DOOR Newsletter on East Timor home
"The Australian Government and
media have demonised East Timor's PM without knowing all the facts, ... Who
is Mari Alkatiri and why does he arouse such hostility from Australian
politicians and media presenters? While Alkatiri was being told by
Australians he should resign, he was also taking phone calls from the
Portuguese and other prime ministers, wishing him well and urging him
not to." Helen Hill, teacher of sociology at Victoria
See source of article: http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/stand-up-the-real-mr-alkatiri/2006/05/31/1148956413913.html?page=fullpage
Posted to Timor
list on 2 June 2006: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/timorcrocodilovoador/
Subject: AGE: Stand up, the real Mr.
June 1, 2006
Stand up, the real Mr. Alkatiri
The Australian Government and media have demonised East Timor's PM
without knowing all the facts, writes Helen Hill.
Ever since the August 2001 elections for the Constituent Assembly in
East Timor - when the longest-standing party of resistance, Fretilin,
won a convincing 57 per cent of the vote against 14 other parties - I
have observed among Australian embassy employees in Dili, and most
Australian journalists who write about Timor, a readiness to criticise
Mari Alkatiri, East Timor's Prime Minister, on grounds that show they
barely know anything about him.
The Bulletin and The Australian regularly recommend his overthrow. The
week before the Fretilin congress in Dili, the ABC joined them as
regular Alkatiri critics. Jim Middleton on the ABC's evening news
wondered "what would happen if Alkatiri decides to resist" calls for
his resignation, and uncritically put to air claims from a sacked
Fretilin central committee member alleging that 80 per cent of the
central committee was against the Prime Minister. A week later, after
further violent episodes in Dili, we saw Maxine McKew on Lateline
trying to put words into the mouths of MPs Malcolm Turnbull and Peter
Garrett: "Wouldn't you say there's not much support for Alkatiri?" How
could they possibly know, if all they saw were the Australian media?
Who is Mari Alkatiri and why does he arouse such hostility from
Australian politicians and media presenters? While Alkatiri was being
told by Australians he should resign, he was also taking phone calls
from the Portuguese and other prime ministers, wishing him well and
urging him not to.
With Jose Ramos Horta, Alkatiri helped found Fretilin when, back in the
early 1970s, it took the form of a clandestine group of young people
meeting under the nose of the Portuguese colonialists in front of the
building where he now has his office. On the eve of the full-scale
Indonesian invasion, Alkatiri, who had already graduated as a surveyor
in Angola, was sent with Ramos Horta and Rogerio Lobato to put Timor's
case at the United Nations. His exile lasted 24 years, but it was
productively used; he studied law and economics at Eduardo Mondlane
University in Mozambique, with South African exiles and others
struggling for freedom.
Mozambique had offered scholarships to any Timorese students who could
qualify for admission, and it was this group, who worked in many
professions on graduating and gained a great deal of experience in
economic development, who now form the backbone of the public service.
In Mozambique, Alkatiri learnt a great deal about international
organisations and how to avoid falling into some of the traps
Mozambique had encountered. His negotiating skills that the Australian
Government finds so fearsome were gained during this period.
Every year he was with Ramos Horta at the UN General Assembly for the
debate on East Timor. In 1998 it was Alkatiri who did most of the
thinking that led the multi-party National Council for Timorese
Resistance to adopt its "Magna Carta", linking Timor's future policies
with the best standards in international practice coming from the UN's
conferences on human rights, environment, population, women and social
development during the 1990s.
Detractors frequently allege that Alkatiri's presence in Mozambique for
24 years means he is some sort of unreconstructed Marxist. In reality,
he is an economic nationalist with a strong awareness of environmental
issues and woman's issues; he regularly speaks out on violence against
women. He has spoken against privatisation of electricity and managed
to get a "single desk" pharmaceutical store, despite initial opposition
from the World Bank. He hopes a state-owned petroleum company assisted
by China, Malaysia and Brazil will enable Timor to benefit more from
its own oil and gas in addition to the revenue it will raise from the
area shared with Australia. At the Fretilin congress, he announced
initiatives for scrapping school fees in primary school and introducing
state-funded meals in all schools.
There is widespread support in Timor for Alkatiri's decision not to
take loans from the World Bank, although it gave Timor a few years of
extremely low salaries in the public service. The Cuban doctors invited
by Alkatiri to serve in rural areas are also very popular, as is the
new medical school they are establishing at the national university.
The young intellectuals at the university and the leadership of many
Timorese non-government organisations praise Alkatiri's economic
knowledge and his ability to defend Timor's interests against the likes
of the World Bank and the Australian Government (over the Timor Sea
issue), while being disappointed with slow progress on educational
reform and development of the co-operative sector.
His major errors of judgement include a draconian defamation law, which
has drawn the ire of much of Timor's media, and his tardiness in
intervening on the sacking of the dissident soldiers, in which he has
supported decisions made by army commander Taur Matan Ruak.
Another frequent accusation is that Alkatiri is "arrogant", and, while
this might be the case, he has increased massively the public
consultations held over the last year. Under East Timor's
semi-presidential constitution, the president is popularly elected
while ministers are appointed by the party with the majority in the
Parliament. Alkatiri has sacked some ministers for poor performance,
and some of them provided support for his challenger at the Fretilin
In a rather bizarre twist, one of Alkatiri's unashamed supporters
during this crisis has been the World Bank, whose director wrote last
week that "Timor-Leste has achieved much thanks to the country's
sensible leadership and sound decision-making which have helped put in
place the building blocks for a stable peace and a growing economy".
Helen Hill teaches sociology at Victoria University and is author of Stirrings of Nationalism in East Timor:
Fretilin 1974-78, Oxford Press.
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