Michael Sainsbury and Jose Belo, Dili Timor-Leste's new government has hit a major hurdle in its plan to improve fraught relations with Australia over the sensitive issue of maritime boundaries in the gas-rich sea between the two countries.
It was only in March that Australia and Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, signed a treaty drawing permanent maritime boundaries. Ties have been improving since, but now the legacy Australian spying 14 years ago has come to the fore.
The Australian spy agency "whistleblower" known as Witness K and his Canberra-based lawyer, Bernard Collaery, a veteran advisor to Timor-Leste, were on June 28 committed for trial on criminal charges that could see them both jailed.
They are accused of illegally informing the Timor-Leste government that Australia had been spying on them by using Cabinet room listening devices installed on the authority of then foreign minister Alexander Downer.
This was while crucial talks were being conducted on the sharing of maritime oil and gas reserves.
"Witness K was not a whistleblower," Callaeary said previously. "He went with his complaint to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and received approval, and I received approval to act."
Collaery said that the prosecution was a "vindictive" attack that aimed at ruining his reputation and career, according to The Australian.
"It's an attack on myself for acting as a lawyer within my professional rules and it's a sad moment in the history of the country I love and have served," he said.
Privately the Timorese government is saying little, but Colleary is extremely close to Timor-Leste leaders such as Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and Xanana Gusmao.
The prosecution by Australia could stymie ongoing talks between Timor and Australia on the thorny issue of whether piped gas from the US$50 billion Great Sunrise gas field lands in Timor-Leste or Australia for processing.
Xanana Gusmao, head of the ruling Alliance for Progress and Change (but not prime minister), is continuing to press for a Timor-Leste facility, despite energy companies claiming such a move is uneconomic and could lead to them not exploiting the fields.
People close to the new Timor PM have said he is very keen to have much closer engagement with Australia. No minister in Australia's ruling conservative government has visited the country since its election in 2013.
Timor-Leste's Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo told ucanews.com that the relationship with Australia had improved in recent years under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
This was during renegotiation of an earlier the maritime treaty, which was torn up by a U.N. court forcing Australia into negotiations. Colleary ran the court case in The Hague for Timor-Leste.
Babo remained mute over the trial committal decision of June 28: "I will not comment, it is a matter for the Australian legal system."
A spokesperson for the Australian government said planning was underway for Julie Bishop to visit Timor-Leste.
Rod Mcguirk, Canberra, Australia Australia's prime minister on Friday distanced his government from a decision to prosecute a former spy and his lawyer who accuse Australia of illegally bugging the East Timorese Cabinet while negotiating a deal to share oil and gas revenue.
The Australian Secret Intelligence Service spy, who cannot be identified, and his lawyer Bernard Collaery will appear in the Canberra Magistrates Court on July 25 charged under the Intelligence Services Act with conspiracy to communicate ASIS information.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said while his Attorney General Christian Porter had approved the charges, it was Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Sarah McNaughton who decided the men should be charged.
"The attorney general gave his consent and he advised me that he was considering the matter, so I was certainly aware that he was giving his consent to it, but it was... consenting to a prosecution recommended by the DPP," Turnbull told reporters.
Turnbull said he would not comment on the case because it was before the courts.
Collaery said he and the former spy, who is known as Witness K, were victims of a vindictive prosecution by Turnbull's conservative Liberal Party because they had exposed illegal spying on the East Timor government in 2004.
"I will survive these rats who are pursuing me at the moment," Collaery told reporters on Thursday.
It is not clear whether the alleged bugging of ministers' offices took place before or after Turnbull was first elected to the government in October 2004.
The bugging allegedly took place while Australian and East Timor were negotiating a deal on sharing Timor Sea energy royalties which was signed in 2006. Australia won't comment on secret service operations
K was to testify at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2014 in support of East Timor's challenge to the validity of the 2006 treaty. East Timor argued the alleged espionage gave Australian negotiators an unfair advantage.
ASIS is an overseas spy agency that operates out of Australian embassies.
Officers from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the nation's main domestic spy agency better known ASIO, raided Collaery's offices and K's home in Canberra in late 2013. They seized documents and also K's passport, preventing him from leaving the country.
As well as conspiracy to communicate, Collaery has also been also been charged with communicating ASIS information. Collaery said he assumed ASIO had intercepted conversations he had with journalists. The pair face a possible 2-year prison sentence on each charge if convicted.
Greg Barns, a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance advocacy group, said prosecutors' guidelines stated that laying charges had to be in the public interest.
"In a case where you've got a person who has exposed wrongdoing, and that is we now know that Australia participated in activities in East Timor essentially spying on East Timor one has to ask the question what this says to other whistleblowers around Australia," Barns said.
Collaery said the charges related to K complaining about the illegal bugging to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, an independent watchdog that reviews the activities of Australia's six intelligence agencies and investigates complaints against them.
East Timor last year dropped its case against Australia in the United Nations' highest court as an act of goodwill ahead of agreeing on a new resources-sharing treaty.
In March, Australia, a wealthy nation of 25 million, signed a new treaty with its neighbor, a half-island nation of 1.5 million people who are among the poorest in the world, that gives East Timor most of the revenue from the oil and gas fields under the sea between them.
Nick O'Malley A retired senior judge has expressed alarm over the decision to charge the former spy known as Witness K and his solicitor Bernard Collaery for exposing Australia's bugging of East Timor during contentious oil and gas negotiations.
Stephen Charles, who served on the Victorian court of appeals between 1995 and 2006, said the behaviour of the Australian government during and after the bugging affair was so appalling it served as evidence that the country needed a federal anti-corruption commission with the powers of the NSW ICAC.
He said that publicly available evidence shows that when Australia was in talks with East Timor in 2004 over an oil and gas field that lay between the two nations it used its external spy agency ASIS to bug East Timor's cabinet room to improve its negotiating position. As a matter of international law this constitutes fraud in Mr Charles' view.
Later, when the whistleblower known as Witness K was preparing to travel to give evidence to the International Court of Arbitration about the bugging operation, the government used Australia's internal spy agency ASIO to raid Witness K's home and seize documents, and it cancelled his passport.
These acts appear to have been an effort to prevent Witness K from giving evidence, which most courts would consider to be a serious act of contempt of court punishable by imprisonment, said Mr Charles.
On Thursday, using parliamentary privilege, the independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions had filed criminal charges against Witness K and Mr Collaery.
"The bottom line is that the spying on East Timor was indeed illegal and unscrupulous," Mr Wilkie said. "Although it was the Howard government's initiative, the crime has subsequently been covered up by all governments ever since.
Mr Charles said the behaviour of the Howard government during the negotiations and subsequent governments of both parties that have helped protect it was viewed as appalling in national and international legal circles.
He said the ongoing focus on the incident suggests that the government is embarrassed about the incident and does not want people talking about it. The incident damaged Australia's international standing and cost it a great deal of money.
"It suggests they think that Canberra can get away with anything and then laugh at East Timor while they try to prevent [the East Timorese] from proving their case."
"I think it shines a light on the level of ethics and morality of parliament in Canberra that above all demonstrates we need a national integrity commission. A lot of people in legal circles are horrified by the government's behaviour."
A former NSW director of public prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, agreed that there was broad concern about how Australia had behaved towards East Timor.
"Witness K made it possible for Australians to know that unlawful activity was undertaken on our behalf to improve the government's negotiating position.
"It has taken a very long time for the government to take this action against Witness K and Mr Collaery and there is a genuine question about whether the general interests of Australians would be served by the prosecution of either person."
Paul Karp and agencies Criminal charges have been filed against the spy-turned-whistleblower who revealed Australia had bugged Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms, federal parliament has been told.
The independent MP Andrew Wilkie has used parliamentary privilege to claim the man, a former employee of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service known only as Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, were being targeted.
"The commonwealth director of public prosecutions has filed criminal charges against Collaery and his client," he told the House of Representatives on Thursday. "This is obviously an insane development in its own right."
At a press conference after the speech Collaery said he and Witness K were both charged with conspiracy to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act for allegedly communicating information they obtained in the course of employment or an agreement with Asis.
"There is no allegation by the commonwealth director of public prosecutions of any national security breach," he said.
In a statement the attorney general, Christian Porter, confirmed Witness K had been charged with "an offence" under that section and Collaery with "further offences" under the same.
Collaery said Witness K was not a whistleblower because he "went with his complaint to the inspector general of intelligence and security" and received approval to disclose the alleged bugging. Similarly, Collaery said he had received approval to act for Timor Leste in international proceedings.
Collaery said the case was "unprecedented" and meant that Australia was "not a safe country to represent another sovereign power any more". He said the Australian government risks a judgment that Asis's actions in bugging the cabinet rooms were unlawful.
He was constrained in what he could say about the case because his summons to the ACT magistrates court was accompanied by an anti-terrorism legislation gag order.
He said the charge was a summary offence with a maximum two years in prison. He did not fear prison, but rather believed the charge amounted to "a vindictive prosecution to ruin my reputation and career".
The case will begin with a directions hearing on 25 July in which the court will consider whether to hear it in private.
Collaery blasted the commonwealth for seeking a closed hearing, describing publicity as the "soul of justice" and encouraging media companies to join him in opposing the application.
Witness K has been denied a passport since 2012 and been unable to leave Australia.
The former Asis agent was a key witness for Timor-Leste in a case against Australia over allegations Dili's cabinet rooms were bugged during negotiations over a gas and oil treaty in 2004.
Witness K was supposed to give evidence at the permanent court of arbitration in the Hague but was unable to leave Australia because his passport was seized in 2012.
Timor-Leste dropped the spy case against Australia last year as an act of goodwill ahead of signing a new resources treaty.
"With the diplomacy out of the way it's time to bury the bodies," Wilkie said. "This government wants to turn the former Asis officer and his lawyer into criminals."
Wilkie said the intelligence operation to bug Timor-Leste cabinet room was "illegal" and "unscrupulous" because Australia had used spy tactics to deprive Timor-Leste of its oil and gas revenue.
The Greens senator Nick McKim questioned why the attorney general had given sign-off for the prosecution, arguing it was "hard to escape the conclusion [the case] is politically motivated". Wilkie and McKim both pledged to use parliamentary privilege to shed light on the case.
