08 February 2013

Secret committee weakens transparency

[Liga ba blog ida ne'e iha lingua Tetum]

On February 6, 2013, Timor-Leste’s Parliament gave general approval to the 2013 State Budget. Forty MPs from the Coalition voted in favor, and 25 from Fretilin abstained.

On the first day of detailed discussion, Parliament decided to establish an “Ad Hoc Committee to Collect and Analyze Proposed Consensus Amendments to the Proposed State Budget.” This Committee includes the President and Vice Presidents of Parliament, six MPs from FRETILIN, one representative of each of the three parties in the Coalition and the Presidents of every standing committee.

The ad hoc Committee will compile and discuss proposed amendments, presenting those which receive consensus for approval by the plenary without substantive debate. The Committee will work for three days, and is closed to the public. Journalists and civil society organizations are not allowed to observe, and the only participants are Government ministers, experts and advisors.

La’o Hamutuk thinks that although this Committee gives more space and legislative power to the opposition to contribute than in the previous Parliament, the lack of public access it weakens Timor-Leste’s budget process transparency.

Up to now, La’o Hamutuk has been proud that Timor-Leste, especially Parliament, has become a model of budget transparency for other countries. Our Parliamentary budget debates are very open, with live radio and television coverage, and civil society groups like La’o Hamutuk are allowed to participate in Committee discussions. However, the secret meetings of this ad hoc Committee make us afraid and sad, as this reduces Timor-Leste’s transparency in the eyes of the world.

The just-released 2012 Open Budget Survey measures transparency in the state budget process of many nations, and rated Timor-Leste at 36 out of 100, slightly better than our score of 34 in 2010. Although it’s a little improved, Timor-Leste’s score is still lower than Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. We’re somewhat better than Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, which shows that Timor-Leste gives a bit more information to the public. A non-transparent budget process weakens democracy, because citizen participation in the decision-making process is limited. In addition, less transparency makes it easier for leaders to divert state resources to a special interest group or individual, or to corruption, preventing the public from receiving state benefits and condemning them to poverty.

For more information about the 2013 State Budget, link to La’o Hamutuk’s website.

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