Ramos Horta Exclusive Interview
Horta: Timor Telkom Breach the Contract
President Jose Ramos Horta is travelling around the country trying to listen to the people concern and conducting peace Dialogues with the people in each district. Last week he went to have a dialogue with the people in Atsabe sub-districts and suai district. He was joined by several government officers such as minister of Agricultures, Secretary State for Infrastructure and Public work and others. Ramos Horta convoy went through very bad road between Lete foho Sub-District and Atsabe where there is no phone connection at all. From Atsabe to Zumalai and Foho Rem in Suai district most of these area have no phone connection. In this area the 1996 peace Price winner start firing his words at the Portugal Telcom company which monopoly Timor Telekom. In front of the community Horta calling to liberalise the telecommunication system in East Timor which is monopoly by Portugal Telecom since 2002 up to 2017. In an interview with Tempo Semanal in Dili Horta spelled out the people concern about infrastructures, Roads, Telecommunications. He also expresses his opinion on the issue of corruption and February 11th 2008 trial. Then he finished with the bicycle race in East Timor what he name as the peace race. Please read the full interview between Tempo Semanal (TS) and President Jose Ramos Horta (RH) as follow:
TS: You have experience the lack of Timor Telkom service to the people in the rural area. What should be done to solve the telecommunication problems in this country?
Horta: The government of Prime Minster Xanana Gusmao is taking the right steps in trying to re-negotiate in amicable manner with Portugal Telecom, the lager investor; our government has 20% in the shares in Timor Telecom. And we hope that Portugal Telecom peacefully agrees to the preference of the government, and that is liberalisation. Let through open the market for any operator wishing to invest. A major Irish company with a big presence in a pacific islands and the Caribbean in the Central America, called Digicel is very interested. They have a pledge to invest 100 million dollar with 70 % in the first year with a first class technology, states art technology that will bring down the prices to the level of prices in Indonesia in both of telephone and internet. However, Portugal Telecom still refuses to consider earlier liberalisation which means we have to review the current contract. If we are on a dead lock, if Portugal Telecom doesn't agree to basic follow international practice all over the world, particularly in Europe where there is no monopoly, then I would support the government if the government would decide to terminate the contract with Portugal Telecom. I prefer not to. I prefer that we negotiate with them amicably and wish they agree in a gentleman- manner, bare in mind best into the country that we should liberalise. And any case, liberalisation doesn't mean Portugal Telecom will lose because I believe actually as the example of other country, once liberalisation is effected, there are more users of telephone and internet and actually it is more profitable for Portugal Telecom.
TS: Why Government signed the contract with Portugal Telecom and gave them a monopoly rights?
Horta: Well, in 2001, we had to consider enter into an agreement with an investor willing to invest in communication sector. There was an opening international bid, inviting bidders. There were only two, a small Sydney based company, if I'm not mistaken, and the name is Pacific Communication and Portugal Telecom. Portugal Telecom is a giant company with tremendous penetration in Portugal itself, Africa, Brazil, U.S. and so on. So they won the bid, pledging to invest 50 million dollar. The government at that time we had a very very a little reason to negotiate. We had zero money. And we were forced to accept granting in Portuguese company, Portugal Telecom monopoly for about 17 years. That has been absolutely detrimental to our interest. But I don't blame the previous government. We had no choice. If we didn't accept, Portugal Telecom wouldn't have come here anyway. But it has been now 8 years. 8 years after Portugal Telecom has begun operation here. Up to 70% of territory and people have no coverage. So I believe Portugal Telecom is breaching the pledge, breaching the agreement with Timor Leste by not honouring the pledge to provide reliable, accessible and wide coverage services to the people of this country.
TS: As you travel around the country to have a dialogues with your people. What are their main concerned Please?
Horta: As I travel through out the country people are very very pleased in the sense of my visit. They're very pleased with the current state of peace in the country. They're very relaxed very happy indeed. They are also happy with some of the development that they have seen particularly government cash hand out to the poor people, to the veterans and more support for farmers and for agriculture as well as the government purchasing supply food from farmers like rice, corns, beans and so on. This means that money into the people. How ever every where I go people asking for roads, for electricity and they complain extreme poor quality of telecommunication which is responsibility of Timor Telecom and Portugal Telecom that has contract with exclusive and monopoly with our government and now eight years already. Now I say that close to 70% of the country is still not covering by telecommunication. And what ever discover is mostly poor quality and expensive. People of course still ask for more schools and they asked for water. These are the very basic things that all over that I have been to. I think now is all the districts, many of the subdistricts as well as small villages every body talk about the roads, roads, roads and roads, electricity, water supply and of course, I explained to them that is going to take many years still before we can have the first class roads in this country, maybe another 2 to 3 years before 80% of people in this country will have 24 hour cheap energy.
TS: What are you doing to address the roads problem?