Porter said the commonwealth director of public prosecutions made an "independent decision that a prosecution was the appropriate course of action" and he then provided consent.
"Having formally confirmed the process regarding these matters, I can also confirm that I will not be providing detailed comment on their substance and that is because the matters are now before the court," he said.
Last year Collaery called for a Senate inquiry. The two countries signed the treaty in March, carving up $56bn in potential revenue from oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
Timor-Leste, one of the world's most impoverished nations, will reap between 70% and 80% of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise fields under the agreement.
Andrew Greene and Lucy Sweeney A Canberra lawyer whose client exposed a secret Australian spying operation in East Timor has described the prosecution against them both as an attack on freedom of speech.
Earlier today, using parliamentary privilege, independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions recently filed criminal charges against Bernard Collaery and his client, a former spy known only as "Witness K".
Witness K had raised concerns about a covert Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operation he ran to bug East Timor's cabinet in 2004 during negotiations about an oil and gas treaty.
Mr Collaery, who once served as ACT attorney-general, described the move as a personal attack on him and his client, who cannot be named, and said it was a sad day for Australia.
"Today is an attack on our absent constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, it's an attack on the legal profession, it's a personal attack on a patriot Australian who can't speak here today, Witness K," Mr Collaery said.
"It's an attack on myself for acting as a lawyer within my professional rules and it's a sad moment in the history of a country I love and I have served. I will survive these rats who are pursuing me at the moment."
A statement from Attorney-General Christian Porter's office confirmed the charges to be laid against Mr Collaery and "a former staff member of ASIS" and noted he would not provide further detail once matters were before the court.
"I would also encourage any member with an interest in this case to be conscious of the fact that the priority must be to allow judicial processes to be conducted without commentary which could impact on the fairness and regularity of those proceedings," the statement said.
A directions hearing has been set down for July 25 in the ACT Magistrates Court.
How did a former spy and a Canberra lawyer end up here?
After the spying operation came to light in 2012, East Timor notified Australia that it was taking the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Mr Collaery was East Timor's legal adviser at the time, and also had on his books the agent who ran the bugging operation, now known as Witness K.
In 2013, Witness K was all set to give evidence about the bugging operation at The Hague when ASIO raided his home and seized his passport. Mr Collaery's place of work was also raided.
Mr Collaery said today that he had acted in the interests of his clients both Witness K and the sovereign government of East Timor with "eminent legal advice", but that the government of the day had used a procedural piece of anti-terrorism legislation signed into law in 2004 to raid his chambers and Witness K's home.
"I doubt that any judicial officer in Canberra would have signed that search warrant. And they knew that, so they used the terrorist power to raid my chambers," he said.
"They're still using the terrorist powers and I have no doubt that they will mouth off this notion of national security in the proceedings. There is no charge of breaching national security against myself or Witness K. Witness K has never, will never make any public comment."
The Federal Government agreed in 2015 to return the documents it seized during the raids on Mr Collaery's chambers.
"They were forced to return the papers and it was an overwhelming rebuke to the Australian Government and we've been subjected to harassment and surveillance ever since," Mr Collaery said today.
Lateline reveals new details about how Australia spied on one of its poorest neighbours in negotiations over an oil and gas field in the Timor Sea worth an estimated $40 billion.
Mr Collaery made clear that there were no charges against Witness K for any involvement in the spying operation, but that the charge today related to conspiring to reveal the operation to the public.
"There's one thing I want to make abundantly clear: Witness K was not a whistleblower. He went with his complaint to the inspector-general of intelligence security, received approval and I received approval to act," Mr Collaery said.
"He and I are charged with exactly the same offence of conspiracy to breach section 39, that is to give information out about ASIO.
"Arguably that includes giving out information about unlawful conduct. The whistleblower protections are not available to secret service personnel. I'm not sure if informing you that I'm a defendant is a breach of these new laws."
Mr Collaery said he stood by his actions and would fight against the prosecution against him.
"When you do a difficult murder trial, sometimes you'll be tapped on the shoulder when you're having coffee and someone will say: 'How could you represent someone?'" he said. "In 30 years nobody has ever rebuked me for representing the Timorese."
A penalty of up to two years' imprisonment is possible for breaches of section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act.
Earlier today, Mr Wilkie told Parliament the charges showed the Federal Government wanted to turn the former intelligence officer and his lawyer into "political prisoners".
"That's what happens in a pre-police state, where instead of a royal commission they lock up people who more likely deserve the Order of Australia," Mr Wilkie said.
Mr Wilkie said the timing of the charges was particularly curious given Australia signed a deal for a new maritime border with East Timor in March.
A landmark agreement over the Australian and East Timor maritime border will settle one long dispute, but it could open another legal wrangle with Indonesia, writes Anne Barker.
"This is obviously an insane development in its own right, but an insane development made all the more curious by Australia's recent commitment to a new treaty with East Timor," Mr Wilkie said.
"It seems that with the diplomacy out of the way, it's time to bury the bodies."
Mr Wilkie further alleged under parliamentary privilege that the previous Howard government and subsequent governments had tried to "cover up" the East Timor operation since 2004.
"The bottom line is that spying on East Timor was indeed illegal and unscrupulous. Although it was the Howard government's initiative, the crime has subsequently been covered up by all governments since," he said.
The Commonwealth DPP has confirmed criminal proceedings against Mr Collaery and Witness K have commenced, but has declined to comment further as the matter is "before the court".
Criminal charges have been filed against a spy-turned-whistleblower who exposed a secret Australian bugging operation in East Timor, parliament heard Thursday, in what one MP called an "insane development".
So-called "Witness K" was allegedly involved in a 2004 Australian plot to listen in on Dili's cabinet rooms during negotiations over a contentious oil and gas treaty and maritime boundary.
He later became a key witness for East Timor in a case against Canberra over the claims, which have since been dropped.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie himself a former intelligence analyst told parliament that federal prosecutors recently filed charges against the former operative and his lawyer Bernard Collaery.
"This is obviously an insane development in its own right, but an insane development made all the more curious by Australia's recent commitment to a new treaty with East Timor," he said.
"It seems that with the diplomacy out of the way, it's time to bury the bodies."
Wilkie, who called the operation to bug the cabinet rooms "illegal" and "unscrupulous", did not specify the exact nature of the charges.
But Collaery told reporters they had been charged with conspiracy to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act for allegedly sharing information they obtained during Witness K's employment, according to Guardian Australia.
Witness K had taken his complaint to the inspector-general for Australia's intelligence agencies and received approval to both disclose the alleged bugging and act for Timor in international proceedings, Collaery said.
Wilkie told parliament that the former spy, who has reportedly been denied a passport since 2012, and his lawyer were being made the fall guys for the espionage operation, which he said was "what happens in a pre-police state".
A protracted row over East Timor and Australia's maritime border with billions of dollars in offshore gas revenue at stake was finally resolved in March.
East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, is impoverished and depends heavily on oil and gas exports.
In 2006, it signed a maritime treaty with Australia which covered the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations. The field has an estimated worth of between US$40-50 billion.
But Dili then accused Australia of spying to gain commercial advantage during the 2004 negotiations and demanded the treaty be ripped up.
It officially dropped its spying case before the UN's highest International Court of Justice in June 2015 after Australia returned sensitive documents, ahead of the dispute's resolution.
Dili Former Timor Leste independence fighter Jose Maria de Vasconcelos was sworn in as Prime Minister yesterday and pledged to bring unity to the nation after months of political deadlock.
President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January after former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government faced a legislative stalemate.
Mr de Vasconcelos is known as Taur Matan Ruak, which means "two sharp eyes". He served in the largely ceremonial role of president between 2012 and last year.
He belongs to a three-party coalition, the Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP), that won 34 of the 65 seats up for grabs in last month's parliamentary election the fifth since independence from Indonesia in 2002.
The alliance includes his People's Liberation Party, members of independence hero Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and the youth-based Khunto.
During his swearing-in at a restored presidential palace built during Portuguese colonial rule, Mr de Vasconcelos promised to "dedicate all my energies and knowledge to the defence and consolidation of independence and national unity".
But illustrating challenges to forming a stable new government, Mr Guterres a day earlier had rejected eight of the ministers put forward by Mr de Vasconcelos because of corruption investigations.
A parliamentary election last year produced no clear winner, with Mr Alkatiri's Fretilin party winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government in the country of 1.2 million people.
Mr Guterres said the political deadlock had created "fear and uncertainty" and the new government needed to use its mandate to "boost national development, living conditions in the communities throughout the country and develop our economy".
Asia's youngest democracy has been largely peaceful in recent years, following recurrent bouts of political instability that it suffered since independence. But it has struggled to reduce poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources.
The energy sector made up about 60 per cent of the country's gross domestic product in 2014 and more than 90 per cent of government revenue.
Mr de Vasconcelos said his new government would improve equality and develop the economy so it does not "just rely on interest from the petroleum fund".
Mr Gusmao, the country's first president and a former prime minister, is expected to take up a special ministerial post to advise the Prime Minister, an AMP official has said.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse
Nelson de la Cruz, Dili East Timor will swear in as prime minister on Friday its former president and independence fighter Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, putting an end to months of political deadlock in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.
President Francisco Guterres dissolved parliament in January after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government faced a legislative stalemate.
"I have issued a decree on the nomination of Mr Taur Matan Ruak as prime minister," Guterres told a news conference on Wednesday, using a popular name for Vasconcelos.
Vasconcelos belongs to a three-party coalition, the Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP), that won 34 of the 65 seats up for grabs in May's parliamentary election, the fifth since independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Guterres said he had accepted the nomination of Vaconcelos as he had the approval of all the AMP parties and would not "bring the government into a difficult situation".
The AMP coalition includes the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
The country's first president and a former prime minister, Gusmao is expected to be take up a special ministerial post to advise Vaconcelos, an AMP official has said. There had been speculation Gusmao would seek to become prime minister again.
A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with Alkatiri's Fretilin party winning just 0.2 percent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government.
Asia's youngest democracy has struggled to reduce poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector made up about 60 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.
