New East Timor government marred by corruption allegations
DILI, East Timor (AP) — East Timor’s president has refused to swear in 11 Cabinet ministers because of corruption investigations in a rocky beginning for a new government formed after a protracted political stalemate in the young nation.
Former President and independence fighter Jose Maria Vasconcelos, commonly known as Taur Matan Ruak, was sworn in as prime minister on Friday after a three-party alliance won a majority of parliament seats in a May 25 election.
President Francisco Guterres Lu Olo said eight nominated ministers, including for finance and defense, and three vice-ministers can’t be sworn in because the public prosecutor’s office is investigating corruption cases against them. Some also have previous corruption convictions, he said.
The election in May followed the collapse of a minority government that was in power for just a few months.
Despite the shaky start, Matan Ruak said the new administration would be a “confident government” that develops the country without leaving anyone behind.
“The time of lacking dialogue, of non-compliance, deadlock or crisis, is fortunately past, and was overcome by the exemplary behavior of the different parties and leaders, and by the political maturity shown by our citizens,” he said.
Independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who led the biggest party in the winning alliance, did not attend the swearing-in ceremony in protest at the president’s decision to block 11 of the nominees for the 43-member Cabinet.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.
Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces extreme poverty. Leaders including Gusmao, who was East Timor’s first president from 2002 to 2007 and prime minister from 2007 to 2015, have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling amount of oil riches, but progress is hardly discernible.
Presidential and parliamentary elections last year were the first held without U.N. supervision.