16 January 2011

Budget debate starts in PN plenary

The National Parliament of Timor-Leste started the decade yesterday with the predictable vociferous plenary discussion of the proposed billion-dollar state budget for 2011.
At the conclusion of a long speech, (Tetum original) Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao urged everyone to "maintain political harmony and maturity, to respect the value of dialogue and the right to have different, although constructive, opinions." However, constructiveness should not be determined only by the listener, and is not the same as uncritical applause.

After the lunch break, Parliament's Economics and Finance Committee (C) presented an extensive report and recommendations. Read the complete Committee C report in English or Portuguese. Among other things, Committee C recommended that
  • Solid data should underlie the government's economic policies.
  • Autonomous agencies should be reviewed and included in the state budget (especially the Petroleum and Lottery agencies).
  • The President's anti-poverty fund should be canceled.
  • Greater priority should be given to health, education and agriculture.
  • Complete cost information about the Hera power station should be provided.
  • Oil price projections be more prudent and consistent.
  • Special funds should not be created without complete information and legal foundation, and the infrastructure fund is too large.
  • Unspent Petroleum Fund withdrawals should be left in the Fund at the end of the year.
The plenary debate ended on Friday evening, with 43 votes in favor of the budget in generality, 21 against (Fretilin), and one abstention (Manuel Tilman,  Kota). The debate on specifics and amendments will run for two weeks more, and the decisions made could, in the Prime Minister's words, "mark a new start for Timor-Leste, where we will work towards the consolidation of political and social stability and achieve real long term growth and development."

Although La'o Hamutuk has been outspoken in our critiques and suggestions about this budget, we join the PM in hoping for a better future for the Timorese people. We urge all Parliamentarians, leaders and commentators to think far beyond next year's election as you participate in a vigorous debate on the budget.

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