Political Dynamics of Fighting Corruption in Timor-Leste

Political Dynamics of Fighting Corruption in Timor-Leste

Higino Guterres, Author

Corruption is not a new social phenomenon that recently occurred in Timor-Leste’s independence. Historically, corruption has occurred since the period of Portuguese colonialism and Indonesian occupation in the past. The first period of Portuguese colonization, corruption practices was still in traditional form. During colonization, the Portuguese military always colluded with the Timorese elite who assumed political and economic power in the posts and villages as ‘don’ and ‘liurai’ forced Timorese to work for them and pay taxes. Acording to Castro (1867: 375-76), since the 17th century, the Portuguese regime has forced the Timorese population to pay taxes in various forms such as grain, rice, animals, water, camels and gold (Soares, 2015).

During the Indonesian occupation, corruption occurred in a more modern form. This period, the Indonesian military together with civil servants were actively involved in acts of corruption. Acording to Taylor (2000, p 125), Indonesian company had the monopoly on coffee exports from East Timor and was used by the Indonesian military as a cash cow for the generals, (Soares 2015). In addition, Timorese also was suffered from green corruption, because their ecological resources were destroyed, and Indonesia took back to their country. A study conducted by Japanese researcher Miyazawa (2011) related that, the Indonesian military almost with the number of 60,000 to 120,000 during military operations from 1975 to 1980 brought back various wild birds such as seagulls, pigeon, cocoa (yellow-eyed), eagle, monkey, wild deer to their country. Today, cocoa, eagle, and wild deer are animals that are considered extinct, (Da Silva, 2015).

After independence, corruption has become a complex, structured and systematic crime. Corruption hasn’t only become a social phenomenon but has become more a social culture that invades society and circulates everywhere, both in state institutions and in the private sector. Data from the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) related corruption in Timor-Leste is still in the ‘yellow’ zone, because Timor-Leste still occupies 70 of rankings out of 180 countries, with a low score of 43 out of 100. Estimates from the data of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC)’s annual report from 2015 to 2022 also identify that, the state of Timor-Leste suffers losses more of 20 million from many types of corruption crimes, such as abuse of power, conflict of interest, economic participation, bribery (corruption active and passive), peculate, use peculate, and so on.

State policy to combat corruption
After the restoration of independence, the state of Timor-Leste’s policy to combat corruption began with the political will to sign the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNACC). Timor-Leste signed UNCAC in 2003 and ratified it in 2008. Political will to sign and ratify the UNACC convention is to set out the mission and strategies fighting corruption, especially to adopt more strategic and effective measures in this convention, lesson and good practice from others state parties.

Another policy to combat corruption is that Timor-Leste has established four (4) state institutions responsible for fighting corruption: 1) At the beginning of the UNTAET transitional government, has established the General State Inspectorate (GSI), which assumes its competence to inspect or audit of the functioning of the state public administration. 2) In 2006, the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (OHRJ) was established, which began to empower the investigation of corruption-related crimes and education on promoting good governance. 3) in 2009, established law no. 8/2009 on the creation of Anti Corruption Commision (ACC). Thus, ACC assumes power as a criminal police body specialized, which carries out missions for the prevention and criminal investigation of corruption in various forms. 4) Continuation of the establishment of these institutions, the State of Timor-Leste also established the Court of Accounts (CA) in 2012. The Court of Accounts’ service is to audit the execution of the state budget in public institutions.

The State establishes the above-mentioned institutions with the objective of providing visibility to domestic justice and ensuring the principles of good governance in the functioning of a public administration with transparency, responsibility, integrity and leadership. Also, good governance to helps prevent corruption in public institutions, (Strategic National Development Plan, 2011-2030).

In addition, the State of Timor Leste also produces several legal frameworks based on the prevention and fight against corruption. Law no. 7/2020 on measures to prevent and combat corruption has been established, and relevant laws and decree laws have been established in the spirit of preventing and combating corruption, such as the revision of the Statute of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Statute of Judicial Magistrates, Criminal Investigation Organization, Code Mining, National and Municipal Electoral Administration Bodies, Local Government and Administrative Decentralization, Judicial Organization Reform, Procurement Legal Regime, Public Contracts and Respective Infringements, General Basis of Public Administrative Organization, National Planning Agency Review, Monitoring and Evaluation of People’s Trafficking Commission and Civil Society Participation and Social Audit, (Freitas, 2022).

