Saturday, June 23, 2018

Taur Matan Ruak on Tight Rope

This story in the Associated Press about the latest saga in the formation of new Timor Leste government gives the strongest signal yet that the alliance is cracking. Negotiations for the line up of the VIII Constitutional Government have been tense. Three political parties all want a big slice of power in the new government tried to muscle in their people. Xanana wants to control power by having his people in key position where the money is: finance, petroleum, infrastructure, veterans, etc. Matan Ruak wants to be the PM at all cost even if without control of the government (budget). And then KHUNTO comes in asking for key positions like interior (security), social solidarity, etc. New positions are also created just to accommodate others who could potentially become spoilers. But right now the biggest spoiler of them all seems to be President Fracisco Guterres Luolo. But is it? A week before the government was sworn in rumour had it that Matan Ruak had asked President Fracisco Guterres Luolo to block some CNRT appointees from the government lineup. Taur had promised during the campaign that he would lead a clean government free of corruption and mismanagement. And that means he would not allow anyone with questionable record to join his government. For his part Matan Ruak sent a list of PLP appointees to CAC and Prosecutor General's office to get clearance., something that neither CNRT nor KHUNTO did.

A day before the swearing in President's office informed AMP that about a dozen of their appointees have not been accepted by President Lu. And those people, now we know that there are 11 of them, include people like Francisco Kalbuady who had been named by Aljazeera as having been involved in major corruption scandal in FIFA, for which Sepp Blatter was forced to stand down. Back home, Kalbuady had been the worst performing minister whose tourism portfolio had been a total failure. As head of our football federation (FFTL) Kalbuady also provided TL passports to foreigners (mostly Brazilians) in violation of our immigration and naturalization laws in order to have them play in our national soccer team.

Other than Kalbuady, we now know that the exclusion list also includes;
- Gastao Sousa (planing and strategic investment) - formerly PD but switched to CNRT, ex minister of public works
- Thomas Cabral (state administration) - CNRT ex vice minister of state administration
- Helder Lopes (finance) - CNRT, used to be vice minister of finance
- Marcos da Cruz (agriculture) - PD then switched to CNRT, ex vice minister agriculture
- Abel Pires (public works) - PLP without previous experience
- Sergio Lobo (health) - CNRT and minister of health in V government
- Virgilio Smith (veterans) - CNRT head of veterans commission
- Amandio Benevides (justice) - KHUNTO
- Jacinto Rigoberto (tourism and comerce) - CNRT
- Jose Turqel (foreign relations) - KHUNTO

Filomeno Paixao was among the group that didn't take their oath on Friday. However Filomeno's is an administrative matter. He is currently the number two person in FFDTL. He has resigned but there is a number of administrative hurdles he has to overcome before he could be exonerated from the military. The rest either have ongoing cases before the court, have committed crimes previously or are under suspicion. The President had himself sought clearance from the courts and CAC for everyone on the AMP lineup.

Matan Ruak is in a grave dilemma. He has branded CNRT in the past as the most corrupt political party in Timor before promising the electorate that he would never accept CNRT as partner in whatever shape or form. But Matan Ruak's PLP is a minor party in the coalition and would never, on its own, gain enough electoral support to take PLP to power. PLP was lucky to have come to and understanding with CNRT and found common ground. Matan Ruak wants to be PM, Xanana and CNRT want control of government. KHUNTO for wahtever reason joined CNRT and PLP.

After the 2018 elections Matan Ruak got his way and given the job of PM. But would he have full control of government? No! Xanana wants control of key positions, which effectively controls most of the budget: infrastructure and veterans. People like Gastao Sousa, Helder Lopes, Alfredo Pires (petroleum) and Virgilio Smith are Xanana's most trusted elements in CNRT. If AMP gets rid of Alkatiri from ZEESM, then Tomas Cabral would also control another huge portion of the budget as ZEESM is under ministry of state administration (at least under the VI government). Most of the decisions about mega infrastructure projects (such as South Coast and potentially ZEESM) will come under Xanana's control.

