The Rice Contract Case Far From Finished
East Timor will soon mark the 10th anniversary of UN 1999 Referendum of rejection of autonomy with Indonesia's abusive occupation, which started with an invasion in 1975. In an exclusive interview with Tempo Semanal the President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Dr. Jose Ramos Horta said that Timor-Leste's economy is growing, the level of violence is very low, no political violence of any kinds, and people show more tolerance so he think on August 30th Timorese celebrate its 10th anniversary with happiness because the 2006 violence has gone, people has reconcile and wounds are healing. But Mr. Horta asked the donor countries not to blame him because he has not seen a penny from this 3 billion US Dollar spent on Timor-Leste, and demands that donor countries review itheir policies on how they spend their money. Spend to be spent on Timor, should be spent in Timor. President Horta warns Timorese leaders that there a lot to do in the years ahead to further consolidate the peace in East Timor, improve governance, fight and prevent corruption.
"There is a lot of allegation about corruption. Many of it I think is well founded. There is a real problem of corruption. We can not deny this. Because corruption means we are diverting money away from the people for the benefit of few individual. I heard story after story of corruption. And there is evidence about it. So I determined together with the Prime Minister to stamp out corruption in this country. People didn't fight and died for us later to have a corrupt government and a corrupt system."
on 2 June 2009 President DR. Jose Ramos Horta has sent a letter to East Timor ombudsman requesting an investigation into the allegations of Government rice contract to 17 companies allegedly related to some leading government officials.
In his letter he stated that he has received various complaints in regards to the rice imports, distribution and resale. "Transmit to your excellence of my preoccupation in regard to this issue," Horta wrote on his request letter dated 02/07/2009.
He stated that to import rice is a central instrument of the state's politics so the government spent tens millions of dollars to import rice. "But general opinion is that the supply rice contract is closed (not public Tender) without thorough adequate process and involves collusion and cases of corruptions.
In an Interview with Tempo Semanal last week Ramos Horta has not received yet any response from Ombudsman office. "I have not received any feed back from ombudsmen in regard to my request. I understand this process can take long time. Investigation are investigation if it serious. It can take days, weeks even months," Horta explain.
Even the process of investigation into the case takes almost two months now, "but I a wait of the work of the ombudsman. If it turn out there is enough evidence of criminal evidence for the case to be brought before the court that would be a decision made by the Prosecutor General."
The Ombudsmen has confirmed to the journalist on 20/08/09 that he has received the President request to investigate the millions government rice contract issue. Mr. Sebastiâo Dias Ximenes the head of ombudsmen after the 34th anniversary ceremony of East Timor Defence force in front of the Government Building has confirmed the authenticity of President Request to his office to investigate the rice contract allegations.
"Yeah I did. I did receive it. And right now we established our team for conduct investigation for the case," said Mr. Ximenes.
He explains that he has received a letter from the East Timor President on 2nd June 2009 but he reject to go into detail because of the secrecy of ombudsman office. "Yeah I did. I received a letter from President."
When asked about the President order he said, "Yeah. Yeah the letter requested Proverdor to start the investigation regarding for rice contract and as I mention that we already start or investigation Process.
The Provedor office promised to talk to investigate every party involved in the project. "We are trying to investigate all companies involved in this contract."
According to the letter from minister for tourism, commerce and Industry to Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao number 393/GAB/2008 dated 02 October 2008 Minister Tourism, Commerce and Industry point third stated, "Priorities Timorese businessman and the list of justification."
The letter also informed the East Timor Prime Minister that list of companies has been
approved. "A list that presented by MTCI been approved, which include 16 companies."
The 16 national companies imported rice in same amount 7,250 tones for each and totally 116,000 tones of rice and each importers government awarded rice contracts with total sum US$ 3,5 million. In June 2008 business registration in Ministry Tourism, Commerce and Zenilda E. B. Gusmao, the daughter of East Timor PM has 11.10% share holder in Prima Food Lda. But
recently this paper found another document shows that the daughter of PM has sold her share in Prima Food Company before the contract signed. One of the Fretilin MP told this paper he question the authenticity of this document but the former Head of Commerce Department in the MTCI MR. E. Faculto confirmed the document is true. Fretilin deputy President Arsenio Bano in mid July accused the share holders in these companies most of them related to the government ministers including PM's daughter and he demanded Xanana's resignation.
