Subject: Interview-East Timor anti-graft tsar sees long fight ahead

via Joyo News

Interview-East Timor anti-graft tsar sees long fight ahead

* Anti-corruption chief to be sworn-in next week

* Graft said to be draining 20 percent of government coffers

* "Getting one or two big fish will not be enough"

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA, Feb 5 (Reuters) - High-profile prosecutions will not end widespread corruption in East Timor and a long public re-education campaign will be needed to fight graft and nepotism, the country's new anti-corruption tsar said on Friday.

Aderito de Jesus, to be sworn in next week as Anti-Corruption Commission chief after winning unanimous parliamentary backing, said he would immediately start reviewing cases in the hands of prosecutors, but successful convictions would not end the graft malaise denting confidence inside and outside in the country.

"There are great expectations and it is a huge challenge to get the public trust. We need to handle it prudently," de Jesus told Reuters in an interview at his home in Canberra, where he has been studying for a doctorate before returning to Dili.

"My reading is that there is political will from the government to tackle corruption. But we have to think of East Timor in 20 years time and we have to teach the people, because getting one or two big fish now will not be enough," he said.

East Timor became the world's newest nation in 2002 after voting for independence from Indonesia in 1999, triggering a violent backlash from pro-Jakarta militia groups that destroyed almost 70 percent of buildings, including houses and schools.

But eight years on the tiny country remains fragile.

Widespread public anger over corruption could trigger a repeat of the unrest of 2006, when different ethnic groups warred with one another in part over limited access to jobs and economic opportunities in one of the world's poorest nations.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in mid-2007 resulted in former Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta winning the presidency and former President, Xanana Gusmao, leading a four-party coalition called the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority.

But Gusmao's government, which faces re-election in June 2012, has been mired in graft accusations, including accusations last year that the prime minister's daughter won a multi-million dollar food-import contract on the back of family connections.

MASSIVE TASK

While de Jesus's appointment has been welcomed by rights groups, he faces a massive task to tackle corruption and mismanagement that Deputy Prime Minister Mario Carrascalao said last year was draining up to 20 percent from government coffers.

De Jesus said his body would have wide investigative powers under the law, but would not undertake prosecutions like former ruler Indonesia's special anti-corruption body, known as the KPK.

East Timor's ombudsman last year complained that while almost 30 cases of corruption involving past or present government members had been handed to the prosecutor, few had actually made it to the courts.

East Timor is of the world's top growing economies, with real GDP growth of 13.2 percent in 2008, according to the World Bank.

But Australia, a major donor, warned in December that growth was sliding, estimating expansion of 7.2 percent in 2009, and with the forward trend being down.

Gusmao's government is hobbled by weak budget planning and management, including of petroleum reserves and a related sovereign wealth fund worth around $3 billion, with around $100 million in new revenues accruing each month.

As well, a failed assassination attempt on Ramos-Horta and Gusmao in February 2008 has unsettled overseas investors.

The softly-spoken de Jesus, who like Gusmao is married to an Australian, said his agency had been given wide powers to confiscate passports and pursue suspects.

"We also need to teach the people in the schools, coordinate with the education department about fighting corruption, from the basic school to university," he said.

"We are only 1 million people, small unlike Indonesia, and I believe we can teach the people that bribing a minister is something they should not do." (Editing by Alex Richardson)


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