FRENTE REVOLUCIONÁRIA DO TIMOR-LESTE INDEPENDENTE
May 29, 2008
FRETILIN exposes wholesale land giveaway by Agriculture Minister
The Deputy Leader of FRETILIN, Francisco Miranda Branco, on Tuesday (27 May) called on the de-facto Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Mariano Sabino, to release all details of a deal he signed with Indonesian company GTLeste Biotech to give away 100,000 hectares of agricultural land for sugarcane cultivation and to build a sugar and ethanol processing plant. FRETILIN is the largest party in Timor-Leste’s National Parliament.
The deal gives exclusive rights to GTLeste Biotech to grow and process sugarcane and to sell and export sugar and ethanol in and from Timor-Leste for a period of 50 years, with an option for a further 50 years. Timor Leste has an estimated arable land area of 400,000 hectares, so the GTLeste Biotech deal alienates 25% of the arable land to biofuel production.
Branco and others criticized the deal as being non-transparent and not in the national interest, because one company has been given exclusive rights to an industry and land for 100 years without other potential bidders having had the opportunity, and because of its impact on food security.
“To keep the deal so secretive violates every principle of good governance and the public interest, not to mention the national interest,” said Branco.
But it is not the only deal which has been questioned in parliament. Last month, the President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Mario Carrascalao MP, queried a deal allegedly signed by the same Minister for 200,000 hectares to plant rubber trees, in addition to the GTLeste Biotech deal.
“We share Mr Carrascalao's concerns. But because we were unable to obtain a copy of the agreements from the government, we have been unable to scrutinize the benefits and value of the agreements. Now that we have a copy of the agreement, it is clear why the minister and the government have kept the agreement away from public scrutiny,” explained Branco.
“Given our alarm at the GTLeste Biotech, we are extremely anxious about what is in the agreement to give 200,000 hectares for rubber tree planting. It has been even more secretive. No substantial details have yet been made available to either the parliament or civil society, despite requests. There is no transparency in how the de facto government deals with these questions,” stressed Branco.
“FRETILIN contends that if the second agreement does give away 200,000 hectares to a foreign company, then this minister has given away nearly five percent (5%) of our total land mass in less than his first year as Minister without any opportunity whatsoever for public scrutiny of these deals.
“At this rate, if this minister remains in his post for a full five years, he could well give away close to half of the country to foreign interests. During the election campaign we warned that this minister's party, the Democratic Party, favored too much the access by large foreign investors to Timor-Leste. It seems we were very right, unfortunately,” added Branco.
“The Prime Minister announced his intention to establish an anti corruption commission. If that ever gets up and running, this deal with GTLeste Biotech would be among the first matters it would have to investigate. FRETILIN is considering requesting the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice, the constitutionally mandated anti-corruption watchdog, to investigate this deal,” said Branco in closing.
Contact: Jose Teixeira +670 728 7080; Nilva Guimaraes +670 734 0389