Agio Pereira | "The Policy for the Preparation of the Administrative Pre-Decentralisation Structure: the beginning of the second Maubere Miracle?"

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BY : Agio Pereira, Minister of State and of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and Official Spokesperson for the Government of Timor-Leste                                           

                                                                                              Every theory is good;
but the only one that is useful, is the one that fits the reality of our country
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão 
(DCC, 27th of February 2014)

Last year, the Government sponsored an international conference at the Díli Convention Centre (DCC), aboutdesconcentração (decentralisation). Delegations from Portugal, Australia and Cabo Verde took part in the conference, providing examples of success and challenges in the building of Local Power. Lessons learned were discussed and so were the benefits and constraints for Timor-Leste if the models of other countries were to be adopted without taking into account the importance of specific local realities. In this regard, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão reflected upon the fact that social, economic and political conditions vary from country to country and formulated that “all theories are good; but the only one that is useful, is the one that fits the reality of our country”. It was learned, for example, that the process of establishing municipalities that make local power work effectively can sometimes take more than one hundred years.  Last Friday, the 27th of February, the Secretary of State for Institutional Capacity Building, together with Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, organised a national workshop in the DCC, to discuss the policy pertaining to the preparation of the administrative structure for pre-decentralisation. The senior members of the Timorese public service were invited, including directors and director-generals. Members of Parliament and Government, including former members, were also invited. The vast majority of those invited were in attendance, making this workshop a vital event for the process of establishing municipalities. This was the very first time the Government presented in detail the policy about pre-desconcentração or pre-decentralisation. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão was very encouraged by the level of participation, particularly of the current and former Members of Parliament, as well as former members of the Government; and personally expressed his gratitude for their invaluable presence and participation. This article is not meant to be either a report of the workshop or direct citation of the Prime Minister, except where quotation marks are used. It cites what Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão stated in the workshop based on the notes of the author as well as additional research undertaken afterwards. 

The District Manager and the Local Services
In the Nation-State building process of Timor-Leste, like in most liberal democracies, the Constitution is a vital reference for each and every step taken to structure the State, the legal entity which is to care for the common will. The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (CDRTL) envisages that the State of RDTL, shall be developed through a process of participatory democracy. At the local level such participation is to occur in a framework of local government in which citizens can vote and also be elected for the positions of aldermen within municipalities. This system of decentralisation of power is expected to be the engine of local development and, overall, to drive sustainable national development.

This is why the Decree-Law No. 4/2014, of 22 of January, states in its preamble that the implementation of the structure of pre-decentralisation constitutes the very first step for the development of the capacity of Timor-Leste at the level of local administration. Such a capacity is to be structured with adequate systems, processes and public management procedures as well as for local democratic governance.  These are considered to be fundamental foundations required in order to formerly institute Local Power, as envisaged in the CDRTL. This same decree-law states that the  establishment of the structures of pre-decentralisation, as envisaged by the law, will enhance the process of local development  and will ensure and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of public service provision to the citizens, particularly in the most isolated and peripheral areas of the country – a fundamental right of every citizen of Timor-Leste.    

The structures and responsibilities of the administrative pre-decentralisation include health, education, public works, water and sanitation, management of local community markets, payment of pensions, a civil protection service, food security and natural disaster preparation and response. In addition, the District Planning Agency and the District Fiscal Auditing Agency are also covered. The authority overseeing these processes at the district will be the Secretary of the District Manager. The latter has under his or her jurisdiction the Administrative and Human Resources Service, Finance Service, the District Integrated Planning and Development Service, the Tendering Service, the Service for Logistics and Patrimony and the Administrative Posts. The jurisdiction of the Administrative Posts will include local services for Administration, Finance Planning and Development and Community Development. The Council of Ministers can add other services into the structure as it deems necessary. 

The highest authority of the District Pre-Decentralisation is the ‘Gestor Distrital (District Manager) who is charged with leading and coordinating all the services pertaining to the administrative structure of pre-decentralisation. The Gestor Distrital is supported by a secretariat under the direct supervision of the “Secretário do Gestor Distrital” (the Secretary of the District Manager) who, subject to the instructions received from the District Manager, is charged with the responsibility of directing and overseeing, organising and ensuring that all services pertaining to the Gestor Distrital’s jurisdiction, function efficiently and effectively. In the absence or impediment of the District Manager, the Secretary of District Manager can act on his/her behalf.        