Election candidates campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost agriculture and tourism in the country of 1.2 million people with a land area slightly smaller than Hawaii.
Michael Sainsbury, Yangon, Myanmar Former East Timor president and revolutionary leader Taur Matan Ruak has been announced as the country's new Prime Minister five weeks after the Alliance of Progress and Change coalition won a majority of 43 in the nation's 65 seat legislature.
The new government will be sworn in by Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, the nation's largely ceremonial President, ending 11 months of gridlock. It follows the inconclusive July 2017 election and the fresh poll on May 10.
Xanana Gusmao, 73, who led the alliance to victory over arch rivals Fretilin, was originally expected to return as prime minister. But he has been named Minister Adviser to Prime Minister" instead, sealing the reconciliation between the two men. Gusmao and Ruak, 43, also known as Jose Maria Vasconcelos, were once brothers-in-arms but fell out during Gusmao's 2012-2015 prime ministership while Ruak was president. Gusmao eventually stepped aside.
Gusmao will also have ongoing carriage of negotiations with energy companies led by Australia's Woodside and US-based ConocoPhillips following the March settlement of a new maritime border with Australia.
Despite the new agreement there is unresolved debate about where the pipeline from the $US50 billion ($68 billion) Greater Sunrise gas fields should land and be processed.
Gusmao is determined to bring it on to East Timor's remote south coast but the energy company claims this is uneconomic and wants the pipeline landing near Darwin. Timor's economy is in nose dive and existing gas reserves are expected to be depleted in 2026.
"It will be interesting to see how the new government combines Gusmao's Strategic Development Plan, which focuses on government spending on major infrastructure projects, [with] the policy of Ruak's party, the People's Liberation Party, [which] focuses on boosting basic development spending on health, agriculture and education," Swinburne University Politics Professor Michael Leach told Fairfax Media.
As well as the PLP, the new government alliance consists of Gusmao's Party for Timorese Reconstruction and martial arts street gang turned political force KHUNTO.
The outgoing government led by Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri had been unable to pass any legislation.
Celestina Soares The Director of the Central Basic School (EBC) in Akadiru-hun, Dili, Mateus Pinto Tilman urged the Public Service Commission (PSC) to encourage teachers aged 60 and upwards to retire so that new teachers can be recruited.
As added this is an issue that needs to be addressed. "We must recruit new teachers but they don't retire and continue teaching. We must address this issue," he said.
In total there 15 teachers at EBC School in Akadiru-Hun, aged 60 or above, 10 women and 5 men. He said sometimes they call in sick or are absent for four or five days and this impacts on students' learning process.
"We cannot force them to retire without an instruction from the Public Service Commission as stated in the law. If they want to retire they must submit their letters of retirement or we must apply the law," he said.
Nevertheless in some instances, retirement-aged teachers have submitted their letters and paperwork but the public services commission has not processed their application.
"I recommend the Public Service Commission to look at teachers aged 60 for retirement and recruit young graduates who are unemployed and train them," he said.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Disciplinary at the Public Service Commission (PSC), Jose Freitas said this issue is being looked at.
"We are preparing the draft decree law for staff mapping that will include certain clauses that state that public servants of retiring age must compulsorily retire," he said.
Currently, he said the law does not clearly states this. It is stated in the preface but not in the law so it cannot be applied so the Public Service Commission cannot enforce it.
Teachers of retiring age can voluntarily submit their retirement letter but it is not mandatory. "If we just apply it, we will go against existing regulations," he said.
He added the Public Service Commission is not considering the issues of retirement and pension entitlements.
"We have talked to the Public Service Commission, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Social Solidarity to consider this issue because it is difficult to manage the funds needed," he said.
He said the commission is looking at the issue of teachers aged 60 and above still working but the commission will not be able to act without a clear order.
Paulina Quintao The Executive Director of the National Hospital Guido Valadares (HNGV), in Dili, Dr. Aniceto Barreto said currently there are 12 Chinese medical specialists providing health assistance at the hospital.
The specialists are providing care in urology, surgery, ophthalmology, maternity, radiology, as well as in other areas.
Dr. Barreto acknowledged that in some areas the hospital still depends on the specialist from overseas, not only from China, but also from Cuba and from Australia.
"We hope that in future besides supporting expertise they also can support in education, to give a chance to the doctors to take a part in comparative study in order to strengthen their capacity. Medicine is dynamic, from time to time, new treatments and approaches to disease also change," he added.
He said also the development of human resources capacity is very important and needs support from developed countries to continue to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of Timorese doctors based existing and new technologies.
Meanwhile, the Chief of the Chinese Brigade Dr. Hu Peng said the Government of China supports in three areas, human resources, facilities and equipment.
He said during the past 15 years of cooperation with Timor-Leste, 85 Chinese specialists have been placed at the national hospital to support health assistance at HNGV.
"We are glad to be helping Timor-Leste, especially communities who need health assistance," he said. He added that every two years the Chinese medical team rotates at the HNGV.
Paulina Quintao Women's participation in the labor force in Timor-Leste is still limited to 21% compared to men's 40%, according to data from the labor force survey 2015.
The general director of the Secretary of State for Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (SEIGIS), Armando da Costa said there is inadequate participation of women in the labor force because women focus on domestic work.
He said from the existing data analysis, over 50% of women in Timor-Leste do house work, while only 32% of men do not participate in the labor force.
"Domestic work is the main reason for women not to get involved in the labor force," he said in the hall of Fundasaun Oriente, in Dili.
He said this research also shows that 69% of women and 47% of men are engaged in vulnerable employment, including working without a contract with no conditions and protections.
He said the efforts of government and organizations in raising awareness in the communities about gender equality and equal access to opportunities for everyone and the advocacy made with the government to acknowledge all types of work, including domestic work. He added Timorese society often does not consider domestic or house work as active work.
A Dili resident, Maria Fernandes agrees with the statistics because many women have the capacity and are interested in getting involved in the labor force, but they cannot as they must take care of their children first.
She said if the wife and the husband are both employed and if there is no one to look after the children, the wife is expected to quit her job to look after her children and become a housewife. "It happens, women always sacrifice their careers for the family," she said.
On the other hand, UN Women representative in Timor-Leste, Sunita Caminha said a woman cannot works when she is expected to look after the children and do house work.
She said there needs to be greater promotion of equal responsibility for house work including taking care of children and doing domestic works because it is not only women's responsibility.
"Personally, now I can work at UN Women because I provide work for one woman and get a benefit from it, she takes my children to school, ensures their health and does domestic works. If I was not able to do this, I would not be able to do the work I do and would not be able to contribute to my family's economy," she said.
Previously non-governmental organizations in Timor-Leste asked political party leaders that ran in the early election 2018 to establish community creche's so women can get involved in the labor force and so they can focus on their careers.
Paulina Quintao The President of the Women's Association for Aileu Municipality, Cristina da Conceicao said it is difficult for women producers from Aileu to access markets to sell their products and earn money to sustain their families.
She said women in rural areas are creative and capable to developing new products but cannot access markets to sell them to continue developing their talent.
"Many women's groups make chips and other products but it difficult for them to access markets," she said by phone.
Another challenge rural women face every day is with access to potable water for their daily needs.
She said in 2015, the government pledged its commitment after signing the Maubisse Declaration with relevant Ministries to consider the basic needs of women including so they can access markets where they can sell their products, but that this dream did not become reality.
She hoped at the future Municipal Women's Conference they can discuss these issues and give recommendations based on the reality on the ground so the new government can add then into its annual plan and programs for each ministry.
On the other hand, the President of the Board Women's Network Timor-Leste (Rede Feto), Judit Dias Ximenes agrees that women in rural area are smart, creative and innovative, but unable to develop further because of lack of access to markets.
She added that that members of Rede Feto receive training on product development and some support in having access to the supermarkets in Dili. "We hope investors in the country can see their production," she said.
She noted that even though some things have been done by the government, much remains to be done and so at the upcoming V National Women's Congress they will make several recommendations for the new government to take into consideration.
In 2015, the government signed the Maubisse Declaration which deals also with the issue of women's economic empowerment.
The Maubisse Declaration was signed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, The Secretariat of State for Women, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Environment, the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communication, the Ministry of Tourism, Art and Culture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of State Administration, the Secretariat of State for Vocational Training Policy and Employment, including also by the National Commercial Bank of Timor-Leste.
Anne Barker When police in East Timor caught a large fleet of Chinese fishing boats last year, with thousands of dead sharks on board, the evidence of illegal fishing on a massive scale seemed indisputable.
But after a nine-month investigation the crew, the boats and the multi-million-dollar haul are gone, having been released and allowed to sail home to China apparently not guilty of any wrongdoing.
A US$100,000 ($135,300) payment apparently secured their release. But just who paid it, and where has the money gone?
The dawn raid, involving police from East Timor and Australia, was captured on camera and followed months of surveillance by the activist group Sea Shepherd, whose ship the Ocean Warrior had tracked the Chinese fleet off East Timor's south coast.
It was the Ocean Warrior that took police out to sea last September to raid the boats, where they found "thousands and thousands" of frozen sharks "on every single vessel", including leopard sharks and the endangered hammerhead sharks which are protected under the CITES Convention.
The 15 boats and their Chinese crew owned and employed by Honglong Fisheries were immediately impounded and detained, while prosecutors in East Timor investigated their activities and prepared a legal case against them.
But inexplicably, East Timor's District Court in Baucau has now released the crew without charge and allowed them to take the boats back to China in return for a US$100,000 guarantee on the grounds the crew did nothing wrong.
One Chinese captain remains in detention, but sources have told the ABC they expect he too will soon be freed.
The ABC understands that the huge catch of frozen shark far from being confiscated has gone with the boats to China, where it could be worth millions of dollars.
East Timor's former Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Estanislau da Silva, has told reporters in Dili that there was no evidence the crew had violated Timorese law, and that the court released them because they did not have protected sharks on board.
But critics including Sea Shepherd say the decision "reeks", and raises questions about China's pervasive influence in East Timor.
They question where the money was paid. One key source told the ABC there appears to be no receipt or record of the money being paid into the relevant government coffers.
