Beloved people of Timor-Leste,
I address you all today with deep emotion as we celebrate the 36th Anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. I bow to you all. I bow to the memory of our immortal leader Nicolau Lobato and all our brothers and sisters who gave their lives in the pursuit of our dream to live as a free people in a free country.
I greet all from North to South, from Ataúro to the southern shores, and from East to West, from Ponta Leste to Oe-cusse. I greet you all who live in other lands, near and far.
I greet the brothers and sisters, separated from us by past divisions and war, who still live in Atambua, Kupang and other parts of Indonesia. I know how you long to return to the sacred land of your ancestors.
This might be my last 28th November speech as the second democratically-elected President of our young and vibrant democracy.
Our people, exercising their sovereign power to decide who should be their highest magistrates – President, Prime Minister, Deputies – will go to the polling stations in March and June 2012 to elect (or reelect) the President and a new Parliament.
After almost 10 years since the restoration of independence, I can say that I feel happy for what we have achieved.
Most economic and social indicators show significant improvements with extreme poverty declining by 9% since 2007; in the Health and Education sectors, with child, infant and maternal mortality levels halved since 2007; school enrolment jumped to 90% from 63%, during the same period, and we could possibly achieve 100% school enrolment by 2013. Adult illiteracy is projected to be eliminated by the end of 2013.
Earlier this year the WHO declared Timor-Leste a territory free of Leprosy for the first time in many centuries.
We have also successfully tackled one of the biggest challenges we faced in 2002 when assuming self-government: the almost inexistence of medical doctors and other health professionals in our country.
Nine years later, last week, the first 54 Timorese students of Medicine of UNTL have graduated as fully trained doctors, having done their 6-year degree in Timor-Leste.
By 2012, more 500 Timorese doctors will graduate from UNTL to work in the districts to improve health care for our children and our grandmothers and fathers, all over the country.
By 2016 we will have 1,000 doctors trained at UNTL and Timor-Leste will have one of the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, and certainly the highest in Southeast Asia.
These achievements would not have been possible without the generous solidarity of the Cuban people.
Our eternal gratitude goes to our brothers and friends from Cuba, to their leaders and people, who have traveled thousands of miles across continents and oceans reaching our shores, towns and villages to assist us in this great humanitarian enterprise.
The creation of the UNTL’s School of Health Sciences was a wise and courageous decision taken in 2004 by Prime-Minister Dr. Mari Alkatiri with full support of President Xanana Gusmão and it is a good example of the political consensus that is possible around national priorities.
It is also an example of steadiness of State Policy from the First through to the Fourth governments for the betterment of our people’s livelihood and the good of our community.
And we all should feel proud for Timor-Leste’s new large Power Plant in Hera. The first phase of this project started electricity production last night. The second phase, in Betano, will be ready in 2012. This energy project, the largest ever in Timor-Leste, will produce electricity for the entire country, for every district, not only for Dili.
That is an important signal we give to the people and to businessmen and investors about our economic potential. Energy is at the heart of a modern economy and the new power plant is indispensible to promote Timor-Leste’s development. But it is also a very expensive investment.
To make it successful and sustainable, everybody has to share the burden and pay a fair price for the energy. And it is only fair that people that are more privileged in our community should pay more of the burden.
While we should be pleased and proud of our many achievements, we should also be humble in admitting that these positive data and facts do not reveal the full picture.
For instance, we must ask whether services delivery in our national and referral hospitals are adequate. I must emphatically say that I have received extremely disturbing reports about mismanagement and lack of integrity in some areas. I have raised these concerns with our Prime Minister.
We must ask what is the real benefit of these achievements for our children and their future when we know that the quality of education and of conditions in schools, like clean water, nutrition and basic hygiene are still far too precarious?
We could have achieved much more if we had had greater wisdom in properly addressing social and political tensions in a timely fashion.
We would have prevented the 2006 crisis that wiped out the achievements built up from 2001 to 2005.
We should have been and must be now much more aggressive in rooting out waste, mismanagement and corruption at every level.
Our National Parliament must urgently approve two very important draft laws, the Anti-Corruption and the Anti-Money Laundering Laws.
I am sure that elected MPs want the adoption of strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering laws and mechanisms to prevent our country from being destroyed from within by corruption or by unscrupulous criminal elements who wish to use our country for international money laundering.
We failed in some areas, we achieved much in many areas. But our so-called development partners should also accept their share of blame for the failures.
Had they invested from 2000 on a much larger part of their aid in much needed infrastructures like rural roads, electricity, schools, health clinics, agriculture, irrigation, water and sanitation, 10 years later Timor-Leste would have achieved all the MDGs proclaimed by the UN in that year.
What amazes me is how we all, Timorese and donor community included, are so slow in learning from the accumulated mistakes of past decades and fail to improve aid and services delivery.
