Beloved people of Timor-Leste!
Today, on 20 May 2020, we celebrate the 18th anniversary of the Restoration of Independence.
At a time in which the country is in a state of emergency, the government proposed that the President of the Republic commemorate this historical date with an address to the nation. It was with satisfaction that I accepted this proposal as a measure aimed at protecting the People of Timor-Leste from COVID-19.
Every year, the President of the Republic addresses a message to the people to evoke this great achievement of ours. After a hard-fought struggle that lasted 24 years, the international community recognised our state’s sovereignty, proclaimed on 28 November 1975. On 20 May 2002, the affirmation of our nation identity materialised into the exercise of our internationally recognised sovereignty. It was because of that recognition that Timor-Leste was admitted to the United Nations as a state with rights and duties like any other. Through the mechanism of the United Nations, we too can express our solidarity with other peoples and countries.
Beloved people of Timor-Leste!
Today, we are not only evoking this great achievement. This is also time to reflect on the road we have travelled since 20 May 2002 – and the road that is still ahead or that we should have already travelled. It is time to review our annual withdrawals from the Petroleum Fund and see how they are being spent. Were there times when large amounts were spent without any benefit to the people? I would like to take this opportunity to call for a reflection, especially from national leaders, about the last 18 years.
Our independence has brought us countless challenges. When we look back, we see that the Fourth Government was the only one to complete its full term. Other governments fell along the way. Why? This is a question that troubles me, as President of the Republic.
We started this year with an issue that has affected the mandate of the Eighth Government, a government based on a parliamentary majority resulting from a three-party alliance, CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO that won the early election, on 12 may 2020.
Although this parliamentary majority could, in principle, guarantee political stability, its action on one particular occasion brought to light the fragility of the relationship between the parties that made up that alliance. This new situation, created by the rejection of the 2020 General State Budget in the National Parliament, has complicated the functioning of the state and impacted the lives of the people.
Meanwhile, the heavy rainfall and flooding in Dili on 13 March brought devastating consequences. More than four thousand families were affected. The mudslides caused the death of one of our youths.
On 21 March 2020, the Ministry of Health announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste. Since we were not prepared, this news generated great concern.
The priority was then to protect ourselves and protect our people from the disease, as we sought ways to provide rapid assistance to families impacted by the heavy rainfall and flooding that had ravaged Dili and other municipalities. It was against this background that I decided that the Eighth Government and the Prime Minister should continue to carry out their duties.
Faced with the growing threat of COVID-19, the Eighth Government proposed, with some concern, that the President of the Republic declared a state of emergency.
It was based on data from the WHO and other sources – which confirmed the presence of COVID-19 in many countries, including Timor-Leste, killing thousands of people – that, on 26 March 2020, I declared a state of emergency for a period of thirty days, with prior authorisation of the National Parliament.
One month later, on behalf of the state, I renewed that declaration.
The state of emergency has enabled our national health system to face this pandemic. The Government took a number of measures, including closing borders, creating quarantine and isolation units, and training teams to raise awareness among our people to the prevention of COVID-19.
To this day, there have been no deaths caused by COVID-19 in Timor-Leste.
The Eighth Constitutional Government, led by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, made concerted efforts and collaborated with all institutions, Timorese and foreign experts, religious denominations, non-governmental organisations, and the people in general to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
This success should be a source of pride for all of us in Timor-Leste who love our land and our people.
The second state of emergency period ends next week. The President of the Republic would therefore like to take this opportunity to recall the warning issued by the World Health Organization that the novel coronavirus is not going to disappear so soon. We must remain vigilant, especially as there is still no vaccine to protect us from COVID-19.
Beloved people of Timor-Leste!
We were able to save lives, but our economy has not prospered.
As President of the Republic, I am aware that the standstill of the economy results in the drop of our gross domestic product. According to the annual report issued by the Central Bank, our economy began to show signs of growth last year. This year, however, it has grown only one percent (1%).
Our economy suffered a setback due to a number of factors, including the rejection of the General State Budget by the National Parliament, which forced the state into a system of provisional twelfths; the heavy rainfall in Dili and other municipalities, which impacted many families; and the interruption of economic activities to help contain the pandemic of COVID-19. These factors affected all who depend on small-, medium-, and large-sized enterprises. The drop-in income resulted in the loss of purchasing power of families for essential goods.
Faced with this challenging situation, the Eighth Government approved and initiated the implementation of an economic relief package worth almost one hundred and fifty million dollars ($150,000,000) to respond to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and the damages caused by the heavy rainfall.
This economic relief package aims to support families with monthly incomes below five hundred dollars and prevent the permanent shutdown of companies, wage cuts, and lay-offs.
It is important for all of us to know that this economic relief package is the first step towards alleviating the difficulties experienced by the population during the state of emergency. However, it is not an answer to every problem in the country.
