Political tension sets tone for debate with criticism in parliament

Political tension sets tone for debate with criticism in parliament

The debate on technical issues, related to the urgent nature of two government diplomas, has today turned into a plenary session of the East Timor national parliament in an intense exchange of criticism between the benches, highlighting the political tension of the country.

At issue were requests for urgent amendments to the budget and financial management law, to make the duodecimal regime in force since 1 January more flexible, and a request for the lifting of the Petroleum Fund (PF) to strengthen the treasury.

The debate, however, ended with exchanges of criticism on several other aspects, including issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic, with numerous points of order and requests for the defence of honour.

The parliament speaker, Aaron Noah Amaral, was forced on several occasions to ring the bell interrupting the debate and demanding respect for the sovereign bodies.

The tension comes on the eve of the debate on the president's request for a declaration of a state of emergency in the country due to Covid-19.

The parliament eventually failed to deal with the urgent amendment of the budget management law, echoing opposition to the law already expressed by Xanana Gusmão, the leader of a new six-party parliamentary majority who nominated him as prime minister.

At issue are differences of interpretation on the application of exceptions to the duodecimal regime, which, the interim minister of finance told Lusa, could have been resolved directly by the government.

Finance and other ministries argued that the changes should be incorporated into the twelfths decree, which would allow them to be implemented immediately, but advisors to the prime minister's office insisted that it should be through a change in the budget management law, the option that has taken hold.

A government source confirmed to Lusa that a few exceptions were part of the initial proposal of the duodecimal regime decree-law prepared by the finance minister and discussed by the government in January.

The decree was eventually approved with virtually the same text in the cabinet meeting, but the exceptions were later withdrawn in the final wording of the decree sent from the Prime Minister's office and published in the state journal.

The tension remained in the afternoon session, but the deputies ended up unanimously approving the urgent processing of the request for an additional withdrawal of $250 million (€284.6 million) to strengthen the treasury account.

East Timor has been experiencing for years a political stalemate that led to the dissolution of parliament and early elections (in 2018) and which thickened earlier this year when the majority coalition of the executive collapsed, with the failure to pass the 2020 general state budget.

This occurred after less than two years of government with tension with the president, Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo, who refused to swear in more than a dozen nominated members of the government, almost all of the largest party of the coalition, the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), of Xanana Gusmão.

The prime minister, Taur Matan Ruak, resigned over a month ago - a request on which the president has yet to make a statement - and the head of state appealed to the parties in parliament to help resolve the impasse.

From these contacts, a new six-party coalition has emerged, led by Xanana Gusmão, who has been nominated as prime minister by the political forces, a question that has also been unanswered by the president for over a month.

Dossiers such as finance, health, interior, and coordination of economic affairs have been with interim incumbents since the government was formed in 2018.