It is understood East Timor granted the 12-month fishing licence to Honglong Fisheries in 2016 for less than US$500,000 ($677,025). Yet the company which effectively owns Honglong Fisheries Pingtan Marine has boasted that each of its fishing boats can generate up to US$1 million ($1.35 million) in annual revenue.
Against that background, a US$100,000 payment to free the 15 boats and their crew would barely make a dent in its profits, and simply be written off as the cost of doing business in East Timor.
Sea Shepherd has also questioned if the crew had done nothing wrong why they were asked to make any payment at all. "Why pay $100,000? Something is not right," said Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd's Director for Asia.
"I think it was a smokescreen to let them go, so people didn't kick up a fuss. And as soon as they've gone the minister has come out and said yes, we let them go. They did nothing wrong."
Mr Stokes also rejects the court's claim that there were no sharks on board. "Where we're very angry, is that the laws are very, very clear in Timor. The endangered species that are listed on CITES, which include the hammerhead, are protected and are forbidden to be caught," he said.
"When we boarded (the boats)... we instructed the (Timorese police) and they went to the forward freezer and they dug down deep and they actually found hammerhead sharks.
"Here we have the national police holding the evidence, with photos of the evidence presented to the court in Baucau, and for some reason it was thrown out of court, that they didn't violate any of the laws of Timor Leste."
Indeed, it was not the first time Honglong Fisheries had been accused of illegal fishing in East Timor. Sea Shepherd began its surveillance after the same fleet was documented in February 2017 offloading massive quantities of shark to a mothership, just 500 metres from the Timorese coast.
Yet Mr Stokes says on that occasion the company was fined a mere US$500 ($677) and told "don't do it again"."What they did was they would just go offshore, and they would do the transhipments offshore where nobody would ever see them," he said.
"Every two-to-three months a ship was coming, a big refrigerated cargo ship, and it was literally meeting them offshore, taking all the sharks. The whole enterprise is illegal. But their partnership with the Timorese officials for peanuts reeks."
The same mothership the Fu Yuan Y Leng 999 was later caught in the Galapagos Islands with 300 tons (272 tonnes) of shark on board, much of which presumably came from waters off East Timor.
The ship remains impounded in Ecuador, where the crew were jailed. But the Chinese crew in East Timor are now free.
East Timor is not a signatory to the CITES convention, which prohibits fishing of endangered species.
But Sea Shepherd says Honglong Fisheries clearly broke East Timorese law in multiple ways, by breaching the terms of its fishing licence, which was for tuna, not shark.
It says its surveillance showed the crew were repeatedly laying gill nets on the ocean floor, rather than drift nets in violation of its licence allowing it to sweep up bottom dwelling species including sharks, rather than tuna. It estimates that 95 per cent of the catch found on board the boats was shark, including hammerheads.
The ABC has sought comment from Estanislau da Silva, who since a change of government in East Timor is no longer the minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. A new minister is yet to be appointed.
Pingtan linked to company accused of slavery, torture and money laundering
Pingtan Marine is a US NASDAQ-listed company based in Fuzhou, China, with a shady record on fishing and human rights.
In 2014 Pingtan was expelled from Indonesia after two marine companies it controlled there were linked to allegations of fraud and bribery, as well as the illicit fishing and trade of protected species.
Indonesia's fisheries ministry had found that one of the companies, Dwikarya, had tortured crew members, engaged in forced labour and committed other serious breaches of labour laws. Dwikarya denied the allegations, but its fishing licence was cancelled.
Indonesia's Supreme Court also found evidence of violent "torture ships" that "implicated Pingtan in the modern-day slavery that has infected pockets of South-East Asia's fishing industry," according to a report to NASDAQ investors last year, by the research company Aurelius Value.
Sea Shepherd says as well as the Chinese crew who were detained in East Timor for nine months, until their release this month most of the deck crew came from the Philippines, who were allowed to leave after the boats were impounded last year.
Mr Stokes says the Filipinos are still waiting for payment from Honglong Fisheries.
The ABC has tried repeatedly to contact officials at both Pingtan and Honglong Fisheries, but neither company has responded.
In a statement last month Pingtan rejected specific allegations it had made false statements to East Timor during the licensing process in 2016.
"The (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) is alleging and is investigating whether false statements were made during the licensing process and the vessels were simultaneously registered in Indonesia. The company disputes these allegations," the statement read.
Mr Stokes says Sea Shepherd is trying to track the 15 Chinese boats assuming they are returning to China in the hope it can still bring the company to justice, and prevent the trade of its huge, illicit catch.
Dili East Timor's president is refusing to swear in 11 members of cabinet because of corruption investigations, marring the formation of a new government following a protracted political stalemate in the young nation.
Taur Matan Ruak, an independence fighter and former president, is still expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Friday after a three-party alliance won a majority of parliament seats in a May 25 election.
President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo said eight ministers, including the finance and defence ministers, and three vice-ministers can't be sworn in because the public prosecutor's office is investigating corruption cases against them and some already have been sentenced. The election in May followed the collapse of a minority government that was in power for just a few months.
Paulina Quintao The representative of Catholic Church and Bishop of Dili Diocese Dom Virgilio do Carmo da Silva urges the new government to unify all Timorese and their dreams and to work together to develop better Timor-Leste during the next five years.
He said people deposited their trusted in the AMP Coalition through the early election on May 12, 2018 to rule for the next five years.
He added the People have lived without a stable government and as such he hopes the collation of parties will form a strong government to address the People's needs.
"The main thing is that this government is able to unify the Timorese dreams and work together for this country," he said in his office, in Lecidere, Dili.
He said before unifying all Timorese to work together, the leaders must also be united to work hard and work as a team to address people's needs.
Meanwhile the Executive Director of Organization Luta Hamutuk Jose da Costa said the coalition of parties is new but the leaders know each other very and about the conditions in Timor-Leste and what the people need.
He said everyone's expectation is that the government can stand firm to serve the People based on the promises made during the campaign period.
"We hope that in the next five years, the AMP government can create the conditions and policies to develop the non-oil sector and create alternative revenue in the next few years because overly dependent on oil," he said.
He said another expectation of the new government it to create conditions and job opportunities for the youth so they can sustain their families and acquire experience to contribute to the country's development because the major challenge facing the youth is the lack of jobs.
He said also the new governments needs to address the People's most pressing needs including access to clean water and good roads.
He also urged the new government to prioritize the burial of the mortal remains of the heroes of the nation because some are just buried in front of their homes.
Paulina Quintao Based on the monitoring done by the Human Rights Association (HAK) of prisoners' situation, many complain of lack of contact with the public defender who defended them in court.
The Executive Director of HRA, Manuel Monteiro said also many prisoners lament because their public defenders do not go visit them clients to discuss how they cases are progressing.
He said some prisoners are supposed to be released when they serve half their sentence but do not because their cases is followed up on by their public defender.
"Many prisoners have no idea about their public defenders. They do not visit them to talk about preparations for negotiating their release," he said at the Ministry of Justice in Dili.
He added if public defenders are active in collecting information about their clients from prison guards about positive attitude and good behavior there is a good chance they can propose to the court an early release.
Meanwhile, the Director of the Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP), Luis de Oliveira Sampaio said the Penal Code states the right of prisoners who have fulfilled half of their sentence to get conditional release, but this does not happen.
He added the main challenge is that prisoners do not have adequate communication with either public defenders or private lawyers.
"When they have good communication with their defenders and lawyers, they can use their right for release before completing their sentence," he said.
He said there are several criteria to apply for the right of early release including good behavior inside the prison but good communication between prison services, prisoners and public defenders is need.
In response to the issue, Public Defender General, Sergio J. Hornai said public defenders go and visit the clients in prison for important issues, in particular for interviews because there are many technical issues needed to strengthen arguments in court.
He said public defenders have very good coordination with prison services and that they share information to each other about the situation of prisoners and that they do not ignore their clients.
"The responsibility of the public defender is to protect the right of citizens in particular those who are in conflict with the justice system, during investigation, trial and with other resources. Their focus is to analyze and learn about the law to strengthen their arguments," he said.
He added public defenders usually visit their clients every 15 days but sometimes due to the work load they are unable to go but nominate an official of the justice to go instead.
In relation to an early release he added that there are criteria that needs to be followed and it does not mean an immediate release.
The public defenders receive an assessment report on those who have served half their sentence with good behavior so they case can be processed for early release.
Paulina Quintao Human Right Association (HAK) Program Advocacy Officer Xisto dos Santos believes the government has committed a violation against the right of prisoners by allowing 100 prisoners to share a single cell block.
He notes that prisoners are imprisoned for what they have done, but as a human being, they also have the right to get adequate incarceration facilities.
"It certainly is a violation because normally a cell block accommodates 50 to 80 prisoners. It is already over that limit, which impacts on the prison's functioning," he said from his office, in Farol, Dili.
He said the two prisons are at over capacity given the delays in the trial process, many prisoners are in preventive detention, and prisoners who have completed their sentence have not been freed yet.
He urged the government to strengthen the judicial service sector to accelerate trials and to conduct prison rehabilitations in the municipalities so they can accommodate more prisoners.
On the other hand, the director of Gleno Prison, in Ermera Municipality, Mito dos Santos said Gleno and Becora prisons are at over capacity but that they continue to make efforts to ensure everyone has adequate quarters.
"The condition of two prisons is that they are at over capacity, but this is the real condition," he said. He said Gleno prison can accommodate 80 prisoners and a maximum of 120 prisoners so there is still space to accommodate another 10 prisoners.
Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that there is a total of 720 prisoners as of May 16, 2018, including 604 prisoners in Becora, 96 prisoners in Gleno and 20 prisoners in Suai with 76% of prisoners will full sentence while 24% are still in preventive detention.
Anton Hermansyah, Jakarta President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo met Timor Leste President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres during the latter's state visit at the Bogor Palace in Bogor, West Java, on Thursday.
Lu Olo arrived in Bogor at 10 a.m. Accompanied by First Lady Iriana and First Lady Cidalia Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres, the two leaders later planted a tree in the grounds of the palace.
This visit was Lu Olo's first overseas trip after being inaugurated as president on May 19, 2017. The ex-guerrilla of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) won the election after securing 57.1 percent of the vote.