The 150 million dollars approved by the National Parliament for a three-month period are not going to be enough for us to achieve the economic growth we seek. As President of the Republic, I know that the Eight Government has already drawn up a socio-economic recovery plan and has begun preparing the general state budget for this year and the next.
We all agree that it is essential to resume our socio-economic reform agenda if we are to make our economy stronger and more prosperous.
Our state cannot continue to operate under a provisional twelfths system. The provisional twelfths system is a transitional budget implementation regime that ensures, in the short term, the functioning of public services pending the approval of a general state budget.
The decreasing growth of our economy reflects an economic weakening, so we need a recovery to restore the confidence of the economic agents. It is urgent to move towards socio-economic recovery.
To move forward successfully, we must focus on our human capital, because our people are Timor-Leste’s most precious asset. I am talking about, for example, the need to train our health care professionals. It is crucial that those professionals are trained to international standards so that they can provide high-quality health services and know how to respond to an outbreak appropriately and swiftly.
COVID-19 highlighted the mistakes made by national leaders who failed to give due attention to basic infrastructure. An example of this is the fact that there is no fresh water supply in many homes and public places. We teach our citizens to practicing hand hygiene by washing their hands frequently, but many have no access to clean water. National leaders are mainly responsible, as there has been no planning of expenditures in the general state budget, which comes from the Petroleum Fund.
COVID-19 has brought devastating consequences for the world economy and affected the lives of all mankind. The price of oil and natural gas continues to fall and will no longer be as before. It will probably continue to fall. In the financial market, the stock markets of rich countries, in which we invest the resources of the Petroleum Fund, have been seeing big drops due to the standstill of economic activities. This situation has major impact on the revenues of our Petroleum Fund. The latest quarterly report issued by our Central Bank points to a negative return on investment of -4.7% between January and March of this year, which entails a loss of revenue estimated at eight hundred and forty million dollars ($840,000,000) over four months.
Although the Petroleum Fund does not have the same return, Timor-Leste now has the opportunity to accelerate structural reforms. We can look again at ways to attract foreign investment, earn the trust of investors, and make Timor-Leste a safe country in which to do business.
Our country has the capacity to move from a consumer economy to a production economy. It is time for local producers to increase their production and productivity, especially with regard to basic food products.
As President of the Republic, I call on all citizens to buy local products so that our farmers and producers feel motivated to increase production.
Agriculture is the foundation of our economy and has the potential to create more employment opportunities for our citizens. It is therefore imperative to have greater investment in the sector.
Independence is what gives meaning to the national sovereignty proclaimed on 28 November 1975 and restored on 20 May 2002. With COVID-19, we understood that it is important to produce our own basic food products and adopt a food security policy that guarantees the supply of food to our people in all circumstances. We must have the ability to produce what we consume.
As President of the Republic, I ask all our citizens to continue to believe that our bodies of sovereignty are working to affirm Timor-Leste as an Asia-Pacific country capable of standing on its own feet and endowed with a socio-cultural identity of its own. This is the spirit of the national liberation struggle that we must keep alive.
On the day in which we commemorate this historic date, I want to renew the oath that I made three years ago, when I took office in Tasi-Tolu: to be President of all and for all Timorese people. My only guide has been the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, our supreme law that clearly defines my role as President of the Republic.
My term in office was marked by a serious institutional crisis that forced me to make the decision to dissolve the National Parliament and call an early election. The decision to dissolve a body of sovereignty was not easy, because I respect the vote of the people. The people vote to elect their representatives for a five-year term. We cannot fool around with this act of democracy, because we risk losing the people’s trust in our election system. When we lose the trust of the people, our independence and our democratic rule of law lose value.
The rejection of the 2020 General State Budget created a constitutional crisis, albeit not a serious one, since the National Parliament and the government continue to fulfil their constitutional duties and the conditions are met for the institutions of the state to continue to operate under the rules of democracy. If, at that time, the majority of parliament wanted to overthrow the government, the members of parliament, as provided for in the Constitution, could have passed a vote of no confidence and submitted it to the President of the Republic, requiring me to consider dismissing the government. But the majority of parliament did not want to exercise such a constitutional power available to them.
Although the 2020 State General Budget was rejected on 17 January, the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste still allows the National Parliament to approve a new and different budget for the same year.
It was in this context that I initiated the first round of dialogue with the political parties represented in parliament to help me, as President of the Republic, make a decision on whether to maintain the current government or dismiss it.
It is the duty of the President of the Republic to alert the political parties to the provisions of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste relating to the relationship between the National Parliament, the Government, and the President of the Republic.
I was very pleased to see the parties represented in parliament meeting to discuss solutions. It is the National Parliament that gives legitimacy to the government. The foundation of that legitimacy comes from the parties that make up a majority of parliament. This majority may be formed before or after the election. The formation of a majority may occur after the election or at any time before the start or during the term of a legislature.