Horta: I have discussed at once with Prime Minister. Prime Minister is obviously extremely sensitive about this. Right now the government is doing a visibility study on major roads in this country. We have about at least 4000 km roads and 70% is disrepair. There is a major power project under a way, which becomes a bit controversial because of its base on heavy fuel with accordant some around counter to
Environmental standards, but the government argues back 'saying no' all environmental concerns are taking care of, the technology appropriates. And that is the only way for the government to provide a cheap energy to the people in the short period time in the next 2 0r 3 years.
TS: After you heard people opinion to have access to good roads it's a challenge to the state. How you will going to money to build the roads?
Horta: I totally understand the difficulties that the government faces. The AMP government can not in two years resolve the roads problem that has been there for decades. The previous government of Dr. Mari Alkatiri also did very little because it didn't have money. A few hundred km of roads that was done in a year was built by Japanese and ADB (Asia Development Bank). Every year we spend millions dollar on fixing roads. That is where I believe the corruption comes in, where the contractors that takes the contract from the government, let's say out of ten million dollar to fix a road, maybe really spent only 5 million dollar, 5 million dollar they pocketed it. That's why the roads, even after repaired, so bad all over the country. So there are problems of management, problem of corruption. I don't blame the government. I don't think it is the minister of infrastructure that is corrupted, I don't think so. It is the lack of capacity on the part of the government to monitor to inspect the quality of the work. So we then are totally hostages of dishonest contractors who rip off this country, rip off the government by not building the roads and repairing the roads properly.
TS: Just to confirm again how East Timor will have money to build its infrastructure mainly Roads?
Horta: I think the government should do a combination of two things. It should set aside a good percentage of the oil money into a special fund. Let's call it National Investment Fund or National Development Fund or National Infrastructure Fund. Let's say separate from the budget, it has the regular recurrent budget, but separate from that. It takes out, let's say two hundred million dollar a year from the petroleum fund just for roads. And if we do this for next 5 to10 years, it means 1to 2 billion dollars. And that will be enough to pay for first class roads to lane for next 5 to10 years. We can invest two hundred million dollar every year on first class roads and bridges, together with the environmental protection that goes along with the roads. That means creating thousands of jobs, sustainable development, and sustainable growth for at least ten years. But if necessary, apart from taking a hundred million or two hundred million from petroleum fund, the government can also negotiate lets say with China. China has one trillion dollar in reserve. We can negotiate with China. Let the Chinese invest in this country in roads, in bridges, we pay them as they progress in the construction. So we have two options. One our own money, exclusively all combination of our own money with loan from China. I don't see any other country or international bank that can lend us money as much as China can do. I have already spoken with the national bank of Paris, very well-known, very prestigious bank,, with gas Prom bank from Russia. They are also willing to negotiate to the government to loan up to one billion dollar to Timor-Leste government. However, we don't know yet how much they will charge in term of interest. That will be a matter for the government to study, to carefully analyse and make a decision.
TS: President you just talk about corruption in East Timor Construction. How serious of Corruption in this country?
Horta: I think a corruption is serious in Timor-Leste. But I reject the charges that the top government officials involved like Prime Minster. Prime Minister is a very very honest person. He wants to do things fast. Because in this country if we want to develop, we want to create jobs, we want to meet the aspiration of people for the better life, we have to make a decision fast. And Prime Minister wants a decision fast. But the problem is that when you make a decision fast, the risk of corruption on this manner can happen. So be it. There is nothing in life one doesn't have risks. Corruption exists at the different levels. But I do not believe it exists at the level of the senior ministers. It can exist in the level of a certain civil servants, in procurement. It exists in term of invoicing, double invoicing in the way when you want computer that really costs a thousand dollar, the government is invoiced three thousand dollar. If you want to buy a simple telephone for the government, that costs a hundred dollar, some one will invoice five hundred dollar. This happens a lot through out the government sector. We have now a senior deputy Prime Minister Mr. Mario Carrascalao. He is very honest, with tremendous integrity. He will work with the government ministers. I don't believe we have to do we cham. We can not point finger to ministers. Because the ministers they work very hard and got very very low paid. They work between 10 to 15 hours. If we just make a accusation and accusation against them, they loose hope, and they just give up and they quit. But what important for me is the deputy Prime Minister and the ombudsman and the parliament work with the government to strengthen mechanism to close any gateway where corruption happens.
TS: Mr. President you just signed the Anti Corruption law. How significant is this to minimise the Corruption in East Timor?
Horta: The first step was adoption of such a law which I promulgated to create Anti-Corruption Commission. That is s first major step, having the legislative bases for that. Next is the election or appointment of individuals and the staff and the infrastructure, logistics that are need by Anti-Corruption Commission a very critical personality curriculums of the commissioner. I do not agree completely with the law where it says basically only some one with legal veteran can be commissioner. I and Most of members of parliament agreed they will try to mandate it next a few months, next a few weeks actually. So economist could be. Let's say someone who is top economist in our banking system. Someone is a top experience, a top economist in the minister finance, who knows about banking, about finance, about everything, dealing with a corruption. But it doesn't have a lot of degree; it does mean he/she can not be a commissioner. How about a priest? How about a sociologist? So I don't agree that a commissioner has to be a lawyer. The deputies and the staffs, yes. The commissioner will have to have people with legal background as well as a criminal investigation background to work with him or her. But a commissioner should be anyone with an experience, with some formal university degree if not university degree, at least a twenty years' experience as administration with integrity assisted by the very strong team. That would be an effective way of dealing with a corruption in this country.
