By ALBERTINA ALMEIDA
The election results and the announcement of the Goa cabinet brings to mind the Government in Timor Leste, for it bears a striking resemblance to the way politics of Government formation in Goa is developing.
About a year and a half ago, I was quite surprised when I landed in Timor Leste, and found that a fellow Goan, Dr. Longuinhos Rabindranatha Tagore Domingues de Castro Monteiro, who was the head of Police had actually become a Minister in the Government. Wasn’t it just the other day that a friend from Timor Leste had told me that he was head of the police?
He had indeed become a Minister as he was picked by the elected Prime Minister XananaGusmao to be in his Ministry and had to switch from being the CommandanteGeral de PoliciaNacional de Timor Leste to being Ministro de Interior, that is, the Home Minister. As if that was not strange enough, I was also told that this Prime Minister Gusmao had himself stepped down and made RuiAraujo, a member of the Opposition, from the Fretilin Party (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), the Prime Minister, and inducted some others from the Opposition as Ministers. Earlier in 2007, the same XananaGusmao had become Prime Minister after forming a coalition that ran against his former party Fretilin.
An Opposition member being made the Prime Minister by the existing Prime Minister? I have never known anyone giving up power or privilege – at least not so easily. Even if Gusmao explained his choice of RuiAraujo from the Opposition stating that there was no one else in his own government who had the right “theoretical, technical and professional preparation” to replace him. Gusmao created a new Investment Ministry and retained himself in the Ministry. Rings bells?
What was this all about? Why did Gusmao hand over power? Gusmao was after all said to be a guerilla leader who had fought for the freedom of East Timor from the 24-year occupation by Indonesia. For that matter, so was Monteiro. There was surely something that begged probing.
Questioning people around, one was given to understand that people felt cheated. The contracts, and the corruption associated with the contracts by the Government, were the order of the day. There were the fuel station contracts, they said. Fuel stations are State-owned, yes, BUT operated by a private company. The contracts go in substantial measure to the Gusmao family’s businesses. They said Prime Minister Gusmao’s daughter was the biggest business woman in Timor Leste and between her and the relatives of Gusmao, they controlled the oil and gas industry in the Timor Sea, the sandalwood and the marble trade, TV cable and other key businesses in Timor Leste, such as real estate. They also said that the Gusmaofamily were the biggest beneficiaries of the various deals struck. With the Opposition neutered in this fashion, there was nobody anymore as an effective Opposition, to question the Government about the deals they were striking left, right and centre. Former Prime Minister Alkatiri on the other hand had been given the Presidentship of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Oecusse. Like Goa, Oecusse is known as a tourist place. Goa also is not without its share of placating those who have not got the Ministerships in governance, with other key posts that hold the keys of finance, WHILE at the same time placating big corporate houses.
It is by now largely acknowledged even within institutional circles, that even as Timor Leste has billions of dollars’ worth gas production, half the country’s population of 1.2 million is mired in poverty. The country’s politics is fraught with issues like land grabbing and contract level mega style corruption, all of which impoverishes the local people and effectively disenfranchises them. With Portuguese, Indonesian, and also local laws at play when it comes to land rights and tenurial systems, the corporate houses ride merrily through this confusion to acquire huge chunks of land of the already small 14,784 square metre area. Such conflicts over land are also evident in Goa. SEZ’s and big corporate houses walk through while common people negotiate labyrinthine lanes for tracing land transfers and effecting mutation records.
Within the folds of East Timor’s politics, the issue of medium of instruction also lurks. The wrestling, seemingly between indigenous languages such as Tetum and the colonial languages such as Portuguese and Bahasa and English adds in no small measure to the construction of ‘national’ identity and to who gets privileged in such a construction. As a matter of fact, behind the wall of freedom from colonial occupation, there lies a complex identity politics in this part island nation state, and a world of histories that do not quite accept the ‘national’ narrative. It again rings a familiar bell with Goa where the privileged expect a sustenance of culture and language by the ‘other’ (that is, the lower caste or class), while their privilege provides them the access to English language education, which has been one of their keys to further access and consolidate power.
But on the other hand, despite the statedly differing ideologies, everyone in the coalition Government is believed to be complicit in the distortions of history and appropriation of resources, for reasons that clearly stare everybody in the face. The government is even believed to have introduced restrictive media laws primarily so that its ability to use the petroleum fund for their personal gains is not restricted. The Petroleum Fund is a sovereign wealth fund where the East Timor Government is supposed to deposit the surplus wealth produced by East Timor petroleum and gas income. The Petroleum Fund is a sovereign wealth fund where the East Timor Government is supposed to deposit the surplus wealth produced by East Timor petroleum and gas income.
Come 2017, it is as if Goa is getting to Timor Leste. What with the government having been formed the way it has and an opposition MLA already resigning from the party which was elected as the single largest Party in the Goa Assembly, and others on the way.Is ‘unity’ or ‘coalition’ a euphemism for collectively sharing the spoils of a dictatorship of investments? For securing funds that are tied aid?
(A version of this article was first published in O Heraldo, dt: 23 March, 2017. Illustrations by Angela Ferrao.)