Matan Ruak has two issues with the CNRT appointees. The first is that he won't have effective control of government. The second is that his credibility would be tarnished if his government included these individuals. But he also wants to be PM!!!!! But his PLP with 8 seats is very small compared to CNRT's 21. Taur doesn't call the shots and can't call the shots. He couldn't force Xanana to exclude any CNRT appointee to his government's line up. Hence, it makes sense for Matan Ruak to ask President to block these people.

Anyone who has been paying attention would notice that PLP and Matan Ruak have stayed quiet when President Lu announced that he had removed those 11 people from the government's proposed line up. Matan Ruak, as president back in 2015, also did exactly the same when he refused to swear in Francisco Borolaco as the secretary of state for institutional strengthening (SEFI)!!

Xanana was extremely vexed and wrote a blistering letter to his "brother" Taur to repudiate President Lu's decision. In the letter he informed Taur that neither he nor his CNRT appointees would be taking part in the Friday's swearing in ceremony (well, CNRT ministers did show up at the ceremony and too their oath). Xanana also informed Matan Ruak that he and CNRT have prepared a criminal case against President Lu regarding an alleged $1 million payment from the government to President Lu.

The CNRT mob have also been busy calling the President out for his decision. CNRT's and AMP's (obviously controled by CNRT elements) official social media sites have accused the President of trying to plunge the country into chaos once again.

But the public opinion is firmly in favour of President Fracisco Guterres Luolo's decision.

Matan Ruak and PLP is remaining quiet to avoid a confrontation with Xanana. A confrontation with Xanan would spell the end of Matan Ruak's experience as head of government almost immediately. But soon Xanana will ask Matan Ruak to speak up as a partner in the coalition and as the head of government. Will Matan Ruak side with Xanana and defy the President and public opinion? He will start off his government with a big blemish on his government. And as a nominal leader of the government (like Rui Araujo was once) the government he leads will be commanded by Xanana and CNRT (and rightly so as the largest party). Faced with a fierce opposition as FRETILIN and PD, Taur and PLP will quickly lose support and be overwhelmed by CNRT. If Matan Ruak decides to ignore Xanana's position and Xanana calls on CNRT (and KHUNTO) to abandon the AMP government, then the so called VIII Constitutional Government will quickly unravel. It was hard enough for the FRETILIN-PD alliance to maintain a government with 30 seats. What can Matan Ruak and his PLP do with 8 seats? It could be  the shortest government that's ever lived. Difficult choices for Matan Ruak.

But... Could Xanana and CNRT cave in to President's demands and appoint other people with cleaner records? Unlikely. There is another reason why Xanana particularly wants people like Kalbuady, Gastao Sousa and Helder Lopes. They could potentially be called to answer questions in the court the answers of which could incriminate Xanana. Emilia Pires has conveniently ran away from Timor and settled in Portugal away from the reach of Timor's courts. But there are others who could end up in court and end up having to reveal "things". Just recently Gastao was forced to admit that it was Xanana who instructed him to take government vehicles for his private use. So trusting is Gastao of Xanana that he even removed the government registration plate and replaced it with a private one and encouraged his children to use the vehicles. Beyond this, there are other cases involving hundreds of millions of dollars that have been, at best mismanaged and wasted, or at worst, embezzled. As members of government, these people would be immune from prosecution and that is precisely where Xanana wants them to be, in government and immune from prosecution. Imagine... If in 7 months in which Gastao ceased to be a member of government, our courts managed to get his confession, what could 5 years do? President Lu must be aware of this and that's why he has asked for these individuals not to be included in Taur's government. Naturally Xanana would oppose the President's decision.

And Matan Ruak should know by now that he (and KHUNTO) is being used by CNRT to shield certain individuals from prosecution, and to ultimately protect certain leaders and their interests. In 2017's negotiation to form government FRETILIN refused Xanana's requests to include, yes, Gastao Sousa and Santina Cardoso (ex finance minister who wasn't included in this year's CNRT list because she has already been convicted and is now appealing), Alfredo Pires, and others in the line up. And what happened? Xanan turned against FRETILIN and brought it down with Matan Ruak's help. FRETILIN only managed to hold on to government for a few months thanks to Alkatiri's stubbornness. Will the same thing happen to Matan Ruak's government? Will we head for another election?

The drama is not yet finished.

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