In a parliamentary election on July 22, 2017, Fretilin, as the ruling party, failed to win a majority of votes. Led by Timor Leste's first prime minister Mari Alkatiri, it won 29.7 percent of the vote, or 23 out of 65 parliamentary seats. The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led by former president Xanana Gusmao won 29.5 percent of the vote, or 22 seats.
Fretilin later entered a coalition with the Democratic Party, which won seven seats, resulting in a combined 30 seats. Meanwhile, the CNRT entered a coalition with the Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) and other parties, resulting in a combined 35 seats.
On Jan. 25, Lu Olo dissolved the parliament and called for a fresh election. The reelection held on May 12 saw AMP win 49.6 percent of the vote, or 34 seats. Xanana later named ex-president Taur Matan Ruak as prime minister. (ebf)
Ahmad Faiz Ibnu Sani, Jakarta Timor Leste President Fransisco Guterres urged has called on Indonesia to support his country to become a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He conveyed his wish to President Joko Widodo or Jokowi during Guterres' visit to the Bogor Presidential Palace on Thursday, June 28.
"I am grateful for Indonesia's continuous support to Timor Leste to become an ASEAN member," said Guterres today during a press conference with Jokowi in Bogor, West Java.
ASEAN was established on August 8, 1969, based on the Bangkok Declaration followed by five nations, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The member of ASEAN gradually increased to 10 countries as Brunei Darussalam joined in in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997, as well as Cambodia in 1999.
Foreign Affairs Ministry's Southeast Asia director Denny Abdi said Indonesia has indeed supported Timor Leste to become an ASEAN member. However, there was an issue on the development rate in the country when compared to other ASEAN countries.
Given the condition, Denny added, Indonesia and Timor Leste will continue to strengthen bilateral ties. particularly in light of the connectivity between the two countries.
Jakarta First Lady Cidalia Lopes Nobre Mouzinho Guterres of Timor Leste paid a brief visit Thursday to Kampung KB (Family Planning Village) at a child-friendly integrated public space (RPTRA) in Kalijodo, North Jakarta, where she and her Indonesian counterparts spoke about sexual and reproductive health rights.
Children and students who wore white and red uniforms greeted Cidalia when she entered a meeting hall at 4:30 p.m. Family Welfare Movement (PKK) members gathered at the meeting hall to welcome the First Lady.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan's wife Fery Farhati Ganis, North Jakarta Mayor Husein Murad, West Jakarta Mayor Anas Effendi and National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) head Sigit Priohutomo attended the event.
"Children face many challenges in this era. Children have often become victims in various ways," Cidalia said through an interpreter. "It's amazing that there's such a place like the BKKBN that can guide children to a better future."
"This rare opportunity is very good for me," Cidalia said. "Visiting such a great place like this could be a lesson for us."
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo welcomed Timor Leste President Francisco Guterres and the First Lady at the Bogor Palace on Thursday morning. This was Guterres' first official visit to Indonesia since his inauguration last year.
"We see Timor Leste as one of the closest neighboring countries," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir told journalists during a press briefing in Jakarta. "We have close relations in terms of history, economic cooperation, as well as people to people contact." (stu/ebf)
Anton Hermansyah, Jakarta President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo congratulated Timor Leste for holding a successful election on May 12.
"I want to congratulate the people of Timor Leste for their successful parliamentary election in May. Indonesia has a high commitment to improve its partnership with and support development in Timor Leste," he said at the Bogor Palace in Bogor, West Java, on Thursday.
Jokowi welcomed the visit of Timor Leste President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres. It was his first overseas trip after he was elected president last year.
The May 12 parliamentary election was held after a previous election on July 22, 2017. In the 2017 election, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) won the popular vote but failed to get a majority of parliamentary seats.
Fretilin's coalition with the Democratic Party gave it a combined 30 out of 65 seats, while the rest were filled by the opposing coalition, named the Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP).
The minority government faced difficulties with its proposed budget, as it was rejected twice in October and December 2017.
On Jan 25 this year, Lu Olo dissolved parliament and called for a fresh election. The election was held on May 12 and AMP won 49.6 percent of the vote, resulting in 34 seats.
Jokowi also thanked Timor Leste for its support as Indonesia was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on June 18. (ebf)
Anton Hermansyah, Bogor, West Java President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo welcomed East Timor President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres at the Bogor Palace in West Java on Thursday.
It is Guterres' first foreign visit after being elected president last year. During the meeting, both leaders discussed various issues, including the improvement of economic relations, particularly in investment and trade.
"We agreed to start negotiations on investment promotion and the elimination of double taxation," Jokowi said after the meeting.
He expressed the hope that an agreement would be reached with the new government of East Timor. "I hope President Lu Olo will keep on supporting Indonesian investments in Timor Leste."
Indonesia's investment in the country stands at US$595 million annually. Nine state-owned enterprises and about 400 other companies owned by Indonesians operate there. (bbn)
Bharati Jagdish, Singapore "I thought I was going to die. I lost four litres of blood, but my concern was whether the country would slide into a civil war," says Jose Ramos-Horta as we talk about the attempt to assassinate him in 2008.
In Singapore for UNLEASH, a global innovation conference aimed at coming up with solutions to achieve United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, he made some time to recount the most powerful moments of his fight for the freedom of Timor-Leste and tell me how he feels about his country's future.
The 69-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate who served as foreign minister (2002-2006), prime minister (2006-2007) and president (2007-2012) tells of the decades he spent fighting for his country's freedom from Indonesian occupation in a largely calm and collected manner with moments of subtle emotion as he speaks about the most painful and agonising events in his journey.
Mr Ramos-Horta currently serves as an Adviser to the President of the UN General Assembly. But memories of his past remain vivid in his mind.
His country, Timor-Leste, previously known as East Timor had attained freedom from Indonesian occupation in 1999, but as a young democracy, it had its share of factional strife. The 2008 assassination attempt on Mr Ramos-Horta was perpetrated by a rebel soldier.
"A renegade army officer, very unstable, with a huge ego went to the mountains, deserted from the army with about 20 followers. I wouldn't use force against them. I was engaging them mainly through dialogue. Strangely enough, on that morning, he and his men came to my house while I was out doing my early morning exercises. There was an exchange of fire and he was shot dead by one of my security guards. I came back to the house and was shot.
"The remaining renegade soldiers surrendered to me when I arrived back home after my recovery in hospital. They all surrendered with their weapons, but they were put on trial. After their trial, they were sent to prison, but I pardoned them."
He was criticised for doing so. I ask him why he felt compelled to do it. "Because these were soldiers, simple people. The turmoil had to do with the failure of their leader, not them. I wasn't going to blame the small people."
He had, after all, spent most of his life fighting for the rights of his people, who he describes as the "little people" having to go up against much more powerful entities.
His face might be weathered by years of diplomatic battle, but his eyes still bear the spark of the fiery freedom fighter who, for 24 years, lobbied the international community to restore justice and dignity to the people of Timor-Leste.
A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in December 1975 after the Portuguese left. Mr Ramos-Horta left his country just a few days before the invasion. As foreign minister in the Timorese nationalist leadership made up of pro-independence parties, he had been given a mission to plead the Timorese case before the UN.
For the next 24 years of Indonesian occupation, he was the East Timorese resistance's exiled spokesman. But he was no stranger to occupation, having grown up under the Portuguese, who had colonised East Timor four centuries previously.
His father was a Portuguese naval gunner who was himself exiled to the East Timor for a failed attempt to fight the dictatorship in Portugal.
Mr Ramos-Horta was educated in a remote Catholic mission. He did well enough to become one of the few East Timorese to be sent to high school in the capital Dili.
East Timor was largely a neglected trading post or the Portuguese. They hardly invested in infrastructure, health, and education.
"During my time as a child, what affected me most was seeing the poverty, neglect, lack of education. There were very few schools and no university. This is what impacted me most. I wanted the Timorese to access education and to get more opportunities in life."
Where Portuguese rule was actively asserted, it was "brutal and exploitative", he says.
Mr Ramos-Horta with other like-minded East Timorese yearned for freedom and when he made an indiscreet remark on the issue, he was exiled to Mozambique for three years.
He returned to East Timor in 1974 Ramos-Horta and founded the Social Democratic Association of Timor which then became the popular pro-independence party, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin).
Following a coup in 1974, the new government of Portugal began a gradual decolonisation process. As part of a token gesture it held an election in East Timor in 1975.
Fretilin garnered 55 per cent of the vote on election day but its power was challenged by a civil war believed to be initiated by a Jakarta-backed East Timorese political party, Apodeti.
Amid all this and as the Portuguese withdrew, rumblings of an invasion began in Indonesia. It was believed that Indonesia was fearful of having a leftist state at its doorstep and also wanted to lay claim to the oil reserves which had been newly discovered in East Timor's territorial waters.
Even though East Timor declared independence in November 1975, it didn't stop the Indonesian invasion just a month later.
Having been given the mission to lobby the international community to assist the Timorese in achieving full independence, Mr Ramos-Horta began an uphill task in the US.
"Leaving my country was hard. I had to leave everyone behind." This included his 11 siblings, three of whom were killed by the Indonesian military.
"My sister was 21 years old at the time. She was killed during an air bombing on the village where she was. In 2003, after independence from Indonesia, we went to the place where she was killed. The local people saw and luckily, they buried her, so we were able to recover her body and buried it in the common cemetery in the capital, Dili."
Two of his brothers have still not been found. He believes they were killed and "like many thousands of Timorese" have been either buried in "unknown graves" or "just dumped in the bush".
The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor estimated the number of deaths from famine and violence during the occupation to be about 200,000 out of a population of approximately 800,000 in 1999.
Not being in East Timor during the decades of atrocities, made him feel "powerless".
"I was absolutely heartbroken, angry and guilty that I wasn't there, but that gave me a greater sense of obligation. Every time, any thought came into my mind about giving up, I thought of the common people whom I knew were suffering. I grew up in the mountains, in the villages and I received an order, a mission from the leader to go to the UN and defend our cause. I would be absolutely an abominable person if I betrayed all of that, so I kept on."
His mother was part of clandestine network that smuggled footage and photographic evidence of the atrocities, so he was well aware of the horror his people were going through.
