Subject: Lusa: Gusmao approves budget, but laments lack of 'healthy' debate

Lusa: Gusmao approves budget, but laments lack of 'healthy' debate

16-07-2002 18:08:00 GMT

East Timor: Gusmao approves budget, but laments lack of 'healthy' debate

After signing and approving East Timor`s state budget Tuesday, President Xanana Gusmao called for revision of the measures within four months, while also lamenting the lackluster nature of parliamentary debate and opposition parties in the new country.

Addressing parliament in a nationally broadcast speech, Gusmao called for a more "balanced" budget for 2002-2003, with less expenditure on equipment and communications and public spending more in keeping with the government`s development agenda.

Timor was fortunate to receive financial support from the international community, Gusmao said, but soon this burden would fall on Timorese people "who will pay the government's expenses in taxes".

Without an "awareness of rationalizing expenditure, projects to combat poverty could become a utopia", said Gusmao.

Dili`s head of state also directly addressed MPs, saying that taking part in the process of government was not just about voting, but "knowing what is being done".

After his speech in parliament, Gusmao told Lusa "healthy political debate does not exist in Timor".

"The opposition regret that they are few in number. They are few but they can speak coherently and wisely. They must avoid petty disputes which don't benefit anyone and only bore the people", said Gusmao.

Defending his government's budget, which was rushed through parliament on June 28, Prime Minister Alkatiri told Lusa that Gusmao should have first contacted the government to see how the budget was devised.

"This budget was not invented by the government. It was negotiated point by point with donor countries and this was not easy", said Alkatiri.

Alkatiri said he hadn't found Gusmao's speech critical of his government. However, if "there had been more dialog" with the executive, the head of state's speech "would have been more positive", said Alkatiri.

Dili's head of government used his broad Fretilin parliamentary majority to limit debate and approve the budget two weeks ago, triggering protests from opposition parties that he was reducing the 88-member legislature to a mere "rubber stamp".

The government has descibed its first budget, at slightly over euros 85 million, as "realistic", and some 50 percent less than first estimated.

CJB/ASP -Lusa-

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