DILI, East Timor — Little over a year after declaring his intent to launch an anti-corruption commission, East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has been hit with renewed graft allegations, this time by ABC Australia.
The story claims that Gusmao’s daughter is a shareholder in Prima Foods, a company that received a $3.5 million food-importing contract signed off on by the PM.
In what is regarded as Asia’s poorest country per capita, oil revenues excluded, food security remains a pressing issue for many Timorese in rural areas. The annual “hunger season” in the early months of the year, when there is little food left from previous harvests and new crops are still not available, means that the country has had to import food to meet basic needs.
During the 1975-1999 Indonesian occupation, an estimated 200,000 Timorese died from conflict-related factors, including a 1977-79 famine that in all likelihood claimed around half of those fatalities. In that period, Jakarta forced people off land and into camps, without sufficient humanitarian access, while the Indonesian Army hunted down Timorese resistance fighters, led by Gusmao.
The food contract in question was aimed at staving off the annual hunger season, and came at a time of spiraling global food prices, which added to the cost and purchase-order price.
Gusmao is revered as the leader of Timor’s independence struggle, spending much of the 1990s in a Jakarta prison. East Timor was run by the U.N. between 1999 and 2002, after a plebiscite saw Timorese vote in favor of independence from Indonesia, whose occupation was never recognized under international law. East Timor became a sovereign state in 2002, and Gusmao was elected its first president. In 2007, after stepping down from that post, he led a multiparty coalition to electoral victory over FRETILIN, which was the dominant party from 2002-7.
FRETILIN MP Jose Teixeira told World Politics Review today that “the prime minister has a lot to answer for,” adding that his party will consider “holding a parliamentary inquiry into this.”
The case comes just days before the Timorese parliament is to discuss the establishment of the anti-corruption commission, a Gusmao brainchild first mooted on the campaign trail in 2007, and formally set in motion in May 2008.
Opposition MP Fernanda Borges is leader of the National Unity Party (PUN). She told WPR that “this case is both ironic and unfortunate, given that the rime minister campaigned on curbing corruption.”