"I called members of the US Congress, called the UN Secretary-General, members of the UN, the media to make them aware of what was going on and so that I was relentless in that regard."
Financed in part by his the movement to free East Timor and non-governmental organisations, Mr Ramos-Horta lobbied the UN and prominent American leaders and non-governmental organisations. He also did some translation work to earn money.
"But I had to live in cockroach-infested apartments. Sometimes, there wasn't enough money for food. Today, whenever I go back to New York and I walk down the corridors, I always remember those traumatic experiences the poverty, the difficulty, the loneliness, the indifference of governments."
Indeed, the indifference of the international community was a major hurdle. "If I were someone with a lack of faith, determination and a weak spirit, I would have given up because it was a general ignorance, lack of understanding, knowledge, basic information about my country."
The absence of digital media made the task of increasing awareness even harder.
"It was next to impossible to educate people. All we had was conventional mainstream media and Timor-Leste is very remote from the rest of the world." He had to exercise extreme ingenuity to get the word out.
"In 1993, I went to the Second World Congress in Vienna, a human rights conference. There were thousands of people there. Non-governmental organisations and everybody had sophisticated posters of all sorts. I was all alone. An Australian, a former Jesuit priest and a friend arrived in Vienna with some stickers. They were small stickers which said, 'Boycott Bali, Free Xanana'. Xanana Gusmao, our independence hero, was in prison then. But such a small sticker, if you'd put it in the midst of all other posters will, it will be lost.
"So I went to the toilets of the diplomats. I put the sticker right at the eye-level. So when the gentleman sits in there, inevitably he has to look at it and he's alone there, so there would be no distraction from other posters," he says with an almost gleeful laugh.
I ask him if his efforts paid off. It was two days later that a reporter from the Wall Street Journal approached him to ask if he was the one responsible for the stickers. The Indonesian delegation had seen them and had protested to the organisers of the event.
"At first I was like a kid caught doing something bad. I tried to deny it. But eventually, I admitted it because he wanted to do an innocent story about what I did and I got a chance to talk about the cause. So I was front-page news in the Wall Street Journal."
Ultimately, it was the Asian financial crisis and the downfall of President Suharto in Indonesia that catalysed international support for East Timorese independence.
"Every time, any thought came into my mind about giving up, I thought of the common people whom I knew were suffering," says Jose Ramos-Horta. (Photo: Facebook/Jose Ramos-Horta)
In 1999, following a UN-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century in 2002. It was renamed Timor-Leste, influenced by its Portuguese heritage.
"But for that to benefit us, it didn't happen just overnight. It took me 24 years of building networks of support particularly in Washington, in the US Congress. Even Portugal and the European Union played a critical role."
He managed to convince members of the US Congress to terminate military defence cooperation with Indonesia. "The punitive measures worked," he says with satisfaction.
As he points out that during the occupation, many of his people were killed by American weapons, I ask him why he thinks it took so long for the international community to come on board.
Immediately after the invasion, the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council passed resolutions condemning it and calling for Indonesia's immediate withdrawal, but the US continued its cooperation with Indonesia.
"I still remember I arrived in New York in the winter of 1975. I had never seen snow in my life. I spoke at the UN Security Council and it passed a unanimous resolution demanding Indonesia to withdraw from Timor-Leste. That was my first lesson in international hypocrisy because the Americans, the French the British, they all voted on that resolution demanding Indonesian withdrawal, but Indonesia challenged it and continued to occupy East Timor. Not only that, the US kept selling weapons to Indonesia," he says with palpable frustration.
He admits geo-politics played a huge role, but he eventually managed to find many members of the US Congress who "upheld principles of democracy and integrity" who were willing to "stand up" for his country.
I remark that it's unfortunate that it took 24 years for this to happen and only when Indonesia saw a leadership change. But he says he understands that sometimes the tide needs to change in larger ways for the administration to truly take notice.
Today, he has many friends in the US Congress who continue to fight for the rights of the downtrodden including, in today's context, of immigrants in the US who are being made to feel unwelcome by the current American administration.
Considering his ties to the UN, I wonder how he would assess the body's effectiveness, noting that even the resolution passed on his country was not enforced. He admits that the UN has been sidelined on many issues and has failed to take effective action in global conflicts.
"But the UN is made up of member states. It's up to them how effective the body is. At this time, we are seeing a US administration that seems to be against multilateralism and others may be emasculating it because of rivalries, but eventually I believe we will all come back to the UN because there are no other solutions to the enormous challenges in every field that we face. Extraordinary complex situations require political will and the mobilisation of resources and because these problems are global, they can be tackled only through the collective political will of people and the collective mobilisation of resources and the UN is the only multilateral institution of this kind in existence."
Yet he was once quoted as saying that he supported the US' unilateral action in Iraq.
"I was totally misrepresented at the time. In fact, at that time I said that the West needs to give the UN time to try to find a way to resolve the standoff between the US and Saddam Hussein, but I did say that not every intervention is illegal or unacceptable, for instance in the case of the Rwandan genocide, I think the UN should have intervened in a timely manner and if they didn't someone else should have. I had said that it depends on the situation. If someone were to intervene unilaterally to stop the genocide, would that be wrong?"
Today, while Timor-Leste is a member of the UN, it isn't yet a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"ASEAN countries have had reservations about our membership and those reservations are based on our preparation or capacity to observe the responsibilities as a member of ASEAN in adjusting, adopting laws, regulations such as immigration laws to conform with ASEAN standards. Security, trade, customs are all very, very important. For several years now, there has been a working group assisting Timor-Leste in its preparation to join ASEAN and this taskforce has been headed by Singapore, so we hope it will happen soon."
He has also taken a keen interest in ASEAN countries such as Myanmar and its Rohingya crisis. I ask him how he feels about ASEAN's policy of non-interference considering our conversation about unilateralism and multilateralism earlier.
"I would say that ASEAN leaders are doing their best to help in any way they can and while they can't help politically, there are other ways to help. I would encourage Aung San Suu Kyi to do more reach out to ASEAN countries to get advice on dealing with insurgencies, conflict prevention and mediation."
He believes that the international community has "unrealistic" expectations of her.
"Myanmar is transitioning from dictatorship and there is overwhelming distrust within the population. Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to handle an extremely delicate situation that she inherited and people expect her to pull out a magic wand and resolve all the problems. But educating the population and dialogue takes time."
We turn to discussing current issues in his country which, just last month, had its second parliamentary election in less than a year with a coalition of parties led by Xanana Gusmao emerging victorious.
While some reports have put a negative spin on the political state of the country, Mr Ramos-Horta feels otherwise.
"The previous government was not able to function without an absolute majority, so we had another election. We let the people decide again and do so peacefully. It is a great testament to the consolidation of democracy. I'm happy that both elections went without any violence."
But according to some reports, the campaign was marred by violence.
"Some journalists, because they get bored when nothing happens, even if an accident occurs, they'll say it's campaign-related violence. But there was zero violence of a political nature. I was in the country. There were strong emotional debates and accusations but that's supposed to happen in a democracy. There was no violence and the results were certified by the election commission, consolidated by the Supreme Court and everybody accepted it.
"We have had for 16 years now, peaceful constitutional change of government, no military coups, no takeover by anyone except through free democratic elections."
However, he apparently takes issue with the way the country has been run since he left office.
In a previous interview, he had said that if he had been prime minister for 10 years, he would have focused all those 10 years on quality education, rural development and water sanitation for the people, something that the Timor-Leste governments so far have not done.
"Yes, on the development side and economic side they have done less well. They have done massive investment in infrastructure, but while that's needed, you can't neglect other aspects. Failure in addressing the systemic problems of poverty and basic issues like clean water for communities is worrying.
"This is a problem in many countries fast growth, fast development that's fueled by public expenditure, but that does not filter down to communities. But I believe the new government will also learn from past mistakes and change their approach."
Timor-Leste's rich oil and gas reserves are also reportedly dwindling and some experts have warned that its economy will be severely affected.
"We are familiar with these dramatic warnings from so-called experts that by 2022 current oil fields will be depleted, but we have invested our revenue over the years in a sovereign fund and we have liquidity. We have at least US$16 billion."
He also raises Timor-Leste's recent treaty with Australia on their disputed maritime border and on a "pathway" to develop the giant Greater Sunrise offshore gas fields.
The agreement places much of the Greater Sunrise fields under Timor-Leste's control and that will "bring billions of dollars to the economy". "But we still need to control public expenditure because the billions could run out fast," he cautions.
While the agreement with Australia has been welcomed, some non-governmental organisations have taken issue with the fact that it stipulates Australia will not compensate Timor-Leste for past exploitation of its oil fields.
"Let's put the past behind us. Australia also showed wisdom and statesmanship in backing down from past positions that they wouldn't negotiate with Timor Leste on a permanent maritime boundary. They have backed down, and they have contributed to our development in the last few years too, so we should back down too."
Since leaving office in 2012, I wonder if he has ever thought of returning to politics in his country.
"It's time to cede the stage to others." He says his assignments with the UN have kept him busy enough.
Among his notable assignments were Chair of the High Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations tasked to reform the UN peacekeeping architecture and in 2013 and 2014 he served as UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau which was under a military regime. He brought the country through democratic elections.
But his heart clearly lies in Timor-Leste. "I didn't do everything well. Sometimes I made mistakes. Sometimes, in my fight for my country, I was rude to people, to some diplomats but they were more diplomatic than I am, so they were patient with me but I don't recall having wasted or missed an opportunity that was available to me. I knocked on every door possible to bring my country to the attention of the world."
Today, he is also grateful that he didn't die that fateful day in 2008. "I wanted to live to see my country independent and it is now a functioning sovereign democracy."
Clinton Fernandes The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, Sarah McNaughton SC, recently filed criminal charges against Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery and his client, a former officer of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).
The Intelligence Services Act 2001 prevents the identification of his client, who is referred to publicly only as Witness K. Collaery is a former Attorney-General of the ACT. Witness K is reported to be the former head of technical operations for ASIS.