Implementation of Anti-Corruption Policy
The anti-corruption policy in Timor-Leste has reflected to the spirit of the United Nations Convention Against Corruptionc (UNCAC). There are two major measures implemented by the State of Timor-Leste to combat corruption, such as prevention measures and criminal investigation. Preventive measures are to take the necessary actions to limit corruption or prevent the state from being harmed in the execution of state budgets by improving the public administration system. Meanwhile, the investigation measure is to investigate the person who committed the crime to process the charges to the Court.

1. Corruption prevention actions
Timor-Leste’s anti-corruption policy has fourth important prevention measures. A major prevention measure is to carry out actions on anti-corruption education. Anti-corruption education is a preventive measure to promote institutional integrity and good governance, which the state first introduced in law number 7/2004, 5 May on the status of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice. Law number 7/2004, article 26 letter c says, “To promote education campaigns, disseminating actions and principles of fighting corruption and access to justice, namely through the development and implementation of an annual strategic action plan and publications, lectures and symposiums”. Then in 2009, the state of Timor-Leste also gave this competence to the Anti-Corruption Commission to take actions to cultivate a strong culture of rejection of corruption in Timor-Leste. Law no. 8/2009 Creation ACC article 5 number 1 letter b says, “to carry out actions on awareness to limit the practice of corruption, motivate people to be careful or reduce behaviors and situations that lead people to commit criminal act”. This measure is essential to respond to the state’s great vision that, “Timor-Leste is a democratic state governed by the rule of law with a strong culture of rejection of corruption for the interest and prosperity of the people” (ACCSP, 2020).
Acording to Anti-Corruption Comission Strategic Plan (ACCSP, 2020), the target of anti-corruption education is civil servants, political parties, civil society, students, youth groups, local authorities, including the private sector. To conduct anti-corruption education for these targets, there are also state institutions working together to raise awareness and socialization on anti-corruption issues. For example, in the year 2016, Four state institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (OHRJ), the General State Inspectorate (GSI) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the purpose of promoting good governance, protect human rights, prevent and combat corruption effectively and efficiently. In the scope of this cooperation, ACC and OHRJ take a greater role in raising awareness and campaigning against corruption in several institutions from national to local. Acording to the estimates of the ACC report, from 2011 to 2022, more than 67,582 Timorese have accessed anti-corruption information.

In addition, to working together between these institutions, the State of Timor-Leste through the Anti-Corruption Commission also works with national partners such as civil society, academia and the media to actively raise anti-corruption awareness among youth. One of example is, since 2019 The ACC has worked with one of civil society organization as Study Center for Peace and Development (SCPD) to actively diseminating and promoting anti-corruption issues trough training and in mass media to youth student in the national territory. In other sides, the ACC also cooperate and strengthening partnerships with international agencies such as UNODC, UNDP and USAID and Anti-Corruption Agencies in ASEAN such as KPK Indonesia, MACCA Malaysia and ICAC Hong Kong to fight against corruption.

Another prevention measure that has implemented by the state of Timor-Leste is to prevent the risks of corruption through audit, inspection, monitoring, study and evaluation of legal frameworks, including programs and state budget execution in public institutions. The institution responsible for auditing the execution of the state budget is the Court of Accounts (CA). According to law no. 9/2011, The competence of the Court of Accounts is the supervision of the legality and regularity of public revenues and expenditures, the assessment of good financial management and the perfomance of financial responsabilities, (Cunha & Sousa, 2024). The institution responsible for inspecting the execution of the state budget is the General State Inspectorate (GSI) according to law no. 1/2010. Meanwhile, the institution responsible for monitoring, studying and assessing corruption risks in state institutions is the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) acording to decree law 23/2015, include Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (OHRJ).

The purpose of these actions is to identify irregularities and infractions that occur in public institutions to make advice and recommendations to improve systems that reflect the prevention of corruption crimes and take the necessary actions to prevent the state from being harmed in the processes of execution of state programs and budgets. For example, the state of Timor-Leste through the Ministry of Finance has created and implemented a transparency portal system iha 2011, “dalan ba futuru Timor-Leste” system in 2019, and others system to ensure a transparent and accountable state budget execution. In addition, the state of Timor-Leste through the prevention service of Anti Corruption Comission makes some efforts to block the state budget allocated to projects that has identified the potential for corruption risk, such as monitoring of the family household subsidy support package program to save US$ 4,211,765.00 which was returned to the state coffers and the program of sixth-basic package managed to block US$. 374,113.73, as well as inspection of electricity line installation project US$ 77,023.60, (ACC 2020-2022).

