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East Timor Minister of Justice, Cárceres Interview Part I: I am here to work, Not just to add Minister’s Position Number Featured

TempoTimor (Dili) - Becoming a public figure and occupying an important cabinet post is the dream of those who involved in Political Parties. Spending energy, time, including certain amount of cash during the period of political campaign may drive certain public figure’s idealism to serve and defend citizens’ interests to shift slightly after occupying political power. Fortunately it does not happen to Manuel Cárceres da Costa.

The former Director of Timor Telecom, who exercised his roles responsibly for nine years in the area of telecommunication, continues to render his service responsibly in accordance with his initial commitment to advocate for his people and nation through the new position entrusted to him by the Alliance of Parliamentary Majority (AMP).

Manuel Cárceres da Costa gained the trust of Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and was supported by the Alliance of Parliamentary Majority as the Minister of Justice of Eight Constitutional Government, and was sworn in on June 22, 2018.

Prior to this process, Cárceres never dreamed to occupy this important position. He considered that his political carrier was over in 2001 with the Constituent Assembly, and he then decided not to be part of any political party. But with the presence of Popular Liberation Party (PLP) attracted his interest to reengage in political activity.

But, his involvement is not with the goal to seek power, on the contrary, his main goal is to bring changes that improve people’s life in the future. He wholeheartedly supports PLP’s activities to accomplish that main objective, without seeking for political position.

His commitment reflects on some of his initial statement in his first meeting with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak as he was nominated to be one of the cabinet members of the Eight Constitutional Government.

“In my personal audience with Mr. Prime Minister, I told him that ‘I come to serve, not to add more numbers to ministerial positions. If you, the Prime Minister sees that I am unqualified and just to add numbers, then it’s better for me to resign immediately’.’’

Below is the Tempo Timor’s (TT) interview conducted with Minister of Justice (MoJ), Manuel Cárceres da Costa about his current position, at his office in Mercado Antigo, Kaikoli, Dili, on Tuesday (09/04).

TT: Mr. Minister, before you run to occupy this position, you used to work  for Timor Telecom, did you have any dream to be Minister of Justice at this present time?

MoJ: Well, thank you for your question. Prior to working for Timor Telecom, I used to work in UNHCR for eight years, during that time I had been learning a lot about international law. Through the UNCHCR, I was able to finish my undergraduate Law degree in UNPAZ. Thereafter, I grabbed an opportunity to take up leadership course on Law in Croasia. On February 2019, I became an adviser for Timor Telecom. After three months, I was appointed as Director of Timor Telecom for nine years. On June 16, 2018, as I was having lunch in a restaurant, I received a phone call from one of my colleague who told me: “the PLP’s president requested your CV. Now we have to meet at Hotel Timor because I would like to get your CV”. I went to meet with Mr. Frey, he then confirmed and I sent him my CV at 3pm. The following Monday morning, approximately at 9 am, AMP decided to offer me the position of Minister of Justice.

I was really surprised, I then reconfirmed with my colleague Frey and I told him not to lie because I have never dreamt of becoming a minister. I had a good job. I have never dreamt of becoming a minister. However, it’s okay, first of all, PLP with the support of coalition parties has entrusted me with this position and I accepted it. I have never dreamt to become a minister because I’m a person that treasures freedom. Working in Timor Telecom was totally flexible, I went to work in and out as I wanted. So from there on, I came to realize that becoming a public figure, my lifestyle will surely change.

On June 16, 2018, I might be the last person who was contacted to be one of the members of the Eight Constitutional Government. After consulting with my own family, everyone told me that it was the time to let go that “total freedom lifestyle” or go beyond my flexibility working for Timor Telecom, and to commit myself to serve our nation, our people and country. Hence, in the evening, I immediately reconfirmed to the President of PLP saying that I accepted the nomination to be the Minister of Justice. As one of PLP’s board member, I accepted the nomination, though it has never come to my mind to be a minister because my political career ended in 2001 in the Constituent Assembly. Since then I had never involved with any political party. Only when PLP was established that I became so passionate with PLP.  In the first Congress of PLP, I was also active in the event, and was entrusted to be Vice President of PLP’s Legal Commission.