The donor community has not streamlined their own cumbersome, stifling procedures, which swallow up a disproportionate percentage of the aid and is an enormous burden to recipient communities.
Rather than providing direct budget support to enable and strengthen national institutions they opted (and still opt) to work through various multilateral bodies each with their own bureaucracies and administrative costs.
The UN system and donor community seem to have a fixation on, and are addicted to, commissioning reports with 2-3 day drop-in field missions, and then proclaim their noble recommendations.
We are overwhelmed with such copy and paste studies and recommendations most of which even a 6-years old can very well do by going to the Internet, download the reports and just change a few names and dates and it is done.
Nevertheless, we must scrutinize our own actions. Recently the Prime Minister invited our national TV to carry a live broadcast of a Council of Ministers meeting where Ministers had to explain the failures in their portfolio. This was very salutary but not enough.
However, we should give due weight to what we have accomplished. The overall balance of 10 years of independence is a very positive one.
On the political front, we can be proud of our vibrant parliamentary democracy (though with too many parties) and of the fact that our National Parliament has an impressive representation of women.
I hope women’s representation in our Parliament will increase from the current 29% share of the seats to at least 35% in the 2012 legislative election.
We have a free and irreverent media with 250 journalists working for four daily newspapers, four weeklies, two monthlies, 30 radios stations, and two TV stations, one public, one private.
There are numerous Social Media outlets used by groups and individuals engaged in substantive discussion with intellectual rigor as there are demagogic and defamatory blogs leveling personal attacks on leaders and others.
And yet there was no attempt by the Government to silence its critics. Democracy bestows the right to free speech to all – even to demagogues.
We have a vibrant democracy that derives also from the activity of a multitude of civil society groups, NGOs specializing in all areas that actively scrutinize every aspect of government policies and contribute to a peaceful and just society.
We have one of the most liberal and humanist Constitutions in the world, that prohibits Life Imprisonment and the Death Penalty.
Our Constitution enshrines the sanctity of Human Life and the essential goodness of human beings as we believe that even the worst individual in the society must be given a chance to redeem and serve the community.
Our humanist Constitution imposes on us the obligation to pursue practical compassionate policies that help alleviate the daily suffering of the poor.
I have always advocated a pro-poor State Budget with direct “cash transfers” to the elderly and other vulnerable groups, widows, orphans, the physically and mentally impaired, our veteran heroes and victims.
And I am happy that our Government and Parliament share in my beliefs and have adopted policies and budgets in support of the least fortunate of our nation.
We must do more, much more, to extricate the poor from the chains of extreme poverty but to achieve results, we must carefully study, plan and decide on priorities.
We must build better schools equipped with libraries and internet and provide every school and village with clean water and sanitation. We must improve the “one meal a day” for every school child in the country as it is currently much too deficient.
If we are honest and rigorous in our planning and budget spending we can achieve all of the above in a very short period of time and with much less money.
Maybe the Government should outsource the provision of the “one meal a day ” to international NGOs like Care, Oxfam or UN Agencies like UNICEF and WFP.
On the State Budget for 2012, I refrain from commenting in detail as I have not yet received the Budget Law for promulgation. As I have 30 days to study it, I will carefully review it before the possible promulgation. What I can say now is that I am surprised with the very high total budget for 2012, an election year, with the governing coalition having literally less than six months to govern.
Good management of the country’s finances requires restraint and great, great prudence.
We are a young country but all of us still remember the financial crisis in Indonesia and in many ASEAN countries in 1997-98.
For the good of the country and of our people, we have to look at the lessons of the 1997-98 crisis in Asia and also look to the severe financial crisis that is smashing economies in the European Union and the US at present.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When in 2007 I was faced with an election result without a clear governing majority, I made every effort to bridge the divide and proposed different possible options, including a grand coalition that would include FRETILIN, the most voted party. I did not succeed in this endeavor as the animosity prevailing among the parties was too intense.
It was obvious from the 2007 election result that a vast majority of our people wanted a new style of governing and new direction.
Our Constitution, Artº 85 d), is clear. It says:
“It is exclusively incumbent upon the President of the Republic (…) to appoint and swear in the Prime Minister designated by the party or alliance of parties with parliamentary majority after consultation with political parties sitting in the National Parliament;”
Among my prerogatives as President, one that is very important is the power to interpret and execute Artº 85 d).
As President I study the entire Constitution and do my best to clearly understand the connection between the different articles.
For instance, if Art. 74º says that the President of the Republic is
“the Head of State and the symbol and guarantor of national independence, unity of the State and of the smooth functioning of democratic institution” then I must strive at all times to promote peace and national unity. And if I fail to secure peace and stability I might be endangering our national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, thus failing Article 74º of the Constitution.
In 2001, 208,531 votes supported FRETILIN and gave it a total of 57% of the votes. FRETILIN formed government on its own as it had an absolute majority in Parliament.