In a press release on June 26, 2009 which received by Tempo Semanal (27/07), the spokesperson of the IV constitutional Government and the secretary of state for the council of Ministers, Agio Pereira reacted to a story run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) titled 'Gusmão faces corruption claims.' The ABC revealed several companies related to the government relatives been awarded rice contracts last year. The story was circulated in print, television and radio, aired in Australia and throughout approximately 46 countries throughout their Asian Pacific network. "While we welcome the interest of the ABC in reporting on Timor-Leste, we would ask for better due diligence in ensuring the facts are correct before misinformation is widely disseminated," said Agio Pereira.
He continues, "There are several inaccuracies in the reporting, especially when referencing the laws of the Constitution which seem to be the basis for the corruption allegations."
In the same press release Mr Pereira stated that, "during a time of the global food crisis, the IV Constitutional Government went to extensive lengths to ensure food security. Sixteen Timorese companies were fairly awarded contracts to import rice. The guidelines under the procurement laws were followed and contracts executed only after a lengthy interdepartmental evaluation committee assessed bids and negotiated terms. This was a joint effort across many ministries."
The Government Spokesperson claim that, "The corruption allegations are part of a continued campaign by the Fretilin Opposition to discredit the Xanana Gusmão Government, with the latest and boldest accusations appearing just one working day before Gusmão's Anti Corruption Commission is due to be approved by the plenary of the National Parliament."
On Early July this year, Aniceto Guterres the head of Fretilin bench read the Fretilin statement said, "Prima food company been awarded a government rice contract with its total value of US$ 3.5 million, and the PM's daughter Zenilda Gusmao is involved in this company with total share of 11.10% as it is showing on 2008 Timor Leste business registration lists."
Mr. Gutteres accused East Timor Hero and Prime Minister is violating the procurement laws. "Xanana Gusmao has violated the procurement law and for many occasion in regard to the government rice contract. The finance Minister also did the same and the protecting each other and trying to hid things from us. They never want to come here to answer the demands from parliamentarians related to the rice contract," he said.
Maria Paisao second deputy speaker from PSD(Social Democratic Party) party defending Xanana's daughter. "Before signed the contract with Prima Food Zenilda has resigned from this woman associations. She left two months before the prima food contract in place," Maria Paisao replies.
She continued defend the Minister for Development and Economy wife and said, "We don't want the opposition just come here to produce the allegations in public without any proof. If she (Katheelin) violated any rule or any law let's set up a parliamentarian inquiry. You should demand a parliamentarian inquiry which now we have a way to do so and parliament also can set up an inquiry to find out whether Miss Kathelin got it because her husband as minister of Economy gave her this contract?
In Mid July Mr. Gusmao responded to the Allegation. "They (The Business people) requested to my daughter to put US$ 10,000.00 in the banks. In her company for each shareholder has to invest US$10,000.00. For each of them have to submitted US$10,000.00. I just want to ask them to understand a little bit more that If my daughter using her social statues as in the bracket, coming to lobby me on behalf other companies to supply (rice) then she get some percentage this means I do committed the fault. This is different case and for this action I will raise my hands up (surrender). But she enters in a company and they told her to invest US$10,000.00 and she did put in US$10,000.00. If it was happened as she go n over, "I lobby in favour of your winning, I lobby for you to get the contract then give me some percentage. Yes, this is a different case," Said Xanana in a press conference in Dili Airport. He continues explain the process of the rice contract. "The Government want all business people to participate and I don't want to use a single own shareholder Company. If you all (Bus iness people) agreed that means for each company minimum a joint venture by five people. All business gathers your self then we will decide. Now we have the economy stabilisation funds for those who can imported first (rice) with how many (tons) and take how many months, who bringing in as it is and (Rice Quantity) arrived in what months? And who else can import these amount (rice) take till what months? There were 17 companies not only the once belongs to my daughter. From the 17 companies, each company involved many many people," Explain Xanana.