By Ted McDonnell
Timor Leste reached new heights in recent weeks, but not in a good way.
First, a disastrous corruption ranking from Transparency International making it one of the world’s most dishonest nations and in recent days it was named the third hungriest country in the latest Global Hunger Index.
Not a report card many government’s would be proud of...
So, as Timor Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao sips on his Portuguese wine and has a puff on one of his cigars, while his children are chauffeured to DIli’s international school by his Australian wife Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, I wonder if he spares a thought for the tens of thousands of Timorese who go hungry every day under his rule.
It’s granted that Xanana is a good family man. After all he has taken care of most of his family members with substantial government contracts; and made them rich in the process; as has other members of Gusmao’s government, including those on corruption charges.
But what about the people of Timor Leste, the people who have suffered over decades? Do they still deserve to go hungry every night with mothers not being able to feed or cloth their children; or ensure they have proper health care with dads facing long term unemployment?
Is it fair that Timor Leste’s political elite eat like pigs at a trough and stash their cash in suitcases and take it out of the country; or ship it off to offshore bank accounts?
The world does not think so, the World Bank does not think so, the United Nations doesn’t think so…
According to the 2014 Global Hunger Index, Timor Leste ranks alongside the hungriest countries on earth.
“Bangladesh, Niger, Timor-Leste, and Yemen have the highest prevalence of underweight in children under five, amounting to more than 35 percent in each country,“ according to the Reports authors.
The situation in Timor Leste, according to the report, sits on the edge of calamity and the hunger index ranks the situation as “alarming”.
The damning Hunger report further highlights the many failures of the Gusmao Government and comes after Transparency International’s Corruption index which saw Timor Leste slide to a ranking of just - 28 (133 out of 174 countries) down from a score of 30 in 2013; and 33 in 2012. The slide began under Gusmao’s watch.
The disastrous Corruption ranking came out a few weeks after the Gusmao government sacked its foreign judiciary and corruption advisors. The corruption trial of high profile Finance Minister, read the PM’s hand picked cheque writer, Emila Pires remains on hold.
So, where has the money gone? Surely, it is being used to feed the people, create employment and fix the health care system?
No! We obviously know a lot of money has gone into the political elites pockets, including the coffers of Gusmao’s family.
Timor Leste’s budget is not being spent in the right places leaving the Timorese poverty struck.
Gusmao now appears to have moved into a mode of bluffing, pontificating, growling and intimidating Timor Leste’s media, and any one else who has the guts to speak out; whilst his US and Australian advisors, such as Pierre-Richard Prosper and former ALP stalwart Janelle Saffin, bluff and cajole many western diplomats in a bid to hide the shocking truth about Timor Leste and bankrupt politics of Gusmao.
At the same time, the overseas advisors that are left in Dili ensure they too are well-fed on the Xanana gravy train.
Meanwhile, the majority of Timorese go hungry every night. Well done guys!
FOOTNOTE: I have always admired the great work done by Pierre Prosper on the world stage; and Janelle Saffin's work on many causes over many years. This article is not a criticism of their work in many areas. However, I remain dismayed that they stand by and witness shocking acts of corruption and nepotism; and do nothing. That surprises greatly me given their reputations.