As I was entrusted to be the Minister of Justice, I came with a principle that I am here to defend the policy of AMP and to implement AMP’s visions in justice sector and to project the PLP’s image for the future. This is my principle underpinning my decision to accept this hard task. To be a minister is quite hard, because we lose all the freedom. We have to follow specific rules, but it is fine, I assumed this responsibility with my honest intention, as I always told the Prime Minister during our meeting that: “I come to serve, not to add more numbers to ministerial positions. If you, the Prime Minister sees that I am unqualified and just to add numbers, then it’s better for me to resign immediately’’.

Timor Leste does not depend on one person to be Minister of Justice because in Timor there are better people than I. On June 22, I was sworn in as Minister of Justice, on that day I immediately told myself that at any time I can resign as Minister of Justice, because I have this principle that being here to assume this political position, does not mean it is an heritance of my grandparents. The heritance of my grandparents is in Laclo. Regarding this ministerial position, my wife accompanied me in swearing in ceremony at Lahane Noble Palace, after being sworn in I greeted her and told her that at this very moment I can resign from being minister of justice because this position is not an heritance.

We need to have this positive mindset so that we can be flexible in our work. We shall not be worry to resign, we dare to assume any responsibility, as I have the courage to be the minister of justice, I shall also be ready at any time and day when people say: “you are no longer worthy to be a minister”, we must then accept this reality, this is my stance and principle.

TT: Mr. Minister after taking oath on June 22, 2018 up to date, what task is the heaviest in this position?

MoJ: Before going to Lahane Noble Palace, I said a prayer to my late father and mother, telling them both that I thank you both because you knew how to deliver a person to the world, knew how to educate a person to assume the position as a minister. Now, the first challenge that I face, I strive with my best not to shame my family, we people consider that I’m not performing well, it is equal to dishonoring my parent’s dignity, my family’s dignity and my own self. This is a personal challenge.

In regard to political and professional challenges, politic is dynamic, today’s politic is white, tomorrow it can be black. Today is fine while tomorrow is not fine. We are together today but we are separated tomorrow, these are political dynamics. However, I keep telling myself to be aware of that political dynamism. Once politic is white, we too shall be white, and vice versa.

The main obstacle since June 25, 2018 as I head this post is how to change the mindset of our civil servants. In my regular meeting with my directors, I keep telling them that don’t presume that we are smarter than others as we assume this position. There are others who are smarter than us, but it is not yet their luck and opportunity to serve. God has firstly given us the opportunity, therefore when we work in an office, first of all, I remind myself to be humble, do not say that it is only the minister who knows everything, the minister post is only one element of other elements in one ministry to be able to do the work in an office.

My staff in the Ministry of Justice, I told them to be humble. Being a humble person is not to become a slave to anyone, which is not the case. We are humble in order to learn more. If you are arrogant, you think you are the only smart guy, but people around you may laugh at you, because they think this person is idiot, because he is arrogant.

The main obstacle in oneself is our own mentality. Change of mentality is a big challenge as I often tell them, I’m here in a context of making change, the change is painful but it must happen. If we don’t try to change, we will remain in our place. One thing we face in changing to positive mind set is resistance. For those who have been a long time in one directorate, once we try to make change they feel that we are threatening their position, and I always appeal to them that there is nobody who is permanent in a post. Too much time spent in a certain post may create “cancer”, once cancer is caused then other diseases will then appear, and the worst thing is it can damage the system.  

However, I am really happy and I try to be at office always not later than 8:30 AM and when I return home at close to 6 pm I see everyone is no longer here. Therefore, there are various challenges. The challenge of creating and cultivating positive mind set in each of civil servant in this ministry. Other challenge is to teach civil servants to work responsibly and professionally. The most challenge is when I took oath, I promise to abide by the constitution and all laws, as well as to make others comply with the laws.

But, most people don’t comply with our law, some have knowledge of the law but pretend to be ignorant about the law. Therefore we have to work hard so that these people comply with the law. Particularly, regarding the Ministry of Justice, it deals with the justice sector, it does not judge or decide, but enforces the law, this is a major problem. For example, the state should have received more revenues from property leasing, but why do revenues from state property leasing keep decreasing? I keep pushing them, whoever doesn’t comply with the leasing terms, their leasing shall not be renewed, and any person who conducts leasing agreement with the state, uses state property, this person must obey the laws, regardless of who he or she is, because under the law there is no António or Maria who are above the law. Everyone is under the law. So this is big challenge.