The charges are based on Article 39 of the Intelligence Services Act, which criminalises the unauthorised disclosure of certain information about ASIS. The maximum prison term for this alleged offence is two years. The first directions hearing will occur on July 25 in the ACT Magistrates Court, where Collaery has had a long and distinguished career as an advocate. He is now a defendant in his own court.
The relevant background is that three months before East Timor became an independent state in 2002, Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer withdrew Australia from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. East Timor couldn't claim its right under international law to a maritime boundary halfway between the two countries' coastlines. It was forced to negotiate bilaterally with Australia.
Downer then allegedly ordered ASIS to bug East Timor's negotiators. ASIS installed listening devices inside East Timor's cabinet offices using the cover of a foreign aid program.
East Timor signed a treaty that denied them their right to a maritime border on the median line. The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Ashton Calvert, then retired and joined the board of directors of Woodside Petroleum. Downer took a lucrative consultancy with Woodside after leaving parliament in 2008. It has been reported that Woodside's chairman, Charles Goode, "sat on the boards of top Liberal Party fundraising vehicles that generated millions of dollars in political donations."
The espionage operation occurred at the same time as the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was bombed by the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, when Downer and Prime Minister John Howard were assuring the public that they were taking every measure against extremist Muslim terrorism in Indonesia.
Amid rumoured disquiet inside ASIS at the diversion of scarce intelligence assets away from the war on terror and towards East Timor, and now aware of Downer's consultancy work for Woodside, Witness K complained to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) about the East Timor operation. ASIS terminated his employment.
K obtained permission from IGIS to speak to his ASIS-approved lawyer, Bernard Collaery. After two and a half years of research, Collaery determined that the espionage operation in East Timor was unlawful, and may have also been a conspiracy to defraud the government of East Timor under s. 334 of the Criminal Code.
In 2013, Collaery took steps to have Witness K give evidence about the operation in a confidential overseas hearing. ASIO raided the two men's homes, seizing documents and data, and cancelling K's passport. In the Senate, the Attorney-General George Brandis hinted at criminal prosecutions of the officer and Bernard Collaery too, for "participation, whether as principal or accessory, in offences against the Commonwealth."
No criminal charges were filed against either man for the next four and a half years. But in May 2018, just two months after Australia concluded a new treaty with East Timor, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions filed charged against them. Among the charges are conversations Collaery is said to have had with a number of ABC journalists and producers: Emma Alberici, Peter Lloyd, Connor Duffy, Marian Wilkinson, and Peter Cronau.
But, as Senator Nick McKim observed in parliament, it is "abundantly curious that other media organisations and their journalists are not named." This is indeed curious, since it was The Australian's Leo Shanahan who reported the bugging of the East Timorese offices, quoting Collaery directly. But Shanahan was not named on the charge sheet. Senator McKim wondered whether "the prosecution [is] trying to protect certain media organisations that might be sympathetic to the government".
Sarah McNaughton is a former counsel to the Trade Union Royal Commission, ordered by the Abbott Government. The decision to prosecute Collaery and K is made independently, but a prosecution cannot go ahead unless the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, consents. Porter confirmed that he did.
The Prosecution Policy of the Commonwealth speaks of "openness" and "accountability." Those who make the decisions to prosecute can be called publicly to explain and justify their policies and actions. But so far there have been no public statements by the CDPP. Indeed, there are indications that Commonwealth will apply to have the entire proceedings heard in camera.
As a case with international connections, it helps to reflect on the international legal standards for a fair trial. The landmark 1981 British Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure explained what a satisfactory prosecution system looked like. Among other things, it asked:
Is it open and accountable in that those who make the decisions to prosecute or not can be called publicly to explain and justify their policies and actions as far as that is consistent with protecting the interests of suspects and accused?
It remains to be seen whether the media approaches the CDPP to shed light on this matter, and whether the Collaery and K trials are held in secret.
One crucial question here is whether ASIS has been used in other operations to benefit well-connected corporate entities, to the detriment of Australia's real national security needs.
Perhaps Witness K might reveal this in court which might be in the public interest but most unwelcome to the government, which is anxious to send a message to other unhappy ASIS officers not to speak out of turn. Perhaps a Royal Commission into the use and misuse of ASIS rather than a criminal trial will be needed to resolve this question.
Harold Mitchell Today finds me in Timor-Leste. Not too many Australians are aware of this tiny nation just 40 minutes off the coast of Northern Australia. But our influence over this brave band of just over a million people has been enormous.
I'm here on purpose. To meet, perhaps for the last time, Xanana Gusmao who has been one of the country's great heroes throughout its post-colonial days. Timor-Leste was a Portuguese colony up until 1975 when it was overtaken by Indonesia after just nine days of independence. In those years, it was known as East Timor.
On witnessing the arrival of Indonesians, Xanana fled into the hills and in time became the leader of the resistance. He is a man of the highest integrity. Admittedly I don't travel the world meeting resistance commanders, but Xanana Gusmao is in my mind the Nelson Mandela of our region. He has seen the brutality of warfare first hand, been imprisoned in solitary confinement and emerged a man of peace and forgiveness.
His prison term in Indonesia did not embitter him. In fact he maintained contact with the outside world through a young Melbourne woman, Kirsty Sword, who he later married and had three children with. As well as being a military leader, he is also a painter, photographer and published poet.
Xanana had been free for less than two years when I first met him in October 2001. I was the President of the Melbourne Festival and Xanana had been invited to open the festival by delivering a poem for peace. It was a spellbinding performance. His guttural Portuguese held the packed outdoor audience at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in reverential silence. Here was a man from a country which had lost a third of its population in a long and barely recognised war, appealing to us to work for peace while "others speak of war".
Modern Australia's first significant relationship with Timor-Leste was in World War 2 when the Timorese gave essential support to our Z Force commandos, the precursor of the SAS, who were trying to halt the Japanese.
However, the help given by the Timorese to our men has rarely been fully reciprocated. In 1963 when President Kennedy was taking an interest in the region, our Attorney General Sir Garfield Barwick told the Americans "I completely fail to see how pouring money into Timor to raise the standard of living is going to solve this problem".
A decade later, Prime Minister Billy McMahon aggressively sought to get far more than Australia's fair share of the oil and gas reserves that lay beneath the Timor Sea. Veteran political journalist Laurie Oakes is quoted in Kim McGrath's remarkable book Crossing the Line, Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea, which exposes Australia's disgraceful dealings with East Timor. Oakes describes McMahon as a "devious, nasty, dishonest individual who lied all the time". On the way to recovery
By 2001, when I met Xanana, East Timor was well on the way to independence with the help of Prime Minister John Howard and the Australian Army East Timor contingent led by Major Peter Cosgrove, now Governor-General, and his Chief of Staff, now Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, the new Chief of Defence.
The visit I am making today is to pay tribute to Xanana Gusmao and his brave people who took back their country 17 years ago in a terrible condition.
One figure I still remember is that Timorese women had an average of eight children the highest in the world. Women knew that at least two would probably die, but six would remain to rebuild their country. The figure is now five, and the country is on the way to recovery.
In 2008, Timor-Leste was still in the top ten "at risk" countries according the global peace index. By 2017 it was ranked alongside Singapore, Norway and the United Kingdom as having a 'high state of peace'.
In the Boston Consulting Group's 2016 Sustainable Economic Development Assessment, Timor-Leste ranked 7th of 160 states for making the most progress in converting economic growth into wellbeing. But there's more to do.
It's been widely reported that Australia has finally agreed to the long-standing Timor-Leste claim for a median line maritime boundary which will give the tiny nation equitable access to its oil and gas resources at last.
Not before time. Since 2005, Australia has collected $1.4 billion from oil and gas fields from the Timor side of the median line and also reaped $25 billion in downstream benefits from ConocoPhillips' LNG plant in Darwin.
But there's still some fine print to be negotiated and I hope the Australian government shows goodwill.
In any case, Xanana and his people are battle hardened and they deeply understand the SAS motto "Who Dares Wins".They won't be denied, and nor should they be any longer.
David Hutt It is almost certain, barring a constitutional calamity, that Taur Matan Ruak will soon be appointed the new Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.
In recent days, news emerged that Ruak was named as the prime ministerial nominee of the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), a coalition of three parties that won last month's general election. He must be officially appointed by the president (of an opposition party) who is thought to be waiting until the last minute to do so.
Not long after the AMP coalition won 34 of parliament's 65 seats in May meaning it could form a majority government most commentators predicted the next leader would be Xanana Gusmao, arguably the country's most pivotal political figure and leader of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), a dominant party within the AMP coalition.
But Ruak's selection is arguably the most sensible decision the incoming government could have made. Most analysts think Gusmao will still maintain considerable sway, supposedly as an adviser to the Prime Minister, but that sharing power will provide stability within the relatively new AMP coalition. It ensures Gusmao does not solely dictate policy and allows Ruak to try introducing his progressive economic reforms, some of which go against the CNRT's platform.
May's election came less than 12 months after an earlier general election returned an unstable government. Last year, Fretilin, one of the country's two major parties, won the most votes but, even when allied with a smaller party, couldn't control enough seats in parliament to form a majority government. Nonetheless, President Francisco Guterres (of Fretilin) allowed it to form a minority government. This quickly proved unstable and three opposition parties, which came together to form the AMP, twice rejected its political program, forcing new elections.
Despite the AMP winning a majority of seats last month, there were concerns over whether it could provide stability. This primarily stemmed from the major policy differences between the CNRT and the People's Liberation Party (PLP), the party Ruak founded last year after he ended his term as president.
At the 2017 election, the PLP emerged as a leading voice against the prevailing economic agenda, one supported by Fretilin and the CNRT. Both parties had entered an informal alliance in 2015, when Gusmao stepped down as prime minister to allow a younger Fretilin candidate, Rui Maria de Araujo, to take over. The "unity government" fell apart at last year's election.
The PLP has argued that the two grand parties wasted precious government revenue on unnecessary mega-projects that did little to curb unemployment, a considerable problem in Timor-Leste, or to diversify the economy away from its oil dependency. The PLP contends that government spending should instead be focused on agriculture, health care, and education, which are all necessary for economic diversification. Even after joining the AMP alliance, Ruak has continued to criticize Gusmao and his party's economic plans.