TS: Is this law will be effective to tackle the issue of Corruption?
Horta: Yes, I think the law is very very well researched, thoroughly debated even more then after some of the best law existed. Before the law was adopted the parliament discussed, the government drafted it and they looked at the experience in Indonesia, Australia, United States, Hong Kong and Singapore. So the law is very good one, just need to make the small amendments and the critical issue is give the commissioners resources. Money to hire good people and to fight as well as prevent corruption. But again as I said fighting corruption can't be only punishment but it has to be prevention. It has to be education. We have to inspire civil servant, Government officials about their own sense of dignity. You know when we receive money to do something that we know it is our duty to do; well it's my own sense of dignity, my honour and my pride. So we have to let the people about that. In the mean time we have to pay minister well. We have to pay civil servants well. Look at the case of Singapore. The Prime minister of Singapore is the highest paid person in the world. Singaporean Ministers are the well paid people in the world. So there is no corruption at all in Singapore. So there is strong materials incentive. If you pay people very bad and if you pay a customer officer in Mota Ain (Border between East Timor and Indonesian West Timor) very bad also if you don't look after him. If you don't pay the customs in Dili port and Airport well and someone come to him with US$500.00 bribed to let a container go well it is very tempting. So one you have to inspire people to be patriotic, to be proud and have sense of dignity. But also give them the material means so they don't have extreme necessity to accept bribes in order to survive day today.
TS: What is happening with the programme of elimination of poverty in East Timor?
Horta: I believed that the simple facts that the government already paying twenty Dollars a month to now seventy thousand people. The simple facts that the government already given good money to veterans. Thousands of widows and orphans are getting some formal assistant. And on top of it the many thousands of civil servants every month earn salary. The many many thousands you see in Dili selling things in the shops and on the streets. This all means some income entry their pockets. That make me believed that poverty is been reduced because mathematically some people in a year ago didn't have twenty dollar a month now they have got twenty dollar or more a month. Until two years ago many hundreds of veterans didn't have one cent and now they have many hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars in their disposal. How ever majority of the people still have no access to clean water, have no access to a dignify housing like at least a roof and a prover floor that means extreme poverty. How long will it takes I believe that if the government want to make major investment in roads that we need for agriculture, for educations and for health that means within five to ten years we can extreme poverty completely eliminate in Timor. We might still see poverty but not extreme poverty. Extreme poverty means might not even have a meal a day, doesn't clean water, no electricity, no housing. So we can eliminate that within five to ten years if the government mobilise at least in my view two billion dollars or more to build first class roads in this country. We desperately need. We need these roads its not for tourism, it's for agriculture, it's for health services, for children to go to schools, for school teachers to be able to go to schools, for the farmers in Maubesi, in Baguia to go down to Baucau or Dili to sell their Bigs, goats and their vegetable and for fisherman in Dili to travel to Aileu to sell their fish. So we need first class road as a matter of urgency.
TS: If you don't mind can we ask a question in regard to the trial of the case February 11th 2008 attempt on your life?
Horta: I will not comment on a trial as such because as the trial take place I will not comment on the substance. I can only say that, I hoped as the trial progress and decision are made by the judges. What ever the decision they made everybody accept them and that we move on healing the wounds of the past. I still have the wounds that were inflicted on me in two thousands and eight and I don't harbour any anger or resentment to those who shot me. Who tried to kill me. I only hope that they will have a second chance to lives their life with their families and look after their children. And we Timorese burry our differences burry our anger and hold hands so that this country can live in peace and stability for the sakes of our children.
TS: Can you tell us about the idea of the bicycle race and what kind of response you have?
Horta: I am very pleased with the response. More then 100 so far Raceter and I think close to 100 international participants. It is getting generate a lot of publicity. Former secretary General Kofi Annan has made a statement and Prince Albert of Monaco also has made a statement. I believe will get more international publicity and more international media publicity and will significant participants. I launch the idea and these initiatives not only as sports initiative but also as part of my peace programme for the next three years. I want in the next three years to have peace rooting in this country. When I leave office in 2012 I tell the nation and the nation can thank me for having contribute a Little bit enhance peace in the country.
TS: How many participants are you expect to participate and when will the race occur?
Horta: Minimum we expect more then 200 participants over 410 Kilometres very difficult mountain routes passing through nine of thirteen districts in Timor Leste. It will involve beautiful mountain landscape as well as shore line. The time is in the year August 24th to 29th. It's best of time in the year that cools no strong humility. So I believed that it will be the greatest experience for people that participating. There is one mountain bike racer from Australia. He is one of the top two or three in Australia who will participate I do not recall his name but there are many others who will come here for mountain bike race. And the week later they have the international mountain bike race in Australia. They are coming to Timor to do like practising and then a week later they will do in Australia. End