Another challenge is public service. I, myself, directly visited to observe the service of Dili Municipal notary office at the National Directorate of Notary which is located next to the Cathedral. When I passed there in my car and saw lots of people queuing, I asked myself are people there queuing to cast their votes, or course not, which is a big challenge. Therefore, I ordered them to quickly decentralize certain responsibilities to municipalities.  

For example, the registration and notary services, the cartography and cadastral registry of land shall be decentralized to municipalities, it doesn’t make any more sense to centralize all these things in Dili. It is better to decentralize those to municipalities. We are the one who serve each other. If people are all put together in Dili we don’t know each other, we don’t know where a person is from. My directors begin to understand my mind set and policy, and I too begin to understand their situations.

We have to improve the public service. We expect that someday, a person doesn’t need to wait, once people arrive, they immediately get what they expect for. However, it depends on our mentality. When people criticize our way of service, it shows they love us. When our citizens don’t critize us, we think that everything is fine. So it is good that people critize, so that we can improve our service delivery. When our citizens criticize us, it shows that they want us to discover our own weaknesses and to improve our service delivery.

TT: Mr. Minister, for all the challenges that you have faced, what steps to be taken in order to have solutions for the challenges?

MoJ: Change is a process. We shall not think that change is like a miracle. Every change requires participation of everyone. Especially, change in the mindset of people is a long process and heavy task. But I shall be in line with my own principle that I come to bring change. When we start to make change, people around you will not be happy. For example, in my initial days of office, most of the directors thought that there would be radical changes. However, I don’t come to make changes in your positions but rather in your ways of working.

If you have become a director above five years in the same directorate, it is better you learn new things in another new environment. It is a way to motivate others. In my early days at office, some journalists have asked me if I might have thought to replace all the directors? I am not a bengkel (car tyre workshop) man, but I come to work with them. I am here to be at their sides, to motivate them and to work with them. I don’t substitute anyone with any wrong person. I am the minister and you remain as the directors. If someday you decide by your own not to head anymore directorate, you can tell me, I surely respect your decision. I respect your own political party. But we have to work professionally in our own tasks.

Because I want the public service, especially the prosecution office to be a functioning state system. State system should not be oriented to any political party. Its orientation is to serve citizens and its state. By this, we function impartially and neutral. Being part of any political party is a fundamental right of everyone, but once we are as civil servants, we should not mix public functioning and political option.

Minister is a politically appointed position. Everyone knows what political party I belong to. I cannot be a minister if I don’t belong to any political party. But once you are civil servants, your politic filliation is only during political campaign period. Now your politic is to serve our state and our citizens. Because the salary is from our citizens. You have to work in accordance with your skill and competency. As minister, I don’t interfere what the directorate does.

As a Minister, I wait for your report. I evaluated you based on your reports. I supervise your work, and I decide. The directors are aware that they won’t step down, as well they won’t go up, because civil servants’ law don’t allow it. The carrier of civil servant is horizontal. I have brought this issue during our Council Minister’s meeting. I said, “if we want to make a true state servant, we have to pay attention to civil servants’ welfare.’’

I give an example, one of my staff here at the Ministry of Justice, has been working here with the Liceu Diploma (Portuguese colonial administration’s Secondary School Certification). He asserted efforts to finish his undergraduate degree. His salary and remuneration are still the same to Liceu graduate? He is unaware that he is currently more capable than the first time he became a civil servant. Some then finished their undergraduate degrees and later on finished their Master degree programs with the support of Human Capital Development Program, as they returned to their office, their salary remains US$ 200. We demotivate people, we don’t value people’s accomplishments. How could a master degree holder earn the same salary as before? It should not be like that. It is a disencouragement to a person to perform well in his or her tasks. He or she can as well says I am a highly skilled employee but I earn as the rest, with that mindset the person may only work for his family welfare, he or she would then tend to work for business oriented, we are the one who creates condition for the person to go into business, accepting briberies etc, it is all because of us.