If Ruak does become Prime Minister, it would certainly prevent some of the tensions that observers predicted. The likely scenario is that Ruak will be in charge of the government, while Gusmao will be responsible for the country's petroleum administration, practically a bureaucracy-within-a-bureaucracy. Even under the short-lived Fretilin government last year, Gusmao retained his position as Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment. He is now likely to keep the same role, though possibly a different title.
Importantly, this position ensures he has access to "key areas of infrastructure spending in annual budgets," Michael Leach, a Professor of Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University of Technology, told me. As such, this will ensure Gusmao has access to considerable sums of public money and, therefore, considerable power.
"In all, one could reasonably expect that Ruak and Gusmao will have a close working relationship in government as they had when Ruak was Gusmao's Number Two in Falintil during the occupation," said Damien Kingsbury, professor of international politics at Deakin University, referring to the pair's role in the independence movement against Indonesian occupation. Falintil was the military wing of Fretilin during the 24-year independence struggle.
One hopes that this division of power will allow both parties, and both leaders, to achieve their goals, though they will no doubt have to make some important compromises. For the last year, Gusmao has led negotiations with Australia over maritime boundaries and how to process the vast oil reserves in the joint-controlled Greater Sunrise gas fields, which could bring in anywhere between $30 billion and $45 billion in revenue.
But these ongoing negotiations are sodden by a dispute over where the petroleum should be processed. Timor-Leste's negotiators, led by Gusmao, have argued that this should be done on Timor-Leste, at a site in the south of the country. But Australia and the partners of the Greater Sunrise Joint Venture, which include some of the world's largest oil producers, contend that this would be too expensive and hazardous, given the difficulty in connecting gas fields to the mainland.
According to Australia's latest offer, made in March, if Dili agrees to off-shore processing, then the revenue split between Timor-Leste and Australia would be 80:20, respectively. If it's processed onshore, then the split would be 70:30. This incentive might move talks along, as could the recent election results.
Gusmao's fixation with onshore processing is no doubt heartfelt, but is also partly motivated by nationalist posturing which certainly won him support last month. But now that the AMP now controls a majority of seats in parliament and East Timorese voters won't be too pleased if they have to head to the polls for a third time accepting a deal on offshore processing in unlikely to destabilize the government or diminish Gusmao's credibility. In fact, it would bring in more revenue, and more quickly, for the new government.
Equally important when it comes to good governance is the participation Khunto, the junior party within the AMP coalition. While it isn't expected to be handed a large portfolio in government, it will be afforded some political influence which it is likely to use to help its base: unemployed youths. By one estimate, this is almost 14 percent.
Until Ruak is appointed Prime Minister, he cannot officially name his cabinet. Some names have cropped up among commentators but could change. For example, the new house speaker, considered one of the most important political positions, is expected be Arao Noe, a veteran politician from the CNRT. But it remains to be seen how important positions will be shared. In the past, the leaders of parties outside of government were often given ministerial positions, though this might not be the case this time as the AMP must divide ministries between its three parties, making sure all three are kept happy.
Unless President Guterres does the unexpected and refuses to swear in Ruak as Prime Minister, it will be a celebratory moment of Timor-Leste. It will be the country's first successful double transfer of power, the gold standard of any young democracy. Timor-Leste is rightly regarded as the most democratic nation in Southeast Asia, not a difficult feat considering the state of its neighbours but one worthy of praise. Such commendation recently came when Freedom House upgraded Timor-Leste in its latest Freedom in the World index from "partly free" to "free".
Jonas Guterres Timor-Leste has held a series of successful and competitive elections in the last year; one for president, and two separate parliamentary elections. The country also has gone through peaceful transfers of power despite experiencing political impasse since July 2017.
This chain of events has promoted international perceptions that democracy is maturing in the country. The Grupo Iberoamericano de Observadores Electorales (GIOE), in a statement typical of the views expressed by several international election observer missions, noted that:
"The Early Parliamentary Elections that took place last May 12 were conducted within democratic principles and with the genuine participation of the voters that exercised freely their rights to vote; contributing to the peace and stability of the country."
The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index 2017 ranked Timor-Leste as the most democratic country in the Southeast Asia region, based on 65 indicators including, among others, political participation, electoral process and pluralism, political culture and civil liberties, and the functioning of government. Timor-Leste scored notably highly in the indicator of electoral process and pluralism. This reflects the fair and free elections, universal suffrage, and freedom of voters that are guaranteed by the constitution.
Timor-Leste also saw its status upgraded from "partly free" in 2017 to "free" in Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2018 index, a rating reflecting political rights and civil liberties. Despite being a fledgling democratic country, the principles of democracy that are proudly treasured in its constitution are upheld and respected.
Few would deny that Timor-Leste's experience of nation-building, despite setbacks in 2006-2007, has become an exemplar of determination and commitment: a country that has ascended from the barren dust of conflict and fragility to follow a transitional path of development. Drawing from this experience, Timor-Leste pioneered "g7+," a voluntary organization of post-conflict and fragile countries that seeks to promote country-owned and country-led development.
Xanana Gusmao, regarded by some as a national hero, is an architect of g7+, and has consistently expressed support for peace, dialogue, and reconciliation as a means of conflict resolution both at home and internationally.
However, as in some other post-conflict countries, the actions of and disputes among the major national leaders still overwhelm political undertakings. Such rivalries have notoriously played out in public. Gusmao, as president from 2002 to 2007, locked horns with Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, culminating in the 2006 internal crisis, which brought the country into civil conflict and caused great misery to many ordinary people. Gusmao also found himself in conflict with President Jose Ramos Horta in 2012, with Ramos Horta's successor Taur Matan Ruak during the latter's five-year presidency, and with Alkatiri again in 2017-18.
In parallel with and reflecting this pattern, there has been a concentration of wealth and power among a small elite that has raised widespread worries about cronyism and corruption. Furthermore, the dominance of major national personalities as sources of political influence undermines the independence of other state institutions such as the judiciary. There was an especially blatant example of this in 2014, when Gusmao's government revoked the visas of five international judges, two foreign prosecutors, and a foreign citizen working at the Anti-Corruption Commission, giving them 48 hours to leave the country.
As leader of the alliance that has just won the 2018 parliamentary election, and as an architect of g7+, there is now a heavy responsibility on Gusmao to avoid honing the politics of exceptionalism and exhibiting double standards. While he has passionately preached about conflict resolution through dialogue, reconciliation, and peace, the reality over which he has presided contrasts with his flamboyant expression of those values. Timor-Leste cannot afford another power quarrel among the elites of the type that led to the 2006 crisis, as those events not only retarded state and peace building, but also held back opportunities for economic development. Timor-Leste needs to exemplify in practice the values preached by its leaders to international audiences, and especially to fellow g7+ countries.
In the period from 2007 to 2015, the government of Timor-Leste led by Gusmao spent the staggering amount of $14 billion, and also took out hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans from international institutions such the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, from the Japanese government, and from Chinese banks. But too much of this money has been wasted on projects such as roads, which are already decaying through lack of proper maintenance. Furthermore, loans, whatever their short-term benefits, run the risk of adding to the economic burden and debt which will be borne by future generations.
Worse, during that period cronyism and corruption became rampant as a result of poor governance, wastefulness, and inefficiency. Just a couple of individuals, mostly well connected to the families of elites, benefited richly from government contracts through patron-client relationships, while the public at large continued to suffer from poor education, a low quality health service, bad roads, lack of satisfactory water and sanitation, childhood malnutrition, and high youth unemployment. The fact that the expulsion of judicial officers in 2014 took place immediately before the scheduled start date for the trial on corruption charges of the then-finance minister, a close ally of Gusmao, attracted comment at the time.
Instead of focusing on developing human capital and the non-oil economy, the Gusmao-led government's major spotlight was on significant infrastructure projects relating to roads and electricity, and multi-billion dollars "megaprojects" such as the "Tasi Mane" developments on the south coast and the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in the Oecussi enclave (ZEEMS). Numerous economic analyses, including from the World Bank, have cautioned that the expected returns of these mind-boggling multi-billion dollars ventures are insubstantial for poverty reduction and improving people's wellbeing.
Experience to date has been that the millions of dollars spent on these megaprojects have done very little to lift local economies, as money has gone to foreign companies and their partners among elite families. Furthermore, these foreign companies only provide low level of labor and limited employment. The transfer of knowledge to local people is very limited.
Having missed most of the development targets set out in the nation's Strategic Development Plan 2030 for the years from 2011 to 2018, Timor-Leste is running short on time. In order to avoid the calamity that looms as oil reserves and revenue are exhausted, the country needs to reprioritize its development, focusing more on human capital development, social capital development, and the non-oil economy.
If Timor-Leste cannot place its economic development on a sounder footing, the maturing and consolidation of its democracy is likely also to be jeopardized in the longer run. Seymour Martin Lipset noted in his influential 1959 book, "Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy", the significant role played by economic development and education in buttressing democracy.
In the context of Timor-Leste, the policy prescriptions that flow from Lipset's insight make eminent good sense: investing in human capital will be essential for boosting productivity, pivotal for economic growth, and vital for democracy. Human capital can mainly be built through the education system that is funded by the state budget.
Timor-Leste's most valuable asset is not oil, coffee, or sandalwood, but its people, a potentially unlimited development resource. The government must not only invest more in education, but also invest it more efficiently. Investment in human capital is the most genuine and decisive public investment, because the expected returns are quite high and typically materialize over the long period of time. Such investment has underpinned the rise of the Asian tiger economies of the late 20th and 21st centuries.
The Timor-Leste National Human Development Report 2018 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found that under-budgeting in education and training contributes significantly to high unemployment, as most youth are not highly skilled, and are unprepared for the job market and decent employment. This highlights again that investing in education and training is key for not only for individuals but also for society at large, driving economic growth, productivity, and innovation. Furthermore, education is also a viable solution to poverty, social injustice, and unequal distribution of wealth.
If Timor-Leste wants to live up to its aspirations as a model for new democracies, then it has to move from a paradoxically colonialist mindset, which sees the country's main assets as oil, coffee, or sandalwood, rather than people. Otherwise it faces an exceptionally high risk of becoming just another resource-cursed nation.