East Timor govt faces corruption probe

EAST Timor's opposition has called for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao to step down as his cabinet faces scrutiny over corruption claims ahead of elections.

The anti-corruption commission said on Monday it had handed six dossiers to the Attorney-General's Office, which has since called on two cabinet members for questioning.
"Because of his mistakes, I ask Xanana to step down so that we can eradicate corruption in the government. If we can't, then we are stealing our people's money," Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri told party members at a congress meeting.
Finance Minister Emilia Pires and Justice Minister Lucia Lobato have been called in by prosecutors, but factions of the ruling Fretilin party say that several other members are implicated in graft cases as well.
Alkatiri, who served for four years as the tiny half-island country's first prime minister from 2002, accused Gusmao of weak leadership and said corruption was making the poor in East Timor poorer.
"In my era, any mistake by Fretilin or any minister was my fault. Now it is never the fault of the prime minister - the ministers themselves are blamed."
The criticisms were made in Gusmao's absence, as he attended the Pacific Island Forum in Auckland.
The prime minister's spokesman Naikoly Antonio Ramos Andre said that the presidential and parliamentary elections, slated for next year, were too soon to call for a leadership change.
"Just look at the calendar. Comments like this ahead of elections are expected from the opposition."
A crackdown on corruption is likely to be a major election platform in the country of 1.1 million, where the majority live in rural areas in poor conditions.
The oil-rich country won formal independence in 2002, three years after a UN-backed referendum that saw an overwhelming vote to break away from Indonesia, whose 24-year occupation of the country cost an estimated 200,000 lives.

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