Ministry of Finance
Dili, 03 October 2018
Mr President of National Parliament
Former Holders of Sovereignty Bodies
Members of Parliament
Members of the 8th Constitutional Government
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Representatives of Civil Society Organisations
I thank H.E. the President of National Parliament, Mr Arão Noé, for inviting me to preside over the opening of this Conference which celebrates, for the first time in Timor-Leste, the Universal Declaration on Democracy signed 21 years ago in Cairo, Egypt, by representatives of 128 countries, including CPLP countries, namely Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Portugal.
It is always a pleasure to participate in an event hosted by National Parliament, whose first steps were taken by its ‘embryo’, the Constituent Assembly, our first House of Democracy following the 1999 referendum and before the restoration of independence of Timor-Leste on 20 May 2002.
I had the privilege of leading this Grand Assembly from 15 September 2001 to 20 May 2002, which allowed me to enrich the experience I had gained throughout the years of our liberation struggle in the search for consensus for the sake of common strategic goals.
Within six months, together with my fellow members of Parliament representing a variety of political stances, the widest yet, we were able to turn that first House of Democracy into a place of consensus without adversely affecting diversity. It was not easy to coordinate and accommodate in a single document the views of 88 members of Parliament on the basic standards of our free and independent Timor-Leste.
But we did it, because we managed to unite in an attempt to build from the ashes the first great foundation of our State as quickly as possible: the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
On 22 March 2002 we approved a modern Constitution that respects the balance of powers and establishes mechanisms to control political power, the accountability of each
State institution, the principle of the separation of powers and interdependence as well as democratic rules, while safeguarding human rights and national sovereignty.
This was essentially a collective work resulting from the effort made by the Timorese themselves, which offered vast scope for the construction of a modern State. We should all be proud of the fact that the 88 members of Parliament representing the Timorese People were able to put their party-political differences aside and show showing political maturity and wisdom for the sake of common goals. This Constitution is an expression of our collective will to cope with the demands of modern society and of the Community of Free Countries from around the world. It is my duty to thank all those who have helped us with this exhilarating task.
Following the restoration of independence, I had the privilege to once again lead the successor of the Constituent Assembly, namely the National Parliament, until I was replaced by our late fellow countryman, Mr Fernando Lasama, on 30 July 2007.
The video that was just played sets out the progress made by National Parliament. From 2002 to this day, this State institution, vested with legislative powers, has already approved 165 structuring laws of our State, as well as 316 resolutions. These are victories achieved by all of us as citizens of this country and that must be made known to the international community.
I can see from the programme that a number of historical leaders are taking part in the conference’s discussion panels and I believe that they will pass on their knowledge and share their perspectives on our Democracy as well as provide tips that will show us the path we must take to ensure that our people continue trusting the democratic institutions and the politicians who represent them in parliament.
The conference attendees will also have the opportunity to hear from international keynote speakers who agreed to come here to share their experience and knowledge of Democracy, thus giving a boost to an ideal whose common values are shared by all of us. Democracy is actually a permanent reinvention.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with immense pride and the deepest satisfaction that I state here today, among friends who have helped us build and consolidate our State, that Timor-Leste’s democracy has made significant strides and that we no longer feel alone, because our collective will is in line with that of the Community of Free Countries. Every little thing we wish to consolidate in our small Country lies first of all within the scope of the aspirations of our People and the spirit of important international documents such as the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Democracy, whose 21st anniversary we celebrate today, in Nicolau Lobato’s homeland.
The first time we asserted ourselves as People and as a Nation on 28 November 1975, we did it through the only standing leading force FRETILIN, with a simplified Constitution, tailored to the political circumstances at the time.
We were on our own, with no witnesses, in an environment of mixed emotions.
We did it at a time when few believed that we were capable of facing a popular and prolonged war, that we were capable of enduring years of sacrifice and reaching our major strategic goal, i.e. national independence.
Our affirmation, for the first time, as People and as a Nation was acknowledged by a small number of countries, among which five were African countries with whom we share a common historical and cultural past: Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe.
