Speech by the President of the Republic, Mr Francisco Guterres Lú Olo, at the National Conference to Commemorate ACC’s 10th Anniversary under the theme of ‘Fight against corruption: where is Timor-Leste now and where will it go in the next 10 years?
24 February 2020
Mr President of National Parliament
Mr President of the Court of Appeal
Mr Minister for Legislative Reform and Parliamentary Affairs
Mr Attorney General of the Republic
I want to start by congratulating the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) – established ten years ago, on 22 February 2010, to fulfil its mission as a specialised and independent criminal police body in the area of the criminal investigation of corruption, in accordance with the law.
I especially congratulate Commissioner Sérgio Hornai and his entire team, for their effort to involve holders of sovereign public offices of the state of Timor-Leste, relevant institutions, civil servants in senior positions at national and municipal levels, and civil society, religious denominations, students, and youth representatives in this National Conference.
This National Conference, by bringing together key stakeholders and experts, is a learning opportunity for participants on how to prevent and fight corruption in Timor-Leste.
Today, we commemorate the anniversary of the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission with great pleasure, but also some concern.
We are very pleased to note the progress made as a result of the efforts carried out by all commissioners, supported by other stakeholders, including international agencies and experts.
We are concerned about the increase of corruption in our country, especially among public officials. This growing corruption hinders the efficient performance of institutions and the success of businesses. Corruption creates governmental instability and delays the economic development of our country. Not only does corruption affect our economy and administrative duties, it also poses a serious threat to our national sovereignty. We should therefore by no means engage in, be party to or cover up this unlawful act.
Many reports, from the ACC and from NGOs, have disclosed cases of corruption in which Timorese public figures were involved, among others. Some are currently serving the sentences set by the courts; others have already served them. It is with dismay that I contend that these acts of corruption have caused great damage to our young state – a state built upon the precious history of our heroes and martyrs, and which has demanded countless sacrifices.
It is not only the money taken out of the public coffers and into private pockets that concerns me. I am also concerned about the loss of values and principles that we are witnessing in our country. When the levels of corruption are high in positions of authority, in bodies or institutions of the state, Timorese public officials who engage in corruption are no longer positive role models for other public officials, for the younger generations, for society as a whole, and for their own families.
Transparency International publishes an annual report, also known as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries by their perceived levels of corruption among civil servants and government officials. This report defines corruption as ‘an abuse of power for personal profit’. In a scale of 0 to 100, where the higher the index, the lower the corruption perception, Timor-Leste’s score range from 2012 to 2018 was 30-39. In 2017, our country recorded its lowest corruption perception index compared to 2016 and 2018. Looking at ASEAN member states, Timor-Leste is rated in 7th position, ahead of countries like Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Also according to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Denmark, New Zealand, and Singapore were the least corrupt countries in the world in 2018.
According to an annual report released by the World Bank in 2019 which ranks 190 countries by their ease of doing business, these three countries have the best business environment and therefore top the list of the world’s most vibrant economies.
This highlights the impact of corruption on a country’s development, especially economically. Development cannot succeed in a country with high levels of corruption.
What do we need to do? The ACC assigned to me, as President of the Republic, the following sub-topic; National Political Perspective or Vision for Preventing and Combating Corruption.
We all know that Timor-Leste is equipped with a legal and institutional framework to prevent and combat corruption. On 10 December 2008, our National Parliament ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) through Parliament Resolution no. 25/2008. One year later, we created the ACC with the specific mission to investigate corruption and related crimes.
Decree Law no. 9/2009 approved the Criminal Code of Timor-Leste, which determines that the practice of passive corruption by civil servants for a lawful or unlawful act, embezzlement, misapplication, abuse of power, or economic participation in business is a crime. All these crimes are provided for in the UNCAC among other offences, such as coercion, bribery, money laundering, and financing of terrorism.
In 2009, the National Parliament also acceded to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and, in 2014, to the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
In 2011, the country adopted a legal regime aimed at preventing and combating money laundering and financing of terrorism. Two years later, a special regime was established for gathering evidence and confiscating assets in connection to crimes of money laundering and financing of terrorism and corruption, among others.
Timor-Leste needs to improve its score in the Index of Economic Freedom which in 2019 categorized our country as a ‘repressed’ economy with a score of 44.2. In an economically free society, citizens are free to work, produce, consume, and invest. A country with economic freedom progresses more rapidly, secures higher returns, has a high human development index and low levels of corruption. It is therefore extremely important that we create simple laws as well as a legal framework for the economy, with no administrative constraints on economic freedom and investment.
Timor-Leste already has four entities with competence in this area, but greater cooperation is needed to prevent and combat corruption. I am referring to the Attorney General’s Office, the ACC, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), and the Forensic and Criminal Investigation Police (PCIC).
I again call on the members of Parliament to adopt the anti-corruption law as soon as possible. The anti-corruption bill was introduced into Parliament on 9 July 2018. This bill provided for the establishment of new measures aimed at preventing and combating corruption. Three bills were presented over the past few years, and we hope that the current proposal will soon be approved, because the law will supplement the Criminal Code by creating special measures to prevent and combat corruption.
Corruption is no longer an isolated and individualised crime. The levels of corruption throughout the world are extremely high. Globalisation, new technologies, and accelerated development open the way for new criminal practices, using more sophisticated and violent means; corruption has taken on a serious dimension and is therefore likely to have greater impact as it operates at the transnational level.
Corruption at the global level has worldwide security implications. This situation requires cooperation between countries through continuous risk-monitoring. Article 5 of the UNCAC provides guidance to all states parties for the definition of an individual national strategy for preventing and combating corruption.
Timor-Leste, as a state party to the UNCAC, has the obligation to develop a national anti-corruption policy to safeguard its status as a democratic state with a strong anti-corruption culture, in line with the vision of the ACC.
To strengthen this anti-corruption culture, we must come together to define a national agenda. What I am talking about is the definition of a systematic and integrated national anti-corruption strategic plan to provide a guideline to all institutions, to ensure they act in line with the vision of the ACC.
The fight against corruption is not an easy one. Corruption is not always seen or felt. Therefore, on behalf of the state of Timor-Leste, I call on all citizens to remain vigilant – everywhere and at all times. We all must work together to fight this great enemy.
I am certain that Timor-Leste is capable of setting an example for countries where development is slow or slowing down due to high levels of corruption. We can prove that small countries are also capable of having exemplary governance.
To be successful, the ACC needs the support of the bodies of sovereignty, specially the National Parliament and its legislative and supervisory power, and the courts. The support provided by key stakeholders and citizens is equally essential in critical areas presenting a high risk for corruption, such as customs, public procurement, infrastructure and public investments.
The ACC also needs the active participation of civil society, the media, and the private sector.
There is evidence that a country that does not put limits on freedom of the press and on freedom of expression has a better chance of succeeding in the fight against corruption. The voice of the people is essential to the mission of preventing and fighting corruption.
To conclude, I want to remind you of this: it is not enough to have a legal and institutional framework. The institutions also need resources, a strong and efficient Anti-Corruption Law, and a solid National Strategy to prevent and combat corruption.
I am certain that this conference will form an efficient team, including all key stakeholders, to tackle with this issue, and lead us to take up the ACC’s mission as our own, according to the rules and laws which have already come into effect or which are yet to be drafted and consolidated.