|Subject: XG: ‘LOCAL GOVERNANCE’
SPEECH BY H.E. PRESIDENT KAY RALA XANANA GUSMÃO ON THE OCCASION OF THE NATIONAL DIALOGUE II THEME: ‘LOCAL GOVERNANCE’
Dili, 24 May 2003
As is well-known to all those here in this hall and forum today, the Presidency initiated the process of dialogue, in a format of consultation to reach out to all the sub-districts and districts of the Nation. Today, we are holding the dialogue here, in the capital, within the framework of a National Dialogue, with the presence of the representatives of all the Districts and, above all, with the presence of the members of the Parliament, of the Government, of Civil Society, of intellectuals and young students in their final year of university.
I must, at the outset, state that we are aware that the Government is preparing laws about local government which will define the overall structure of the administration. However, I must emphasize that the initiative undertaken towards consultation with the population, was done with the sole intention of encouraging the Government and the Parliament to take into consideration the views of our people on this question, which is fundamental, to their political rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
What is the meaning of independence, in terms of the process of building a State based on law and order and democracy and in terms of the development of our country? Note that I said “the building of the State” and “the development of the country” two separate matters but nevertheless interrelated and mutually inclusive.
When one talks about independence and sovereignty, all of us are bound to defend the Constitution. And, more than any other Timorese citizen, the vast majority of the Parliamentarians and other personalities presently in Government, have a better understanding of the Constitution, because it was them, whilst members of the Constituent Assembly, that wrote the Constitution and approved it.
Independence is only a means which enables our People to exercise sovereignty. Article 2 of the Constitution says that ‘sovereignty rests with the people, who shall exercise it in the manner and form laid down in the Constitution’.
Does that mean that sovereignty is only the ‘exercise of political power through universal suffrage’ for the Parliament and the President of the Republic? Or does it mean that the ‘four pillars of sovereignty (the President, the Parliament, the Government and the Courts) are all that is needed to define the notion of sovereignty?
For us, the elections are only an act whereby the people transfer their decision-making powers to those whom they elected for that purpose. It is not an act of sovereignty; it is an act of exercising political power.
Article 6 (c) of the Constitution defines that ‘the fundamental objective of the State...is to defend and guarantee political democracy and participation of the people in the resolution of national problems’. Here we can see two important aspects of the process: one, is the political democracy and the other is the popular participation. The former refers to representative democracy and the latter refers to participative democracy.
How can we achieve popular participation in the resolution of national problems? When we talk about ‘national problems’, it is believed that the legislators had in mind the concept of ‘the existing or emerging problems in the nation as a whole’ and that they were not meant to only refer to ‘the problems within a national context’, because if that was the case then we are only talking about ‘popular participation’ in terms of ‘universal suffrage or referendum’.
The people were sovereign when they decided to participate actively in the resistance, the people understood that sovereignty ‘rests with the people’, when, even in the difficult situation of 1999, they confronted all the dangers and exercised their choice on 30 August of that year.
If independence is a means to build the State and to develop the country, this initial phase of the process is crucial for us to define the sovereignty of the people. For the building of the state, the people already exercised ‘political power’, which enabled the setting up of the four sovereign institutions, which are insufficient because the Constitution speaks about local governance.
For the sake of the development of the nation, it is extremely necessary to defend and to guarantee the sovereignty of the people. Otherwise, we will always live with a dualism of power the government and the CEP, with neither of them having the capacity to return sovereignty back to the people.
Participative democracy can not be understood only as an act through which the institutions of sovereignty reach out to the people to listen to their sorrows and to try to respond to their requests, from the need for food, when the population is hungry, to requesting an NGO to channel potable water or other immediate response.
Participative democracy must be an act through which the population, starting in the aldeias (hamlets), discuss their problems and try to solve some of their problems, before resorting to the sucos (villages). Participative democracy is the system of participation, where each citizen knows his/her duties, as well as his/her rights. The rights should not be constrained only to the right to vote or to be voted for. The rights embody the amplitude of fundamental human rights: the right to food, to clean water, to housing, to education, to medical assistance, and so on.
Participative democracy is the system which allows the organisation, of the population, starting with the mobilization of the people in the aldeias (hamlets) towards acquiring their rights, to the duty to contribute themselves. If this is not the way we understand it, if rights are understood as the right to receive everything and anything, from the State or an NGO, then Timorese society, whilst the agent of national development, will be embedded in a total lack of personality, relying only on handouts.
Article 6 (g) of the Constitution defines as the objective of the State, ‘to assert and value the personality…of the East Timorese people’ and this personality is one of struggle, of sweat and of determination to defy obstacles.
Which is our system of Government? As you all know, it is semi-presidential, which allows me to, now and then, express views about the ‘smooth functioning of the democratic institutions’.
Which is the system of governance?
Article 5 (1) of the Constitution states that ‘...the State shall respect the principle of decentralization of public administration’, and article 137 (2) states that ‘Public Administration shall be structured to prevent excessive bureaucracy, provide more accessible services to the people and ensure the contribution of individuals interested in its efficient management’.
As I have said before, in my message of 20 May, we are witnessing the method of “open governance’ which, in spite of its merits, does not respond to the basic questions which are defined in the Constitution itself. This does not mean that, in the future, it cannot become a viable means. Open governance can acquire all the advantages of monitoring, directing and, above all, facilitating better understanding of the realities.
What is clear from the Constitution is the principle of decentralization. And it is article 71 of the Constitution itself, item one, that says ‘the central government should be represented at the different administrative levels of the country’. Under the current circumstances, one can accept that the ‘administrative levels’ reach the sub-districts, however, if even the heads of sucos (villages) and aldeias (hamlets) are appointed, one can be led to think that the ‘administrative levels’ actually reach out to the sucos or even the aldeias .
