quarta-feira, 11 de março de 2009

Pipeline matter with Australia: FRETILIN ONLY said the opposite against Australia

*Francisco Lemos Dos Santos*

The Greater Sunrise 50:50 split: A combined effort of all, NOT THE FRETILIN’s victory only

It would be disingenuous if not negating at all, for one to claim that it was not the government of FRETILIN in the past that orchestrated the signing of the Agreement to split 50:50 of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise Area of the Timor Sea. However, it would be too negating to claim that the victory over the revenue sharing with Australia was a successful push by the Alkatiri-led government only. Unfortunately, that is what the Alkatiri-led FRETILIN has been claiming over the victory. Civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, solidarity organizations in Australia and other corners of the world share the victory. Without a strong solidarity from the international community, this Agreement would have not been a fruitful one.

FRETILIN nowadays, from its rhetorical stance on the Timor Sea, seems to ignore this contribution. Statements from leaders of the party seem to claim victory of the revenue sharing for itself, as if it was only the attempt of the FRETILIN-led government that won the negotiation.

For instance, Secretary-General of FRETILIN Alkatiri stated it was FRETILIN that made all the push for a fair share of the Timor Sea wealth and if it was FRETILIN that established the Petroleum Fund to manage and control the use of the revenue from the Timor Sea. In a nutshell, FRETILIN should not claim victory for itself over the culmination of the revenue sharing; it is a combined effort of all entities including ordinary people in the grassroots level.

Although some vehemently criticized the Alkatiri-led government for selling Timor-Leste to short to Australia to sign the revenue sharing with Australia, the step was indeed a desperate move to secure some revenue from the Zone to Timor-Leste to finance the state budget, and the current government can use the revenue to finance the current feasibility study on pipeline by PETRONAS and Timor-Leste’s hundreds of youth to be able to have the chance to undertake further studies overseas.

FRETILIN failed to present an alternative study on pipeline to Australia

On pipeline matter with Australia, the largest opposition party in the Parliament FRETILIN presents rather an ironic political stance on the matter. Although it bitterly claimed to defend construction of pipeline from the Greater Sunrise to Timor-Leste, it only says the opposite; it failed to present an alternative study to the Australian government to at least challenge if not to falsify the Woodside study that favors pipeline from the Greater Sunrise Area to Australia.

Head of FRETILIN Bench in the Parliament, Mr. Lopes Guterres parroting the words of his boss to state that the FRETILIN-led government had made 90-95% of all the arrangements required to be able to convince the Australian government and Woodside to pipe oil and gas to Timor-

Leste(Diario,pg.10,12 September 2008), this sounds like a very simplistic and empty rhetoric, there was no any feasibility study undertaken by the previous government.

It is indeed recognizable that the FRETILIN-led government argued against the Howard-government to pipe oil and gas of the Timor Sea to Timor-Leste, that the Greater Sunrise Area is closer to the shore of Timor-Leste than to Australia, a reasonable common sense view; however the argument did not convince the Australian government.

The Howard-government at that time employed the one-sided study by the Woodside to prop up its position that it is technically impossible to direct the pipe to Timor-Leste. The architect of the Australian-led negotiation team Downer, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade argued in a rather unfriendly way to state “let me give you tutorial in politic, not a chance”. The Howard-government had strong political interference on the pipeline matter, employing the one-sided study by Woodside to make its point.

The current government of Timor-Leste shows a great initiative to hire the PETRONAS Company from Malaysia to undertake an alternative feasibility study on pipeline, presenting an alternative study to Australia, forcing the Rudd-led government to switch its stance on the matter from a very political approach of the Howard government in the past to a more flexible one, reflected in the statement though it is not publicly made that pipeline matter is a commercial and technical matter. The alternative study by the PETRONAS Company shows a great possibility to build pipeline to Timor-Leste, the Rudd-led government has to stop playing hard ball against its neighbor Timor-Leste and but embrace the result and let the people of Timor-Leste enjoy their full sovereignty over the Timor Sea.

Alkatiri to head the Pipeline Taskforce; free ride syndrome

Horta made a surprise announcement to the public result of the ’back-door deal’ between the President Mr.Horta, the PM Gusmao and Alkatiri that the three leaders had reached a consensus to appoint Alkatiri to head the Pipeline Taskforce. Whether the PM Gusmao really nodded his head or simply put Alkatiri in another hit spot, Horta’s announcement really triggered a heat debate in the public. Parliamentarians of Gusmao’s CNRT party in the Parliament vehemently criticized the President for the decision, stating that the decision was interference in the work of the government; in addition Alkatiri had failed in the past on the Timor Sea, lacked the initiative to present alternative. The statement was then supported by most of the Coalition MPs. Alkatiri’s Parliamentarians if not his poodles at all in Parliament supported the President’s idea and started promoting their leader that Alkatiri had the expertise and experience on the Timor Sea.

Alkatiri’s presence in the Taskforce would not bring anything positive to the effort of defending pipeline to Timor-Leste. First of all, he is a failed Prime Minister, he had failed to provide an alternative study on pipeline, secondly of all he would not gain the support from the current government and the public as he still does not recognize the legality of the Coalition government. After the Coalition government has shown great initiative undertaking the feasibility studies, encouraging several international investors to invest in the petroleum sector in Timor-Leste, an approach that has delivered a clear message to Woodside that other investors are also very keen to invest in Timor-Leste, with the blessing of the President Alkatiri started to sell his ‘expertise’ to the government. Unfortunately no one buys it. He has every right as a citizen of Timor-Leste to contribute to the effort to pipe oil and gas to Timor-Leste but for him to head the taskforce would be a self-defeating for Timor-Leste.

*Note: The article is a personal view of the author*

Address of the author: Bazartete, Liquica District E-mail:

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