In 2007, FRETILIN received 120,592 votes, significantly down from its clear majority of 2001, and accounting for 29% of total votes and 21 seats in the National Parliament. It did not win an absolute majority. But I could have invited the party leader to form a government if I had been assured that the parties in Parliament would either support or at least allow a FRETILIN-led government programme and budget to pass.
The AMP had a combined 225,726 votes which translated into a majority of 39 seats out of 65. The people elect MPs, they do not elect Governments.
A party that aspires to govern must work hard to win an absolute majority. But having not acquired such a desirable majority it still has a chance to form a “minority government”. However, for this to happen it must use all its negotiating skills and political capital (if it has any!) to persuade other parties to support its Programme and Budget.
As FRETILIN was not able to persuade other parties to join it in a coalition Government or at least to support a FRETILIN minority Government’s program and budget, I had no choice but to invite Maun Bot Xanana Gusmao to form the Government, as he had secured a broad-based parliamentary coalition representing an electorate of more than 225,000 with 39 seats.
The AMP promised change, a dedicated, hardworking, efficient government. They promised transparency, honesty, integrity, zero tolerance of corruption. Have they delivered on these lofty promises? The people will judge them on the ballot booth in 2012.
I remain convinced that I was faithful to and consistent with the relevant provisions of our Constitution and made the best decision bearing in mind the volatile, complex and perilous situation prevailing in our country at that time.
Apart from my absolute certainty that I acted in conformity with the Constitution, I also believed that after the 2006 political-security crisis, FRETILIN should cross the desert and reflect upon, and re-examine, its past policies and actions.
I know that some have learned and matured. Judging from many public diatribes, we all know that others do not seem to have learned much. They seem not to know that ours is a society that, traumatized by past violence, needs soothing words of comfort and healing, and repudiates demagogy and confrontation.
We know from our history and from the history of other countries that confrontational, demagogic and hateful speeches by political leaders (and in some instances even by religious leaders) have led to violence as in the Balkans and Rwanda.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I took office as Prime minister in July 2006 and as President in May 2007 our country was sliding into a civil war, our people profoundly traumatized. Tens of thousands were displaced from their homes, disoriented, broken.
In late May 2006, as thousands of people began to flee the city, I opened up the gates of my family compound and shared the space with hundreds of men, elderly, women and children fleeing the violence in our city.
In the following days, weeks and months I visited every single troubled neighborhood in our capital city at different times of the day and night. And as I lived and shared in the pain of our people, I was heartbroken and ashamed that we, leaders, have failed them. The dream had turned into a nightmare. “How did we arrived at such tragic situation?”, I asked myself then. I don’t want ever to relive those painful days.
In dealing with the complex and volatile situation I always chose the path of patient dialogue and compassion. I refuse to catalogue our people into good and bad, friend and enemy. I saw all as children of the same God and the same nation.
Some criticized my approach and demanded tougher measures such as the use of military force. I resisted the demagogic calls for military action.
Even when I was almost mortally wounded I pardoned those who wanted to kill me. And I have been criticized for being too lenient and accused of fostering a culture of impunity.
My presidency has been an open one, open to the people, a presidency of the poor and disenfranchised, a presidency of compassion with wisdom.
I have made every effort to be balanced in my relationship with the political forces in our country.
The President must be the enabler of our democratic institutions, assisting in every way possible their smooth function. The President can articulate our community’s concerns on waste and corruption, but he is not the Public Prosecutor and Judge.
On occasion some brothers and sisters in the AMP accuse me of favoring FRETILIN or of being too close to Dr. Mari Alkatiri.
But my FRETILIN brothers and sisters also, on occasion, have accused me of being too close to the AMP or of turning a blind eye to their perceived or real abuse of power and corruption.
They do not seem to understand that in this still fragile situation with latent tensions and wounds, the President must always try to balance the many different interests in the body politic – be a patient bridge builder!
The past four years have been a period of relative peace and tranquility in our country. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this positive atmosphere of peace and hope.
I have never failed to acknowledge FRETILIN’s leadership contribution. Some in the AMP criticize me for giving too much credit to FRETILIN. But I ask my brothers and sisters in the AMP to acknowledge that if they have been able to govern for almost five years in tranquility, they owe it in part at least to the FRETILIN members in heeding their leaders’ instructions not to engage in violence.
Some in the AMP believe that they alone resolved the problems of the IDPs, the petitioners, etc. I would prefer to say that we all contributed in many different ways.
Our Church and leaders of some minority religious groups and civil society all contributed to peace and the renewed hope among our people.
We must also show appreciation to the international community, the UN and its many agencies operating in our country, and to friendly countries like Australia and New Zealand whose taxpayers have shouldered the burden of five years of the presence of the ISF in our country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have just returned from a brief visit to Indonesia on the eve of the XIXth ASEAN Summit. I had fruitful conversations with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on our exemplary bi-lateral relations and on our application to join ASEAN.
