Subject: CT: Diplomat Claims he was told to lie

For background info on this scandal, which La'o Hamutuk publicized a year and a half ago, see and .

Charlie Scheiner, La'o Hamutuk ----------------------------

Canberra Times Saturday, 19 May 2007

Diplomat claims he was told to lie

Markus Mannheim

A senior diplomat who refused to break the law by lying about Australia's aid program was later denied an extension to his overseas posting in apparent retribution.

The Federal Government pulled the head of its aid program in East Timor, Peter Ellis, from the embassy in Dili after he insisted he would not lie to a local human rights group about why its funding was cut.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer decided in 2005 to strip Forum Tau Matan of a $65,830 grant after learning the group had previously criticised Australia 's approach to maritime boundary negotiations.

Forum Tau Matan and 12 other Timorese organisations signed a petition in 2004 that urged Australia to respect international law.

The Australian Public Service Commission is now investigating claims that senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and AusAID advised Mr Ellis to give the group false reasons for why its contract was broken.

Public servants who lie can be fined, demoted or sacked under Commonwealth law.

Mr Ellis says he refused the direction and AusAID took the unusual step last June of denying him a one-year extension of his posting.

He says the action cost him about $100,000 in lost earnings and allowances.

The Canberra Times asked Aus-AID whether senior officers had told Mr Ellis to be deliberately dishonest in breach of the Public Service Act.

A spokesman initially refused to deny the claim, but said the Government's decision to break the group's contract took into account its public criticism of Australia.

The spokesman later said that neither the agency nor the Department of Foreign Affairs accepted the claim that Mr Ellis had been encouraged to lie.

He refused to comment on Mr Ellis's departure from East Timor, citing privacy reasons.

Mr Ellis says he was told his superiors had not endorsed an extension to his posting as they feared he might again refuse such instructions. Mr Ellis, a Tetum speaker whose experience was lauded by the East Timorese Government and the World Bank, has since left AusAID his employer for 10 years for work overseas.

He told The Canberra Times he felt he had to take a stand against senior bureaucrats' contempt for their own code of conduct.

"If public servants start disobeying legislation just because they think they know best and can judge for themselves when to be honest and when to lie, we're on a very slippery slope," he said.

"That principle is more important than any possible damage to my career. I didn't have any hesitation in drawing a line in the sand on something as clear as this."

He said he was disappointed but unsurprised by the official retaliation. He said the public service needed stronger protection for those who raised legitimate questions about their managers.

"Nearly all public servants have these fears. They see serious breaches of the code of conduct but don't report them because they know it means the end of their career.

"If I'd had kids and a mortgage it might have been much harder to stand up on the issue."

Opposition international development spokesman Bob McMullan said he had raised the matter with Mr Downer but received few details in response.

"There is a national interest in the [public service] code of conduct being followed and those that stand up for it being protected," he said. Mr McMullan said Mr Downer also needed to explain why he had cut the East Timor group's funding just six months after publicly praising it.

"If it was simply punishment for criticising Australia, it was an abuse of process and a misuse of taxpayer's money," he said. "If the original decision to fund them was meritorious, then the case for deciding on withdrawal was most improper."

Mr Downer referred inquiries to AusAID, but said in a statement he had confidence in the agency's handling of the matter. A request to interview the ambassador to East Timor, Margaret Twomey, was refused.


Charles Scheiner La'o Hamutuk (The Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis) P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste (East Timor) Telephone: +670-3325013 or +670-734-0965 mobile email: website: 

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