Throughout our long and painful national liberation process, we restructured our collective thinking and reorganised ourselves in various ways, but always under the leadership of a single political and military Command. Whether as FRETILIN or as any other more comprehensive form that the Timorese Resistance took later on, namely as Council of National Resistance (CRRN) in 1981, as National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM) in 1987 and as National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) in 1998, there was only one Struggle Command. This was a requirement of the struggle itself. We had the right to express our thoughts, but the circumstances of our struggle did not always allow us to hold extensive and in-depth discussions on how our struggle was being led. Only a few national or regional meetings were held on how the struggle should be led. Decisions had to be made in a timely fashion and this is how the middle cadres learned to obey commands from their leaders throughout our national liberation struggle. The principle of obedience to higher ranking officials became an imperative of our struggle which took place isolated from the rest of the world and in which we could count on our own strength alone. These are the circumstances under which our struggle evolved and that led our dream of independence to victory via the 1999 referendum held under the supervision of the United Nations. The price we paid to gain our independence was too high. May we be worthy of the sacrifice of those who fell so that we could enjoy once again the taste of freedom and democracy.
I felt the need to briefly review the path that has taken us to where we are today as a country entering a phase of consolidation of the democratic conquests.
Ladies and gentlemen
The second time we asserted ourselves as People and as a Nation on the occasion of the Restoration of Independence on 20 May 2002, the circumstances were completely different. It was a ceremony to celebrate a great Victory of the Timorese, attended by several foreign dignitaries, such as the then Secretary General of the United Nations, the late Dr Kofi Annan, and the sorely missed Dr Sérgio Vieira de Mello, UNTAET’s Administrator and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Timor-Leste. Several entities and members of the international solidarity movement from resistance times insisted on attending the ceremony. It was an international celebration of a victory, not only ours, but of all citizens from around the world who love peace and freedom.
The State of Timor-Leste was finally experiencing a rebirth, built on what we were able to consolidate amongst our People through patient and meaningful political work which started in the 1970s: the sense of identity, citizenship and of belonging to one People and one Nation.
Our supreme law, seen as the ‘mother of all laws’, came into force on that same day: a modern Constitution that gave the political power to our people through the political parties as the people’s representatives in National Parliament.
While there was a single leading force in the past, we now have a multi-party democracy system on the basis of universal, free, equal, direct, secret and periodic suffrage. While there was a single command system in the past, we now have a State institution comprising members of different parties and coalitions holding different political views.
Today, democracy is established in our country, based on the diversity of opinions and perspectives, on different ways of understanding life, humanity, and society as a whole.
We shouldn’t lose sight of what we have already achieved and of what we still can and should do together to further the common strategic goals.
We were united in the cause of independence and earned our place in the world with the recognition of our State by the international community – the United Nations, which had the time comprised one hundred and ninety member countries.
We are a diverse mosaic of ethnic, racial, religious, and linguistic-cultural backgrounds, but we have set an example of fraternity and tolerance through our peaceful and harmonious society.
We inherited a traditional society that placed little value on women, and today women are successful members the workforce in several technical and professional areas. Timorese women hold important positions in State institutions and public administration, as well as in the private sector. They represent a productive force of society that cannot be underestimated! There is still plenty to do with regard to the emancipation of women in Timor. I am therefore delighted that this Conference will also debate issues related to gender equality. I think that further efforts should be made to ensure that the freedom and equality of rights enshrined in the Constitution become a reality.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The hallmark of democracy has been a part of our ‘genetic code’ since the start of the nationalist movement in the 1960s. The people have always been our foundation, our source of inspiration, our strength. The nationalist movement was made with the people and by the people, driven by the desire to be free and independent. Under the slogan of ‘relying on their own strength’, the people rose and developed a unique Resistance. It was the desire of an entire people – and not just an elite – that made the Resistance survive all those years.
Our people are therefore ready to exercise their political power, as long as the State provides the right conditions. Nevertheless, the full exercise of sovereignty is affected by many factors, and one of them – extreme poverty – still exists in our country. For as long as there are citizens living in extreme poverty, as long as social inequalities persist, our society cannot be democratic. Extreme poverty cannot coexist with democracy because of conflicts with important values, such as human dignity and decency. Democracy requires fighting against democracy, fighting for human decency, for human dignity, for the respect of human rights. I am pleased to see that poverty and social inequality will also be discussed during the third session of this Conference, with the participation of two historical leaders: Mr Mari Alkatiri and Mr Ramos-Horta.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, we have access to faster and more efficient means of communication, which afford us greater knowledge and bring us closer to people with whom we cannot dialogue in person. Video conferences, phone conferences, and social media are today very effective vehicles for exchanging ideas and knowledge, at any moment, thereby developing the citizens’ analytical and critical abilities. When a society has poor critical thinking, poor analytical abilities, there is no democracy, and authoritarian regimes quickly come to power.
