East Timor's government in disarray over graft claims

Lindsay Murdoch

September 9, 2010

A BITTER row over allegations of corruption has destabilised East Timor's four-party coalition government.

The government is reeling over the resignation yesterday of deputy prime minister Mario Carrascalao, who was appointed early last year to crack down on ministerial corruption.

Mr Carrascalao, the 73-year-old patriarch of one of the country's most powerful families, said he was left with no option but to quit over personal attacks on him by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, which allegedly included calling him an ''idiot''.


Instability in the government is likely to make it more difficult for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to negotiate her proposal for a regional asylum centre in East Timor.

Mr Gusmao yesterday issued a statement congratulating Ms Gillard on her re-election and said there were ''matters of significance that our governments will discuss in the shared interests of our people''.

In Dili, Mr Carrascalao said Mr Gusmao had ignored the alleged loss of $US3 million ($A3.3 million) in government funds and instead spread untruths about him. Mr Gusmao could not be reached for comment.

In a blistering resignation letter, obtained by The Age, Mr Carrascalao detailed 29 criticisms of the government, including corruption, nepotism and collusion. He said the corrupt were ''protecting one another''.

The criticisms also included the failure to curb domestic violence, lack of compulsory education, lack of justice and one of the world slowest bureaucracies.

Late last month the government's Council of Ministers stripped Mr Carrascalao of his powers over government procurement and accused him of making unfounded allegations.

A week later government spokesman Agio Pereira said Mr Carrascalao's actions and law suits emanating from his office had caused budget delays and impaired service delivery in government departments.

''To date the office of Vice-Prime Minister Carrascalao has made no advancements in identifying, discovering or uncovering any corrupt activities,'' Mr Pereira said.

Mr Carrascalao's Social Democratic Party, or PSD, is likely to withdraw from the coalition as early as this weekend, giving a majority in parliament to an opposition led by Fretilin, the largest political party.

Fretilin's secretary-general Mari Alkatiri has said the opposition would not use any majority it might get as a result of the crisis to bring down the government at the moment. But he has made clear the opposition would demand that national elections be brought forward from 2012 to next year.

Dr Alkatiri said: ''Mr Carrascalao's treatment shows that incompetent and crooked ministers will be allowed to stay in their posts long after Mr Gusmao should have got rid of them.''

source: THE AGE

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