Press Release – Ted McDonnell
Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has announced he will retire as leader of the tiny island nation in September this year.Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has announced he will retire as leader of the tiny island nation in September this year.
Mr. Gusmao confirmed his retirement plans in Dili today and announced he would reshuffle his Cabinet in August.
Just prior to Christmas in a meeting with Timor-Leste President Taur Matan Ruak, Gusmao stated to that his decision to step down had “not changed only the timing”.
“I informed Mr. President my decision to step down has not changed. Only the time has changed to sometime during 2014. I feel that conditions and other necessary things must be prepared first,” Mr. Gusmao stated in his native language Tetum.
Mr. Gusmao’s CNRT Party with a Coaltion of smaller parties was re-elected for a further five year term in July 2012.
Mr. Gusmao, who’s Australian wife Kirsty has in the past year been battling breast cancer and has spent the majority of her time over the past year living in Melbourne with her three children, said it was time to prepare the next generation of politicians to lead East Timor.
Speaking in Tetum, Mr. Gusmao said that it was felt by the “old generation we have a different roll to play, not to go to sleep but to take care of other things”.
“We need to continue to help the new generation to start to take over responsibilities and be better prepared,” he said.
“To the new generation we will demand that they work with dedication, work with professionalism and keeping in mind that the people are in charged. So that we can fix our conduct, and fix our doings. Because we think that the new generation is a little lazy. They are lazy to see wide and lazy to see far. From the outside we can see and we can help them.”
Editor and Publisher of Tempo Semanal, TImor-Leste’s largest weekly newspaper, Jose Belo, who has led a one-man fight against government corruption, said there are three main candidates who could replace Mr. Gusmao.
Belo said Minister of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Dr. Agio Pereira, Justice Minister, Deonisio Babo and Minister for Education Dr. Bendito Freitas were already jostling for the Prime Ministers role upon Gusmao’s in September.
Mr. Gusmao’s retirement announcement comes at a time when his country’s relationship with Australia is at its lowest ebb since the Whitlam government gave tacit approval to Indonesian to invade the tiny nation in1975.
Timor-Leste has accused Australia of spying on its Ministers in 2004 during crucial negotiations over the Timor Sea. In 2006, the Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) was signed by then Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and former Timor-Leste Prime Minister Mari Alkatari in 2006. On retirement from politics, Mr. Downer advised Woodside, who won the management rights of Greater Sunrise LNG site in the Timor Strait. Woodside shelved the multi-billion dollar project over a dispute with the Timor-Leste government over whether the gas should be piped to the virtually uninhabited south-coast of tiny nation; processed on a floating platform or be piped to Darwin. The Australian government supports Woodside’s stand on Greater Sunrise.
Timor-Leste has taken the Australian government to The Hague to have CMATS Treaty voided. It has also taken Australia to the Court of International Justice after the Australian government raided Timor-Leste’s lawyers offices in Canberra seizing documents. ASIO agents also raided the Canberra home of a former ASIS spy, reportedly a key witness for Timor-Leste. The former spy’s passport was also cancelled.
Timor-Leste claims Australian “invaded Timor-Leste’s sovereignty”.
An initial hearing in the ICJ over the Canberra raids will be heard in The Hague later this month
Xanana Gusmao’s government has been plagued with corruption and nepotism allegations. Former Justice Minister Lucia Lobato was jailed for corruption and a number of Gusmao’s Coalition ministers, including Finance Minister Emilia Pires, remain under investigation for corruption. Shortly after winning his second Prime Ministership in 2012, Mr. Gusmao ‘gifted’ his 56 ministers with new Toyota four-wheel-drives valued at more than $AUD60,000. Also during his first term of government, Mr. Gusmao’s family members won important rice and oil contracts.
Mr. Gusmao refuses to comment on any corruption allegations against himself and his ministers.
Transparency International recently ranked Timor Leste as 123 out of 177 countries in its “Corruptions Perception Index”.
Timor-Leste, with a population of more than 1.1 million suffers from high unemployment, low education standards and lack of health care. It 2014 budget is set at $US1.5 billion.