16 August 2022

Transparency requires information, not just pretty pictures

 Liga ba artigu ida ne'e iha lingua Tetum 

In recent months, Timor-Leste officials have promoted “E-government” and boasted of improved transparency scores. They are instituting technical means for maintaining the electoral rolls, as well as a “Unique ID” system for citizen identification.

However, recent developments indicate that more attention is being given to form than to substance. Several websites for government agencies have been redesigned, resulting in less transparency and making it more difficult (or impossible) to access current and/or historic information. Here are a few examples: 

The entire Ministry of Finance website was deleted, and a new version https://www.mof.gov.tl/ is being assembled over several months. The new one is less complete and more difficult to use. All links to documents on the previous site no longer work. Many links in the new version are either missing or nonfunctional.  Newly released material is not identifiable, and the extensive use of graphics and coding makes it virtually impossible to identify materials, link to a page or download the site with a web spider. Search engines cannot find its material, and the search in the site itself doesn’t work.

TimorGAP, the national oil company which has received nearly a billion dollars in subsidies from public money, also just redesigned its website https://www.timorgap.com/. Most previous information has evaporated, and the new site is in English only. It has no information about anything other than TimorGAP’s staff and its hopes for Greater Sunrise – although the company has signed contracts to explore seven other areas. All information about annual reports, finances, tenders, contracts, public consultations and press releases has been removed.

Other official websites, including those of the Prime Minister https://www.gpm.gov.tl/en/ and the National Petroleum and Minerals Authority (ANPM) http://www.anpm.tl/ still work as well as they have, but it often takes months before current information is posted (example at left).

The National Parliament’s website https://www.parlamento.tl usually functions, but does not contain much useful information. It should have draft laws, committee reports and upcoming agendas, in addition to the historic and general information which is already there.

Similarly, the Ministry of Public Works website https://mop.gov.tl/, which hasn’t been updated since August 2021, has a lot about meetings with officials, but almost nothing about public consultations or specific projects under its mandate. The Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals site http://mpm.gov.tl/en/ also has more about meetings than about substance.

More generally, most of the above sites, as well as others maintained by the government, do not contain or link to relevant reports or documents. Their vacuous press releases do not help the reader find more concrete or specific information, such as laws or other documents. Often, the government appears to want to look busy, but declines to post information about its programs and projects. Here’s a recent example from the main Government website.

Some agencies post news releases or have pages on Facebook. Although this can be useful (especially considering the number of Facebook users in Timor-Leste), it is not a substitute for a website. You cannot link to a FB posting from outside FB, and the postings are not permanent, logically structured or indexed by search engines. They cannot include documents – only images. Governing a nation is too important a responsibility, and providing information to citizens is too essential, to rely solely on a “social network.” 

On a more positive note: 

To make important information more available to the public, La’o Hamutuk collects many documents and materials that should be accessible on government websites, but often aren’t. We put copies on our own site (rather than linking to them elsewhere) so that they don’t disappear when another website is deleted. Here are some key links on our site:

1 comment:

  1. Iha prosesu dezenvolvimentu estadu ida, transferensia informasaun ne'ebe mai ho karater ofisial, validu, kredivel, imparsial no kompletu ne'e importante no urjente tebes atu implementa. Triste tebes haree sitiu ofisial Governu nian sai de'it hanesan kurtina ne'ebe subar hela informasaun sira ne'ebe tuir lolos sidadaun sira tenki asesu ba. Ita nia KRDL artigu 38 no 40 ne'ebe koalia kona-ba liberdade no protesaun ba iha informasaun. Liberdade no protesaun ba informasaun nian sukat mos husi prosesu transferensia no transmisaun informasaun sira. Ha'u konkorda tebes ho artigu ida ne'e.Asesibilidade no efetividade iha fo no simu informasaun ne'e pertinente tebes. Obrigado! BRAVO LA'O HAMUTUK.

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