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East Timor: Ricegate scandal

Responding to a looming food and rice shortage last year, East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao awarded 17 companies with contracts to import rice. These contracts are now being questioned by the opposition after Radio Australia News exposed that one of the companies is partly owned by the Prime Minister’s daughter.

Tempo Semanal has uploaded several documents related to the rice importation contracts. The Prime Minister said he is ready to face the anti-corruption commission. But he also stressed that his daughter is no longer a majority shareholder of the company when it was awarded with a government contract. The opposition Fretilin party believes this is a case of corruption and nepotism.

There are also other government contracts, including an arms deal, which the opposition is now questioning in the media. It was reported that many beneficiaries of government contracts are relatives of high-ranking public officials:

Zenilda Gusmao (Prime Minister’s daughter) is not the only businesswoman in East Timor with a close relative in government. Kathleen Goncalves, wife of East Timor's Minister of Economic Development, Joao Goncalves, is connected to at least three companies that have been awarded multi-million dollar government contracts approved by the Prime Minister.

The Dili Insider reminds the lucky relatives and friends of government officials to pay their taxes correctly:

The Timorese blogging scene has gone slightly BANANAS over the matter of who got what rice contracts. It has even become known as Ricegate – so named by the Timorese Government themselves.

With alot of money at stake, over 57 million USD it seems some people have made alot of money, often usually by knowing someone and not being bonafide rice dealer.

Ok get a contract through family and friends, fine. But please pay your tax.

It is odd that government spokespersons themselves would describe the current issue as ‘Ricegate.’ The Lost Boy reacts to the public statements of government and opposition parties:

This must surely be the first time the word “porkies” has been used in a government statement.

The problem with this back-and-firth is that it doesn’t really address the issues at hand. FRETILIN (opposition party) digs up whatever it can and the government goes on the defensive and starts harking on about how corrupt FRETILIN was back in the day, which does little to address current concerns. Any valid points the statements might make are undermined in the first couple of paragraphs. I have to wonder who is writing these statements.

Are the people of Timor-Leste supposed to accept that this government is corrupt because the last was? How reassuring is that for the man on the street? This media war is amusing to watch, but it solves nothing.

East Timor President Jose Ramo Horta is supporting the embattled Prime Minister

Just because someone became president, became prime minister, became a minister, does not mean his family all have to go into unemployment, all have to sell their business and stop

Norah Mallaney explains the significance of the probe being conducted by the anti-corruption commission:

…this investigation has the potential to be a turning point in East-Timor’s anti-corruption politics. Should the investigation, decision-making process and any potential penalties all follow anti-corruption legal procedure, the legitimacy of East-Timor's anti-corruption commission and the corresponding anti-corruption legal framework will be proven (temporarily) to its citizens and the world.

Thumbnail image used from the Flickr page of jim270

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