The ‘Gestor Distrital’ and selection criteria
It is expected that the District Manager has the necessary qualities to carry out the tasks assigned to this important and pivotal job. Vision about the future of the district as well as the country as a whole, ability to lead, in-depth knowledge about the country’s Strategic Development Plan and ability to solve conflicts are amongst the expected qualities the person will need to possess in order to be selected. This person can be from the existing public service as a senior public servant aged between 35 and 55; or a Timorese citizen, not from the public service, but with at least five years experience in the area of public service or public management and age ranging from 45 to 70. Above all, it is expected that with all the criteria applicable in the selection of the District Manager, the outcome will be the selection of a person who is an effective communicator and who can act as a bridge between the government and other pillars of sovereignty and the people at the local community level.   

Further, the criteria include personal ability to promote dialogue with different community groups or members in the respective district, ability to speak Tétum and Portuguese – the official languages of Timor-Leste, as well as basic fluency in English. Satisfactory ability in the use of information and communication technologies is also part of the criteria. Competency in the use of power point presentations, database and word processing are also amongst the specific requirements and were discussed in this workshop. Essential characteristics of the district managers also include being motivated, having leadership ability and being able to bring these characteristic together to communicate effectively because during the pre-decentralisation phase, the ‘Gestor Distrital’ will be representing the Government at the district level. S/he will have the power to call meetings of the District Assembly and preside over its meetings as well as establish coordination mechanisms with territorial delegations of the government which are not part of the district structure of the pre-decentralisation.  Another important responsibility is to ensure that there are effective mechanisms for coordination with the district traditional leadership, international agencies and with non-government organisations. 

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão: vision and purposes
In the workshop, it was left to the Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão to articulate the vision and purposes of the workshop. Today, he said, we are gathering to join our thoughts about the future of our State (country) and ask how can we, together, ensure that our pillars of sovereignty develop a solid foundation for their existence. He went on to say that on May 20, 2002, our Nation-State was the youngest one in the world, before  later, South Sudan became the youngest, and that  now, we lead the g7+ group of eighteen fragile and conflict affected countries, of which South Sudan is one. The Prime Minister went on to say that for the OGE2014 approval was delayed because he had to travel to South Sudan in the first week of December. He noted that, sadly, three weeks after he left, the South Sudanese started to kill each other; more than five hundred deaths.  The Prime Minister went on to note that Guiné-Bissau, also a member of the g7+ is struggling.  In 1974 when the Carnation Revolution took place, Guiné-Bissau became an independent Nation-State. Today, the Prime Minister said, there is no State; after thirty three years of coups d’état, until this day, they have been unable to build a State.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão reminded the participants that:
Timor-Leste, as a State, has to also consolidate its institutions. Questions like how, and in which way, we can reinforce our sovereignty, our democracy and our institutions, are critical questions. So today we gather here to speak about ‘decentralisation’; how best can we prepare ourselves. Decentralisation means creation of municipalities and each municipality will cover one entire district. This relates to democracy, which is not a means to shout at each other. Just look at Libya and Syria; lots of killings producing lots of refugees. Let’s see democracy as an instrument only; a tool to help us find the best possible solutions to develop our country. Look at Ukraine where the possibility of separatism and anarchism is rising. With Timor-Leste, we need to ask what else we must improve further. The biggest challenge for us is employment. The Government cannot create employment for all. This is why we have to ensure stability; and that our laws are good so we can attract foreign investment to come to help us generate employment.          

Diagnostics of performance of the public service
It’s time to care about this country, not just about our self-interest
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão sees the need for the leaders of Public Service and relevant Government members to focus beyond Díli and added that:
“Most of you are in Díli only; lots of cars, mobile phones; even inside the car you are still on the phone. Hence, this year, we must undertake a diagnostic exercise of the entire Public Administration.  The attitude that we are important, Mr. Big, but one asks when, when exactly, that our country with so many smart people like you can live better? Why are we not moving forward? Why are we not productive enough? Recently, I travel to all the districts. I invited intellectuals to join me in the districts, but only three or four, sometimes six. We are all Díli natives now; but the local population showed that they are very smart; they understand their challenges and their advantages. They are realists and took part in the meetings with great productivity. We only worry about ourselves because nowadays we are members of the government, members of the parliament, so we no longer think beyond, but only about ourselves, our own interests. We suffer from laziness, laziness in thinking, to think about this country. It’s time to care about this country, not just about our self-interest. So I call you all to think deep; prepare yourselves for the municipalities. Just look at Liquiça; now it has “black-rock”, a successful business initiative for the district. They are already preparing themselves.     