Unlike what should be expected of this high technology, I notice that there is a growing trend of using these media not for the purpose of learning, but to denigrate and humiliate political adversaries, including important figures of our national liberation process and our democratic constitutional State. I have already talked, in previous public events, about this issue of the inappropriate use of high technology and information technology means by anonymous people without any concept of the importance of respecting the dignity of others. The second session of this Conference will discuss this issue, and my hope is that the relevant entities will start to think about how to effectively combat this vice that undermines our relations and breaches the most important tenet of democracy, which is respect for others.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is important for us to determine, together, what commitments we must undertake, what qualities a democracy like ours must have. This democracy is still young, but there are countries with greater democratic life experience, from which we can learn lessons and adapt them to our reality. In this process of adaptation and construction of a State from the ground up, guided by the rule of law and democratic values, we need leadership capable of rising to these challenges.
What is it required from leaders in a country with the characteristics of ours? The leaders must inspire, must be role models, and must know how to behave as guardians of the great values of democracy. The leaders are the educators of values and the representation of those values. One of them is being able to listen and respect the opinions of others.
I therefore call on the leaders of the parties and coalitions, especially those elected into office, as well as the members of government, to find more effective forms of communicating with our people. To visit voters not only during the campaign, but more frequently over the course of our respective terms in office. Our people must feel that the State provides them opportunities for effective participation in our political process.
I am delighted with the announcement made by the President of National Parliament at the Opening Session of the Fifth Legislative, that this Parliament wants to implement participatory democracy, consulting the people about legislative initiatives. I should note, however, that similar initiatives took place in the past, resulting in extended meetings of the Council of Ministers with people from almost all districts, during the term of the First Constitutional Government. Also noteworthy were the extensive consultations about the Strategic Development Plan and about the Land and Property Law over the course of several governmental terms. The visits by His Excellency Taur Matan Ruak, former president of the republic, to all sucos, with the goal of listening to the concerns of our people, are also worth mentioning. These direct contacts, more than any virtual interaction, give our people a strong feeling that the State also belongs to them. When democracy is practised with this sense of belonging, it becomes stronger, provided the State effectively addresses the concerns of our people.
I call on the members of government to fulfil their campaign promises, so that the people don’t lose their confidence in the electoral process and in elected leaders and become increasingly interested in the governing of the country, helping those in office make key decisions.
It is also important to take an in-depth look at to what degree can the National Parliament direct the actions of the Government to the achievement of the common good, setting aside personalistic and authoritarian methods and narrow party-political interests. The National Parliament is the only body of the State with supervisory duties, and must not only detect possible irregularities of the Executive Power, but also ensure that transparency is a continual practice to prevent corruption – another great evil in our society, because it increases and deepens social inequality.
I call on those who hold executive power to invest more in education and health. Only with a healthy, educated population that raises their awareness before their family, their community, and the world, can we ensure the success of democracy in our country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
No democracy ends with the election. Through elections, the people choose their representatives and, with their votes, they empower a party or coalition of parties to have a majority in their House of Representatives. It is a continuous act of affirmation of the democratic principle, based on the discussion of issues of national interest. Each country defines its own national interests.
The members of parliament are democratically elected by the people and, upon their election, they represent all the people – and therefore all decisions made must first be subject to open and critical debate before being voted on. Without this type of debate, democracy is starved.
In democracy, the members of parliament are elected through electoral lists prepared by the political parties, which have proponent initiative. It is a sensitive issue: the line between party-compliance and the duty of conscience. This is a problem shared by all democracies. Strong conscience and dedication are the best antidotes, the best way to prevent voting manipulation by powers contrary to the conscience and sense of duty of the representatives of the people – the members of Parliament.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I emphasized the Timorese experience. But democracy, around the world, is facing a wide variety of challenges. In this regard, we will hear the distinguished guests who are here with us, enhancing our democratic momentum.
I wish you the greatest success. Thank you very much.