Because this was not a serious constitutional crisis, I gave the political leaders ample time to let their intentions mature and seek to strengthen relations between parties, in order to contribute to a solution that would legitimise and sustain the current government – or even a new government – through the National Parliament.
The political parties law provides for the parties to organise into coalitions, alliances, or political groups. They may also choose to establish parliamentary agreements. The political parties turned to this law to choose a way forward.
It is during the process of establishing relationships between the parties that parliamentary majorities are formed. Howeveronly a lasting parliamentary majority gives the government strength and stability throughout its term.
We have all been able to see that the parties represented in parliament took the initiative to meet in order to find a solution to the institutional crisis. As President of the Republic, I played no part in it.
It is within this process that facts of constitutional relevance arise that enable the President of the Republic to take formal, final, and binding political decisions, to dismiss or not the government, to dissolve or not the National Parliament.
This process resulted in a new parliamentary majority formed by three parties represented in National Parliament – PLP, KHUNTO and FRETILIN. This majority of 36 members of parliament expressed their support for the Eighth Constitutional Government and for the Prime Minister, General Taur Matan Ruak. This supports the continuity of the Eighth Constitutional Government and, its stabiliy.
Such a fact is constitutionally relevant in what concerns thepolitical decision by the President of the Republic to keep trusting in the VIII Government to carry its mandate throughout 2023.
The members of the National Parliament represent the people. It is their duty to seek to contribute to the legislative, supervisory, and political decision-making functions, as the Constitution dictates.
The members of parliament ought not intentionally to cause a situation that prevents the regular functioning of the National Parliament. They are also barred from creating a situation with the purpose of provoking an institutional crisis to force the President of the Republic to dissolve the National Parliament and call for an early election.
Political parties represented in parliament must promote and facilitate the exercise of the duties of members of parliament. We cannot tolerate the threat and use of verbal and physical violence by members of the National Parliament.
This institutional crisis can be resolved when the parties contribute, resolutely and truthfully, to the functioning of the National Parliament based on democratic principles and rules, where every decision is taken on the basis of a majority respecting the rule of representativeness and proportionality.
I reaffirm my commitment to continue to cooperate with all bodies of the state.
As President of the Republic, I would like to stress once again that I remain committed to dialogue with political parties represented in parliament in order to safeguard democracy, governability, peace, and stability in our country, regardless of circumstances. In order to safeguard these values and principles, it is the duty of the bodies of sovereignty and of us all to respect the Constitution and the laws in force.
Every year, on the day in which we commemorate the restoration of independence of Timor-Leste, the President of the Republic exercises the power vested in him by article 85 of the Constitution, pursuant to the Criminal Code and Law no. 5/2016 of 25 May, on the granting of pardons.
This year, I received 184 applications from the Ministry of Justice for pardons and commutation of sentences. According to the law, each application is subject to a certain procedure to ascertain the facts so that, subsequently, the President of the Republic may come to an informed decision. This means that each process must be accompanied by the respective documentation, namely the report from the social reintegration services and the information from the medical board on the health condition of the prisoners.
Because we are in a state of emergency, the services in question were unable to provide all the necessary information. Therefore, I was able to evaluate only some of the applications, and my final decision on the application will be communicated in due course. The remaining applications are still to be completed with the proper accompanying materials, so my decision as President of the Republic will be announced on two separate occasions which are the 30 August and 28 November 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat. Globalization has allowed the novel coronavirus to travel between countries, carried by infected people. And because it is a threat to mankind, countries must work together. Climate change is also a threat hanging over the whole of humanity. In the current environment, globalisation requires countries to show more solidarity, requires joint reflection on the fight against climate change and against the rapidly spreading diseases that are making us lose control.
Let us also not forget that there are older international issues that require a solution from the international community. I am referring specifically to two issues: Western Sahara and Palestine. Timor-Leste should continue to work towards a peaceful, permanent, and sustainable solution through dialogue.
In his last speech on 20 May 1978, President Nicolau Lobato left us these precious words:
‘The people of Timor-Leste are rebuilding, with their own sweat, with their own blood, a revolutionary and democratic homeland. A free land, for free people!’
Today, we celebrate the invaluableness of our heroes, their sacrifice, and their dedication. The commemoration of the 20th of May should be an occasion to remember the values that our heroes cultivated during the national liberation struggle and pass them on, with pride and confidence, from generation to generation.
I would like to recall that our state was built with a clear objective – that of serving the people. Together, we will reinforce our sovereignty and strengthen the democratic rule of law to serve our People and build peace, justice, and inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development for all!
A FREE LAND, FOR FREE PEOPLE!
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE PEOPLE OF TIMOR-LESTE!
ETERNAL GLORY TO OUR HEROES!
LONG LIVE TIMOR-LESTE FREE AND INDEPENDENT!
TOGETHER WE CAN FORESEE THE FUTURE OF TIMOR-LESTE!
Thank you very much.