Each year we debate the national budget in the Parliament. Members of Parliament call to our (government) attention that they visited this and that place and see no improvement. Why is that? – Because we (government members) only sit in our office and expect things to happen, to change. Go and have a look. Listen to what members of parliament are saying, and see why things are not moving. Maybe we need to place someone there to keep an eye on the progress. That’s why we appeal to the intellectuals of each district to return to their districts, to go back and help shake the situation and in doing so help to develop each district.”

The People are free, but the Country – not yet 
The Prime Minister continued to address the future of our nation by saying that:
“This is why those who become District Managers are not only to work together, they also need to know how to organise the People. There must be debates about how best to develop each district. And this means there is the need to select a District Secretary who knows the system. There has been a lack of improvement for too long. Children are still sitting on the floor in their schools. The directors (of Education) are in Díli; and the school inspectors, only God knows what they are up to. It takes the President of the Republic to travel there to alert us that “the children are still sitting on the floor in their schools during the school hours”. This is why I urge us all to undertake a mental socio-political introspection to gauge why is this still happening.
Today, we are here to speak about managers for the districts and secretaries. So I urge you to be prepared to return to the districts, to help in the process of development. Don’t forget the case of Guiné-Bissau; thirty three years of coups d’état, after forty years still without a State. That democracy is not about shouting at each other. It’s about shaking your brains and thinking in-depth, looking for solutions. So today we are here to discuss, exchange views, which ultimately are about our sovereignty, for the improvement of the well-being of our People. 
We are also need to bear in mind that, from now on, our country needs leadership, as opposed to individual leaders; leadership meaning the ability to transmit and to combine knowledge to respond to the social, economic and political challenges confronted by our country. In doing so, mistakes are to be encountered. Acknowledging our mistakes is important, we can do it with our own conscience; but such an acknowledgement can only be useful for our country if we also correct them. To develop our country we must enlarge the space for us to contribute towards this development. To do that, we can’t just be in Díli. We have to take this opportunity to contribute to this space, to cover the whole country. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão stressed that independence does not mean only to have a Parliament, a Government and a Presidency of the Republic.  Everyone has to help govern this country. This is why we are here today to challenge each other a little bit, to shake our brains a little bit, adding that when the State is happy with our participation, the People will also live well, with happiness.”
The Prime Minister concluded by saying: “our national liberation was said to be a ‘Maubere Miracle ‘. We will produce the second ‘Maubere Miracle’”.  

Pre-decentralisation is, therefore, not only about searching for the best ways to move forward with decentralisation in the context of Local Power, but also it is the critically important first step, to ensure that the process will move forward with as little hurdles as possible. The big picture is to consolidate independence by reaching a level of development where the impact on the living standards of the People of Timor-Leste matches the idealism expressed in the Constitution of the State of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, as always, undertakes a painful exercise to ensure that we all understand this overreaching goal attached to this simple process of pre-decentralisation. If the experience of other countries demonstrates that sometimes it can take one hundred years to make local government viable, Timor-Leste can also expect long and painful times before the expectations of participatory democracy through municipalities becomes a happy reality. Hence, the parameters of decentralisation involve complex issues to be addressed by the leadership, not only the leader, as Prime Minister Xanana reminded the participants of the workshop. First, it is about adequate human resources. Adequate here means not only academic qualifications, but also character, ability to lead, to coordinate, to listen to others and to communicate with the people as well as with the Government. Secondly, it involves the dynamics of each district in terms of the dimensions of development. These range from social realities, to economic and political realities. Third, is the central thesis of national development articulated in the national Strategic Development Plan (SDP). Those responsible for a district’s development need to embrace this document as a bible, as the Secretary of State for Institutional Capacity Building, Francisco Soares, said in the workshop. Fourth, it is an understanding that this is testing time. Timor-Leste has not done this before. One can be worried that if the public servants hardly listen to their respective hierarchies, what will be there to guarantee that the chain of command will be respected this time, particularly in each district, with their own specific realities.  If human resources are truly adequate, particularly after being subjected to induction and specialised and intensive training; if coordination at all levels are effective, and if the chain of command produces results as expected, the hope for the Second Maubere Miracle is justified.  

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