I wish to state here how President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno has been a passionate and eloquent advocate of our firm and rightful desire to achieve early ASEAN membership. And it is very heartening to see how people in Indonesia, from all walks of like, from the people in the streets to the leaders, are unanimous in warmly embracing Timor-Leste and in supporting us in every way they can.
We all know the extreme importance of regional integration and cooperation and how our country’s best interests are enhanced through membership in ASEAN.
I am pleased to report that Timor-Leste may join ASEAN in a relatively short period. However, our Government must be much more proactive in adopting and implementing legislation, norms and mechanisms to meet technical and legislative requirements for ASEAN membership.
We are part of Southeast Asia and our immediate, medium and long-term interests impose on us that we adapt to the region as a whole, while preserving our unique national character.
Among our many strengths I cite our cultural diversity and fluency in mastering many languages. Timorese are counted among the most polyglot nations in the world.
We have an exemplary relationship with our closest neighbor with whom we share centuries of history and a period of conflict that was extremely painful to our people. And as we continue to heal the wounds of the past, remembering and honoring our martyrs, we have been able to live on, living the present and building a future without hatred.
I commend our Maun Bot, Xanana Gusmão, Francisco Guterres Lu O’lo and Mari Alkatiri, for their vision and courage in pursuing the path of reconciliation among our people and with Indonesia from day one of our independence when our leaders received from the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan the historical hand-over of sovereignty.
We wisely resisted pressure by external interests and few local elements demanding the creation of an international tribunal for Timor-Leste.
We knew then and we know now that such a policy would not have served the cause of Justice, Human Rights and Peace. It would have deepened the divisions within our own society and undermined our task in nation-building, state-building and peace- building.
But we haven’t had the courage and compassion to take one step further in closing a chapter of our past. We have failed to pass an Amnesty Law covering the crimes from 1974 to 2006.
I have repeatedly appealed to parliamentary groups to consider an all-encompassing Amnesty Law so that the thousands of our people still in Indonesia may feel safe to return home.
During these meetings convened by me everybody present expressed agreement on an Amnesty Law. And yet, there has not being a joint effort to table a draft law for discussion.
Once again I appeal to all party leaders and parliamentary groups to consider an Amnesty Law to be effected before May 2012 so that our people who are still on the red list are able to return and join us in the 10th Anniversary of our independence.
I am not proposing a non-conditional Amnesty Law. We could consider a Law that demands from those indicted for past crimes that they accept their culpability, apologise and do some community service where the crime had occurred. In cases where the crime was extremely serious they should serve some prison time.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Besides education, health, social justice, extreme poverty, there are some other issues that I feel strongly about.
On the environment, the deforestation of our sacred mountains continues unabated. The Government has done very little in adopting strategies to plant trees and reforest our severely depleted land.
Our own people, including our youth, have shown extreme insensitivity; they have not heeded my numerous appeals to clean up our neighborhoods, towns and villages.
We can join in the international chorus of criticisms of the industrialized countries putting all the blame on them for climate change. But we would be more honest if we were to turn this beautiful island of ours into a fauna and flora sanctuary through simple but active reforestation and protection of our endemic plant and animal species, rivers and corals.
The other area of concern for me is domestic violence. I bow to the grandmothers and mothers and daughters of this country who gave us birth, raised us, feed us, put us to sleep at night, bathe and clothe us, suffer with us when we are feverish with malaria, and who struggle everyday to save money to send us to school. And yet our mothers who should be revered and protected from all harm are victimized everyday in many homes in this country.
Our country is at peace, our streets are mostly safe, but there is no peace in many homes. Timorese homes, that should be sacred like a Church, are desecrated by men who mentally and physically abuse our mothers and our sisters.
As President and citizen, I am happy that in a small way I have contributed to restore peace and security to our cities. But as President and citizen I have failed to end domestic violence and for this I bow and apologise to our mothers and sisters victims of violence. We should all be ashamed when we read reports about how pervasive domestic violence is in our society.
Beloved People of Timor-Leste,
Throughout my life I have always faced reality, no matter how harsh, in a balanced way. This is also the way I look at our country after almost 10 years of self-government. Yes, we did make mistakes. And yes we are still far from our hope of providing a better life for our people. But we are on the right path in building a better country and a better future for our children.
We have done more than many around us thought possible. We have done more than many countries decades after their independence. We are on the right path.
We can be hopeful, we must be persistent and we must be hard-working. All of us have the duty to strive to keep social peace, to secure stability and to reward honesty. We and our land will succeed.
As ever, since my early years in pre-elementary school in Soibada, today I pray to God, The Almighty and The Merciful, to always bless and protect us from harm and illuminate our path to peace and happiness.