Dili, 1 March 2002

PUBLIC SPEAKS OUT TO ASSEMBLY MEMBERS ON CONSTITUTION

The people of East Timor this week once again displayed intense interest and enthusiasm in the democratic process as more than 80 public consultations in all districts on the final draft of the nation’s Constitution often drew hundreds of people.

Members of the popularly elected Constituent Assembly that drafted the Constitution broke into groups last weekend and fanned out across the territory in search of feedback on the proposed legal framework. Logistical snags hampered some of the meetings, but that did not dilute the public’s eagerness to participate.

While a variety of opinions were expressed, independent observers of the process found that a handful of issues were dominant concerns: the length of the consultation process; the date of independence; the role of the Catholic Church; the powers of the President; and the Assembly’s transformation into the Republic’s first legislature.

Many participants complained that the one-week consultation period was too short, and that they had at most a few days – and sometimes only a few hours – to digest the 168-article draft Constitution. Smaller parties in the Assembly raised similar concerns several weeks ago.

The official date of independence – 28 November 1975 – was also a source of confusion among people preparing to celebrate independence on 20 May of this year, when the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) will formally transfer all the powers to the East Timorese. Some called 28 November too partisan toward majority party FRETILIN, which declared independence from Portuguese rule on that date. Others suggested that both dates be enshrined in the Constitution.

Many participants wanted Catholicism to be declared the official religion of East Timor. While the majority of East Timorese are Catholic, the draft Constitution does not specify an official religion and calls for a separation between church and state.

Some participants wanted more political power vested in the President of the Republic, rather than the more parliamentary-style structure called for in the final draft Constitution. Still others complained that the presidential oath was not made specifically to God.

Lastly, many complained that they wanted a legislative election held soon after 20 May rather than allow the 88-member Assembly to transform itself into a fully fledged legislature.

Assembly members will summarise the comments and criticisms of the people into a report that will be presented to the full Assembly for debate on 11 March. The text of the draft will then be finalised ahead of a final vote and signing ceremony on 16 March.

AGRICULTURE MINISTRY DISTRUBUTES ANIMALS AND TOOLS

More than 70,322 animals and 76,000 agriculture tools have been distributed in all 13 districts of East Timor by the Agricultural Rehabilitation Project, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries announced today.

Most of the animals were baby chicks, but the totals also include 875 buffaloes and 777 cattle distributed since 2000. The project, managed by the East Timorese Transitional Government and funded by the World Bank Trust Fund, has assisted thousands of families throughout East Timor.

“These efforts have all been aimed at restoring productive assets that were lost during the 1999 violence,” said César José da Cruz, Director of Project Management Unit of the Agricultural Rehabilitation Project of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at a press conference.

In 2000, the project received a grant of US $6.8 million dollars to improve food security of rural families and increase agricultural production in selected areas of East Timor. US$ 2.2 million have been spent so far in the restoration of assets component of the project.

Cruz said that East Timor still does not produce enough food to feed its population – a goal the Government aims to achieve in 3 to 5 years.

In addition, 109 km of agricultural access roads have been repaired as part of this project, and almost 8,000 hectares of arable land have been rehabilitated. US$ 1.7 million have been spent on this rehabilitation work.

HEALTH MINISTRY ENTERS NEW PHASE IN HEALTH CARE PLAN

The Ministry of Health’s Project Management Unit is entering a new phase in the restoration of the nation’s health care system building on the basic health services and infrastructure that have been put in place since the violence of 1999, Vice Minister of Health João Soares Martins said in a briefing today.

The second phase of the rehabilitation and development program focuses on strengthening the health care referral system, meeting the needs of inpatients and improving surgical facilities – particularly emergency care for mothers and their children.

The Ministry of Health is in the process of recruiting 21 international doctors. Thirteen of them are already working, and eight more will be recruited in March. Additionally, health promotion training was conducted for all District Public Health Officers in February.

Other health-related developments include:

Martins said that East Timor’s Second Transitional Government has confidence in the rehabilitation and development program and believes the next two years of implementation will bring markedly increased health benefits to the people of the nation.