11 December 2015

Behind Parliament's closed doors

Timor-Leste's Parliament is debating the proposed State Budget for 2016, which totals $1.56 billion. Unfortunately, substantive discussion of proposed amendments is taking place in an Ad-Hoc Committee (Komisaun Eventual/KE) which is closed to the public and the media. In an effort to overcome this obstacle to democratic legislative process, La'o Hamutuk is sharing the Deputies' submitted changes. For more and updated information on documents on the proposed 2016 State Budget in English and Tetum, click here.

Members of Parliament presented more than fifty proposed amendments, including many which move less than 0.2% ($3 million) of the budget from one line to another.  La'o Hamutuk has listed the proposed amendments in a table and scanned their Portuguese-language text in two files -- amendments to the Infrastructure Fund and other amendments.

Three of the amendments create new or drastically modify state institutions. A rushed, secret alternation of one year's state budget law is not the best way to do this, even though the first two appear to be well-intentioned:
  • Amendment 9, from Pedro Costa and Paulino Monteiro, creates a Permanent Parliamentary Committee to monitor projects whose value is more than $50 million.
  • Amendment 25, from Osorio Florindo, creates a Fund for Road Maintenance to providing funding and assurance for the maintenance of roads, bridges and related infrastructure.
  • Amendments 54-59 from leaders of CNRT, Fretilin and Frente Mudansa, would dissolve the Infrastructure Fund (IF) as a Special Fund and reinvent it as an "autonomous fund" controlled by the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Planning and Public Works. The change removes the list of IF-financed projects from the Budget Law (as shown at right), compressing $377 million -- a quarter of the entire budget -- to a single line item.
         Although the injury to specificity, transparency and accountability are obvious, other implications are unclear. It could eliminate Budget Book 6 in future years, removing valuable public information on major project implementation, plans and costs. We also do not know how this will affect fiscal management and procurement processes, as it has not been discussed publicly.
Most other proposed amendments create some small new programs, add to existing funding, or shift programs from one agency to another. A few of the larger and more interesting are:
  • Shift $8.0 million from ZEESM to build and rehabilitate school buildings
  • Add $2.6m for PNTL uniforms and $0.3m for PNTL motorcycles
  • Add $2.0m to the Food Security Fund to address effects of El Nino/Climate Change.
  • Shift $2.0m from road infrastructure to build and rehabilitate local health centers
  • Spend $1.8m to build the Sao Francisco Xavier parish church in Hatolia
  • Add $1.4m for new contracts for foreign judges and judicial advisors
  • Add $1.1m to finish building three district court buildings
  • Spend $0.8m to clean drains and sewers in cities, and another $0.6m on road signs
  • Allocate $0.5m for community tourism and $0.6m for a Touristic Information Center
  • Move the Tour de Timor and similar activities to the Ministry of Tourism
  • Build a $0.75m monument to commemorate the 12 November massacre, and $0.1m for a veterans' monument in Lautem
  • Add $0.65m to support 26 families of long-term FALINTIL members
  • Add $0.45m to support "Liga Amadora" football clubs
  • Small additional funding for the Public Defender, CAC, PDHJ, Prosecutor General and Investigation police. 
  • Deputado Antoninho Bianco proposed seven amendments to cut nearly $13 million from the Ministry of Finance and Whole of Government, including financial and legal services, overseas travel, equipment maintenance, external audits and border posts.

La'o Hamutuk will continue to follow this process, and we welcome information from all sources. We also encourage people and institutions with information or opinions on these issues to contact Members of Parliament. According to their schedule, the Komisaun Eventual will finish its work this week and present a consensus report of all accepted amendments to the Parliamentary Plenary on Monday, 14 December. Parliament will vote specifically on each ministry and article in the Budget Law, and hopes to give final approval on 21 December.

President Taur Matan Ruak has said he will not sign the budget law if it does not appropriate more for the Government's stated priorities of health, education, agriculture and rural infrastructure. If he vetoes and sends the law back to Parliament, they could amend it or pass it over his veto by vote of 2/3 of the Members present. If the Budget Law is not promulgated before the start of 2016, state activities will be funded under the "duodecimal" fall back system for a month or two. In that case, each agency can spend 1/12 of its 2015 appropriations each month.

None of the proposed amendments seriously address the fundamental fragility and non-sustainability of Timor-Leste's economy, cancel or delay the "white elephant" ZEESM and Tasi Mane projects, or invest enough in Timor-Leste's human resources for the future. Nevertheless, some of the suggested changes begin to get at these issues, and we are disappointed that they are not being discussed in public. Perhaps next year...

For more on the 2016 budget, see La'o Hamutuk's website or blogs Submission on proposed 2016 State Budget and 2016 budget proposal puts fantasies before people's needs.
Update, 15 December. The  Komisaun Eventual presented its consensus report to Parliament on 15 December. They accepted the redesign of the Infrastructure Fund but rejected the other non-financial amendments. The total budget envelope is unchanged, but around $30 million has been moved to other lines, mostly from anticipate savings from lower generator fuel prices.

1 comment:

  1. People still can not see the benefit and more positive side of he ZEESM project. It will be contribute to the development, but not today, because there are so many things that need to be done first. For example, our national hospital, schools in Dili or other districts, the roads, tourism place that need to be repair, like The Marobo Hot Spring and roads to The Ramelau. These important things will give value not tomorrow but today for our people. So, I think that the state Budget for 2016 should be allocate first to the most important things like what our President said. Taken from this article
    "President Taur Matan Ruak has said he will not sign the budget law if it does not appropriate more for the Government's stated priorities of health, education, agriculture and rural infrastructure."
    Hope that what President has said, will be a power to make this State Budget become a logic process.