Meanwhile, another strategic prevention measure is to register and verify public agents’s asset declarations. The State of Timor-Leste established law no. 7/2020 on Measures to Prevent and Combat Corruption to give great power to the Court of Appeal and the Anti-Corruption Commission to register and verify the assets of public agents. The main objective of asset declaration is to limit the risk of corruption and prevent conflicts of interest, b) detect significant and unjustified wealth accumulation. According to ACC data reported that, by mid-2024, ACC has registered 2353 public agents who declared their assets to ACC, (ACC, 2024), and TR is currently registering asset declarations from the president of the republic, 43 members of the government, 65 members of the national parliament and 80 civil servants from the ACC.

Finally, another preventive measure that the state of Timor-Leste currently trying to stabilish is National Anti-Corruption Strategy. The State of Timor-Leste has established this policy in Law no. 7/2020 in article 2 which says, “The Government approves, through the proposal of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the national strategy to prevent and combat corruption and the action plan to execute this national strategy ‘e own”. Today, national anti-corruption strategy document doesn’t elaborate yet, but the state of Timor-Leste through Anti Corruption Commision is still traying to develop and hope to implement it strategic in the future.

2. Corruption crime investigation actions
The State of Timor-Leste has created three institutions to investigate corruption crimes. First, in 2006, the State of Timor-Leste mandated the investigation of corruption crimes to the institution of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (OHRJ) (Law no. 7/2004). Second, after the state stabilished law no. 8/2009 on the creation of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2009, the power or mandate to investigate corruption crimes was given back to Anti-Corruption Comission. Anti Corruption Comission as a police body for specialized that investigate corruption crime trough delegated competence by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Third, although the state has created Anti-Corruption Commission a specific body to investigate corruption crimes, but this power of investigation, the State also gives to other institutions such as the Public Prosecution. Public Prosecution can conduct its own investigation action and charges against the perpetrators of corruption crimes to the Court acording to the Law N. º 7/2022.

Therefore, the progres of investigation corruption crime in Timor-Leste, according to the ACC report revealed from 2011 to 2022 that, ACC has investigated 398 corruption cases with 856 suspects and identified state damage USD $ 24,849,050.83. While elsewhere, according to a public report from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2017 reported that from 2013 to 2016 corruption cases that entered the Public Prosecutor’s Office amounted to 272. Of these, 165 were charged, 121 filed, and the total number of cases reached 306, with the most crimes are economic participation in business, embezzlement, forgery of documents and abuse of power (PGR, 2017).

Even today, the power to investigate corruption crimes is carried out by two (2) institutions; Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Public Prosecution (MP), but stars this year (2024), Timor-Leste’s state policy is making some actions to reform the justice sector. Among them, according to the justice reform report, there is great potential, the power to investigate corruption crimes that the state gave to ACC, possibility will be transferred back to other institutions such as the Police Scientific Criminal Investigation (PSCI). PSCI is a police body established by the state under the Ministry of Justice that performs its role as scientific police to investigate organized crimes such as human trafic, money laundering, financial crimes, drugs, terrorism, murder and others (Decree-law no. 15/2014).

Nowdays, Timor-Leste’s policy to prevent and combat corruption has reflected to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNACC). The State of Timor-Leste has established many control institutions to prevent and combat corruption such as The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (OHRJ), the General State Inspectorate (GSI), the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) and the Courts, especially a separate independent body such as Anti Corruption Comission according to the UNACC convention asked.

In addition, more strategic legal instruments have been established to prevent and combat corruption. These legal instruments are the criminal code, the money laundering law, the procurement legal regime, and other relevant laws. Timor-Leste has also established an online system of asset declaration and e-government. Specifically, the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Commission through law no. 8/2009 and the establishment of law no. 7/2020 on Prevention and Combating Corruption Measures as strategic and very strong legal order to prevent and combat corruption in Timor-Leste.

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