of Timor-Leste (CONJTL) declared their strong solidarity with the students and will join the peaceful demonstrations alongside the students.

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

Prime Minister Gusmao does not care about the criticism that is coming from Timor-Leste Civil Society. The purchase of the cars is Gusmao’s attempt to buy off opposition votes. However, he has not been able to buy the votes of FRETILIN (holding 21 seats) and the National Unity Party (holding 3 seats). Because of all this he has ignored the criticism of Amnesty International in relation to the arrest of the protesters.
Gusmao with his minister for finance know exactly how much money is needed to purchase 65 luxury cars, Toyota Prado SUVs, and where those cars will be imported from, Japan. The total amount allocated in the budget to buy the cars is US$3.086 million. Divided by 65 this is US$47.476 thousand for each car. At the moment, the monthly salary for each member of parliament is US$415. In addition, they receive accommodation allowance of US$300 per month, telephone allowance of US$250 per month and may receive additional per diem payments of a maximum of US$200 per month. This income is very unfair if we compare with an ordinary Timorese people like a Security Guard or Level 1 Civil Servents who receive only $85 per/month.
Gusmao’s public statements undermine Timor-Leste’s internationally applauded Petroleum Fund which was itself based on the Norwegian Model for the Petroleum Fund. Gusmao tries to look smart on television when he tries to explain what is meant by the change in investment strategy of the Petroleum Fund to 60% of equity and 40% of bonds. However, when he is questioned by parliamentarians, civil society or journalists he just responds by calling people “Stupid”. He does not want the public to correct his government on how to manage the Petroleum Fund, even though the public realises that his government does not have the capacity to execute the previously approved $294 million which is still in the Banking and Payments Authority.

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP), formerly ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor), is a network of solidarity activists campaigning for democratic rights, self-determination and other justice struggles in the Asia Pacific region.
ASAP's People's Power Fighting Fund runs appeals for material support for various democratic struggles in the region. To donate to this fund and to help maintain this website, you can deposit directly into the Commonwealth Bank Australia BSB 062026 Account number 1006 0743. Thank-you. Your help is appreciated.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 19:48


Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) condemns the government of Timor Leste
for the arrests of students who held protest at the National University
in Dili. The students were protesting against the mid-year budget which
approved allocation for each member of parliament to buy luxury imported
car, and the misuse of Petroleum Fund.

PSM calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all the
students who detained by the authority, and urges the government of
Timor Leste to respect the right for freedom of assembly.

It should be reminded that the students have played a pivotal role in
the struggle for Timor Leste's independence, and now ironically Gusmao's
government has turn the back against the students.

PSM extends its solidarity with the students' struggle for justice in
Timor Leste, and supports the 7-point petition presented by Timor Leste
University Students Solidarity Action (ASUTIL) on 7 July 2008.

In solidarity,
Choo Chon Kai
International Bureau
Socialist Party of Malaysia / Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 19:55


To the Timor LesteUniversity Students Solidarity Action (ASUTIL)
July 10, 2008
The Democratic Socialist Perspective (Australia) strongly protests the arrests this week of students peacefully protesting at Timor Leste’s National University against the parliament’s misuse of the Petroleum Fund and its mid-year budget, which included the allocation of a luxury car for each member of parliament while basic needs of the Timorese people are not being met.
We call on the Timorese government to immediately and unconditionally release all of the students arrested, refrain from further arrests of students exercising their basic democratic right to protest against injustice, and meet with the students, as they have requested, to discuss their concerns.
The DSP affirms the right of ASUTIL to hold a peaceful march to defend the Timorese people's rights if the demands in the seven-point petition presented to parliament on July 7 are not met.
We offer our ongoing solidarity with Timor’s students' campaign for democratic rights, justice and equality in Timor Leste.
In solidarity,
Lisa Macdonald
International Relations Committee
Democratic Socialist Perspective, Australia

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 23:49


Dear all,
Today 21 students has been released after 72 hours detained in the jail. Those students today has been released out of the detention centre at the police headquarters Caicoli Dili, after the judge has decided in the condition of "Terms of Houses" which its mean they cannot be involved in anymore protest. This term of condition released after a public hearing in the court this afternoon. Those students are the 21 students (2 female and 19 male) was involved in the first day of the protest against parliament. 
There are still 32 students remaining in the detention center.
fOn behalf of timorese activist, I would like to thank you for every solidarity message of support that came from all of you.
Solidarity Regards,
Tomas Freitas