Article 72 (1) says that ‘the local government is constituted by corporate bodies vested with representative organs, with the objective of organising the participation by citizens in solving the problems of their own community and promoting local development without prejudice to the participation by the State’.
Article 2 (3) defines that ‘the validity of the laws and other actions of the state and local Government depends upon their compliance with the Constitution’. Obviously, we are all going to have to wait for the laws, to help us understand the implications of these concepts.
Nevertheless, what can we learn from all this under the current circumstances? I think that two ideas emerge: one is that the administrative levels only reach out to the sub-districts and another is that the local power only refers to the sucos (villages) and aldeias (hamlets).
And it is here that we must find the core issue of ‘local power’!
Let’s see article 137 (2): ‘The Public Administration shall be structured to prevent excessive bureaucracy, provide more accessible services to the people and ensure the contribution of individuals interested in its efficient management’. This is an eloquent phrase when we consider the districts and sub-districts.
And when article 72 defines that ‘local government is constituted by corporate bodies vested with representative organs’ we think that the legislators were not thinking that one suco (village) can be understood as ‘representative organ’ and let alone an aldeia (hamlet).
Article 95 of the Constitution says that ‘It is exclusively incumbent upon the National Parliament to make laws on’, amongst other matters, the ‘Territorial division’, and thus, regarding aldeias (hamlets) and sucos (villages), it will not be the sucos (villages) that define the territorial division of the country into districts, regions or provinces.
If this is the case, ‘corporate bodies vested with representative organs’, referred to in article 72, include corporate bodies which under the current territorial and administrative division, should be in the districts.
Going back to the question of sovereignty, Article 6 (b) of the Constitution defines that the “objectives of the State,” among others, is to “… guarantee and promote fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens and the respect for the principles of the democratic State based on the rule of law.” Section (e) states that the objectives of the State are: “[t]o promote the building of a society based on social justice, by establishing material and spiritual welfare of the citizens.” And section (i) states that the objectives of the State are: “[t]o promote the harmonious and integrated development of the sectors and regions and the fair distribution of the national product.”
And, as we have already mentioned previously, section (c) states that the objectives of the State are “[t]o defend and guarantee political democracy and participation of the people in the resolution of national problems.”
Article 7 (2) of the Constitution mentions the “[…] organized expression of the popular will and the democratic participation of the citizens in the governance of the country.” Is the governance of the country only meant to happen in Dili, in the Government and in the Parliament? And is also supposed be only in the Sucos (Villages) and Aldeias (Hamlets), because we believe that local governance is only meant to happen in the Sucos (Villages) and in the Aldeias (Hamlets)?
We are aware about the content of Article 71 (4) of the Constitution which states that “[t]he political and administrative organization of the territory of the Democratic Republic of East Timor shall be defined by law.” We are equally aware about the content of Article 5 of the Constitution on decentralization. Section 1 of Article 5 states that “[…] the State shall respect the principle of decentralization of the public administration,” and section 2 states that “[t]he law shall determine and establish the characteristics of the different territorial levels and the administrative competencies of the respective organs.” Likewise, we continue to be guided by Article 72 (2) which establishes that “[t]he organization, competence, functioning and composition of the organs of local government shall be defined by law.”
This forum, as I have mentioned in the beginning, is to help the Government and the Parliament to take the people into account on the question of local governance.
There are those who are of the opinion that we would be offending, that we would be violating, the “sacred land” of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, when we talk about territorial division with the people. I must say that our understanding is that this sacred soil belongs to our people and to nobody else. No one else is more sovereign than our people and our people are sacred. This does not mean that any or every request or opinion of the population is law.
What we want is, precisely, that the people take the reins in their own hands in their respective “territories,” consciously knowing what their duties are within the constraints of the democratic participation in the building of a state based on democracy and the rule of law and in terms of the development of the country.
In this sense, we arrive at the notion of decentralization. Is there a need for decentralization right now? If there is, in which areas does this need exist? Let us recall section 2 of Article 5 on the “administrative competencies of the respective organs.”
What should the real concept of local governance be? Should it be applied only to the Sucos (Villages) and Aldeias (Hamlets)? Or should it also be applied to the sub-districts and districts? What are the procedures for cooperation with Government representatives?
In my view, I would say that the decentralization of the administration and the constitution of the organs of local governance, starting from the districts, would require, above all, the transferring of sound cadres to the districts and sub-districts which goes against the prevalent situation of concentrating human resources in the capital.
If we guide ourselves towards achieving a “harmonious and integrated development of the sectors and regions and the fair distribution of the national product,” the establishment of the organs of local governance, starting from the districts, will be the most appropriate response to the demands of the process, even from this difficult beginning, of building a democratic state based upon the rule of law and of developing the country.
Participative democracy will be a guarantee for a conscientious participation of all citizens, towards an integral development, starting first with the economic aspect which will then serve as a basis for the social, cultural and political aspects.
Of course we all know about our financial difficulties! Are we going to feel powerless to think just because of this? Are we going to have to, perhaps, write laws that do not contemplate the ideals enshrined in the Constitution just because of our financial difficulties?
Are there really no alternatives that we can explore? Will our people have to wait for many more years to be able to feel that independence is the guarantee of their fundamental rights and freedoms?
Will it be enough to continue having the existing structure of public administration because we are a small country?
All of these are raised in this forum and I am certain that there will be many more. And it will be extremely positive for us to reach a common idea about our needs and our realities.
As you have witnessed in today’s presentation, people have many ideas. Today, intellectuals and politicians gather here to draw conclusions from the ideas of the people. I invite everyone to make a generous contribution, free from prejudices, so that we can honour our people.
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