Last week, Radio Australia broke the news that Xanana Gusmão, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, approved a multi-million dollar government contract to a company in which the PM’s daughter is a shareholder. This major case of alleged nepotism is catching all the headlines, but Radio Australia reporters uncovered other cases of alleged corruption and favoritism among Timor-Leste’s political elite.
Radio Australia reports that in 2008, Gusmão approved provided US$3.5 million in government funding to Prima Foods. His daughter’s investment in the company appears to put Gusmão in direct violation of conflict of interest regulations. Joao Goncalves, the Minister of Economic Development, was also targeted by Radio Australia for three contracts given to companies in which his wife is a part-owner. Café Pacific, a Pacific-focused free media blog, highlights the disappointment this brings in East Timor where Gusmão is a national liberation hero and a champion of many of the nation’s recent corruption reforms.
In 2007, the Global Integrity Report: Timor-Leste showed procurement regulations as one of the few strong spots in the nation’s anti-corruption framework. While the scorecard cites concern with the infrequency of investigations and penalties, there is clearly a robust anti-corruption system in place. Gusmão and other recent national procurement scandals highlight the credibility of this regulatory system, suggesting that when investigations do occur, conflict of interest laws can be employed to prosecute fraudulent acts. More fundamentally, in many countries handing a prime government contact to a family member is perfectly legal. Not here.
Whether or not these regulations will be used against Gusmão and other violators remains unknown.
It seems that those in power are sticking together and remaining largely silent. Gusmão has not spoken publicly but today, the President of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos Horta released a statement in full support of the PM: “Just because someone became president, became prime minister, became a minister, does not mean his family all have to go into unemployment, all have to sell their business and stop.”
Clearly, Ramos-Horta is missing the point. Conflict of interest safeguards are not meant to financially cripple the family members of government officials; but they are expected to eliminate any unfair advantages that come with an association with those in power and safeguard public trust in the process.
If the political will exists, Gusmão might be made an example of by his own anti-corruption agenda, serving as the ultimate model for anti-corruption reform.
— Norah Mallaney