[Nasional-e] East Timor after independence

Ambon nasional-e@polarhome.com
Thu Dec 12 01:36:04 2002

The Jakarta Post

 East Timor after independence
Paulo Gorjco, Lusmada University, Portugal, paulogorjao@yahoo.com

After more than two years and six months, the legacy of the United Nations
Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) is still marred by
several structural problems.

First, East Timor became independent while conflicting claims on land and
property ownership remained unresolved. By itself, this was already a
significant underachievement. Yet without clear land and property rules,
foreign investment could not flow to the territory. This reality was
recognized by the UNTAET administrator himself, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Second, UNTAET wasted much time in its dealing with the future of the
National Liberation Armed Forces of East Timor (Falintil), another problem
it acknowledged.

Moreover, when UNTAET was compelled to act due to the threat of mutiny among
Falintil's ranks, the integration of its former members into the new East
Timorese Defense Forces (FDTL) was left to personal loyalties, instead of
clear and transparent criteria.

Third, UNTAET was incapable to establish and maintain a functioning justice
system. Indeed, it is a miracle that there were a few convictions for crimes
committed during 1999. At the same time, intra-East Timorese reconciliation
did not occur, while refugees in East Nusa Tenggara returned to the
territory at snails' pace. The idea of amnesty towards perpetrators of
violence has been always in the air, but without clarity.

Fourth, the "Timorization", i.e. the incorporation of the local population
at all levels of the public administration, only progressed under pressure
from the East Timorese. It was only later on that the international
"experts" working for UNTAET started to teach local citizens how to do what
they were doing.

Fifth, UNTAET left East Timor with a Constitution drafted according to
Fretilin's wishes and with a parliament controlled entirely by the Fretilin
(Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor). Again, this was

UNTAET could have chosen to select several East Timorese representatives
from different parties, religious groups, non government organizations and
minority groups. Then, with UNTAET support, they would draft an inclusive
and widely representative Constitution, which would certainly have more
political legitimacy than the current one.

The interim Assembly elected in August 2001 should not have been allowed to
automatically become the new parliament. Fresh elections should have been
scheduled in the near future.

Various East Timorese also cite the above examples, though they are also
partially responsible for shortcomings.

None of the above problems have been resolved in the past six months.

Uncertainty continues to face former Falintil members. They are at least two
veterans' associations, which reveal different loyalties within the East
Timorese political system. The justice system is seriously understaffed and
almost paralyzed, while the established Commission for Reception, Truth and
Reconciliation is taking too long to start functioning.

Moreover, the amnesty law to be approved by the parliament continues under
careful and long study.

There are several explanations for the apparent executive and legislative
paralysis that took place in the last six months. The lack of a competent
bureaucracy is one of them.

Also, in the same way that the National Council did not suggest or prepare
any legislative draft regulation to submit to the UN Transitional
Administrator, a similar process is occurring with the new parliament
vis-a-vis the government.

When the members of the parliament are not absent -- which many of them
repeatedly are without any justification -- they spend most of their time
dealing with minor details which do not result in any substantive
legislative outcome. Indeed, they have not come forward with any relevant
legislation in the last six months, despite Fretilin's clear majority.

In turn, this fact is related with the third reason why democratic
governance has been so poor thus far. The East Timorese have no prior
democratic experience and the last six months have been a learning
experience in every way. The presidency, the government, and the parliament
are still looking for the right balance of power among them.

Institution-building is probably the greatest challenge that East Timor will
experience in the forthcoming years. Like elsewhere, institution-building is
always a protracted process, with many pitfalls in its path.

In the last six months, the East Timorese had a first taste of how hard the
exercise of self-ruling can be. The results have not been brilliant. For the
sake of democratic legitimacy in East Timor, we can only look forward to see
a more performing political system in the forthcoming months.

The writer is also a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Defense Studies