FRETILIN exposes wholesale land giveaway by Agriculture Minister

FRENTE REVOLUCIONÁRIA DO TIMOR-LESTE INDEPENDENTE

FRETILIN

Media Release

May 29, 2008

The Deputy Leader of FRETILIN, Francisco Miranda Branco, on Tuesday
(27 May) called on the de-facto Minister for Agriculture and
Fisheries, Mariano Sabino, to release all details of a deal he signed
with Indonesian company GTLeste Biotech to give away 100,000 hectares
of agricultural land for sugarcane cultivation and to build a sugar
and ethanol processing plant. FRETILIN is the largest party in
Timor-Leste’s National Parliament.

The deal gives exclusive rights to GTLeste Biotech to grow and process
sugarcane and to sell and export sugar and ethanol in and from
Timor-Leste for a period of 50 years, with an option for a further 50
years. Timor Leste has an estimated arable land area of 400,000
hectares, so the GTLeste Biotech deal alienates 25% of the arable land
to biofuel production.

Branco and others criticized the deal as being non-transparent and not
in the national interest, because one company has been given exclusive
rights to an industry and land for 100 years without other potential
bidders having had the opportunity, and because of its impact on food
security.

“To keep the deal so secretive violates every principle of good
governance and the public interest, not to mention the national
interest,” said Branco.

But it is not the only deal which has been questioned in parliament.
Last month, the President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Mario
Carrascalao MP, queried a deal allegedly signed by the same Minister
for 200,000 hectares to plant rubber trees, in addition to the GTLeste
Biotech deal.

“We share Mr Carrascalao’s concerns. But because we were unable to
obtain a copy of the agreements from the government, we have been
unable to scrutinize the benefits and value of the agreements. Now
that we have a copy of the agreement, it is clear why the minister and
the government have kept the agreement away from public scrutiny,”
explained Branco.

“Given our alarm at the GTLeste Biotech, we are extremely anxious
about what is in the agreement to give 200,000 hectares for rubber
tree planting. It has been even more secretive. No substantial details
have yet been made available to either the parliament or civil
society, despite requests. There is no transparency in how the de
facto government deals with these questions,” stressed Branco.

“FRETILIN contends that if the second agreement does give away 200,000
hectares to a foreign company, then this minister has given away
nearly five percent (5%) of our total land mass in less than his first
year as Minister without any opportunity whatsoever for public
scrutiny of these deals.

“At this rate, if this minister remains in his post for a full five
years, he could well give away close to half of the country to foreign
interests. During the election campaign we warned that this minister’s
party, the Democratic Party, favored too much the access by large
foreign investors to Timor-Leste. It seems we were very right,
unfortunately,” added Branco.

“The Prime Minister announced his intention to establish an anti
corruption commission. If that ever gets up and running, this deal
with GTLeste Biotech would be among the first matters it would have to
investigate. FRETILIN is considering requesting the Ombudsman for
Human Rights and Justice, the constitutionally mandated
anti-corruption watchdog, to investigate this deal,” said Branco in
closing.

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