Civil servants in Timor Leste is a horizontal career. It is not going up. If I want to be up in my level, I need to undergo a selection based on merits. We have 30.000 civil servants. If the vacancy is only for 10.000, it means where are the rest going to? What shall we do to avoid what has been happening? First, we shall improve statutes of civil servants. One of this is to improve welfare. The welfare is improved through salary and quality of providing service. One of my principle, which I told them when came here, is whoever work responsibly he or she has the right to salary because he or she leaves home at 8:00 am, arrives here regularly at 8:30 am and returns home beyond at 5 pm. After returning home, he or she will no longer do any other job. Our life depends on our monthly salary. The state has invested on our citizens to finish different degree courses, after finishing their courses, ultimately the state does not accommodate them. We keep on insisting our civil servants to perform well in their tasks given to them, no, improvement must be made on the civil servant statutes. It is a challenge.

Here I have many civil servants. I have just spoken to one of my directors, he is now 40 years old. His grade level is already seven. The civil servants’ highest level is seven. When you are at your 60 to 70 years old, what are you going to do? You will be stuck, because the system was not created for a person after this stage, hence I told him the last choice is to be part of any political party so that you can be a minister, parliament member or government member. Otherwise, there would be no ways in 20 years to come.

In this ministry, there are a lot of civil servants who have reached their final stages, where else should these people go from this point? Therefore, I have told them that whenever I am still the minister, you remain as the directors. I don’t replace you with anyone else. I don’t want to discourage them. Whatever failure it is, we try to correct and improve to be better, to commit errors is part of human nature, we shall not only blame others, sometime the ones who blame others commit more errors. It’s better to correct and show them a better way in performing their tasks responsibly instead of condemning our coleagues. I think only the court condemns people but from our part we remind each other to improve.

TT: Mr. Minister, could you explain to us how many directorates and how does your structure function?

MoJ: When I came in here, initially there was one General Director and six National Directors, one Office of Inspection and Auditing. But the new organic law which I have presented to the council minister, has been it approved on November 7, 2018, and until now still on the process, sets out three General Directorates. One General Directorate will be called General Directorate for Justice Policy, it will be under this ministry authority. Then, Land and Property, which used to be only a National Directorate, will now be upgraded to General Directorate for Land and Property, it will have three National Directorates under its authority. Another one is notary registry, which was then a National Directorate, will now be upgraded to General Directorate for Notary Registry with its two new National Directorates.  We have had until now a total of 10 National Directorates, including a Procurement Unit which has recently been a department, but now I have upgraded to a National Directorate of Procurement which depends directly on the minister, currently it is still under National Directorate of Administration and Finance, but I said no, procurement must be directly under the minister’s supervision because in the event of any misconduct the one who will be imprisoned is the minister. Any wrongdoings will not implicate the directors, instead the minister who is the last person signing the document. That is why the Procurement must come under direct authority of the minister. Currently, we still have ten National Directorates, one procurement, one Office of Inspection and Auditing, and three General Directorates, and then a Secretariate of Land and Property.  

TT: In regard to the organic law of the ministry which is still in the process, does it affect your works?

MoJ: The new organic law is to adjust to present reality policy. We are now using the Sixth Constitutional Government organic law. The Seventh Constitutional organic law should have not be implemented because the Eight Constitutional Government organic law has already existed in a form of a decree law, no.14/2018 August, which established the Eight Constitutional Government organic law. Because there is no similarity between the Sixth and Eight Constitutional Government organic laws. The organic law serves as a legal instrument to exercise our duties. The new general directorates, which I have just mentioned, are regulated in the new organic law.

At the moment, we use the Sixth Government organic law. The Seventh Government has no organic law because as soon as it was established, the Parliament was then dissolved. Therefore we are using the Sixth Government organic law.

Frankly speaking, I am not fine because I am using an oudated Sixth Government’s organic law therefore I cannot implement the AMP’s policy based on the AMP’s thoughts, this is a major difficulty for us.

As we see, it is close to the mid of April. The first trimestral is now over. The first two month we used duodecimal regime. Starting from the month of February until March we have been using the 2019’s State Budget.

We therefore cannot implement our programs and state budget based on the new organic law. The consequence is on December 31st, I have to return the state’s budget. Once I return the state budget, next year I will have to go back to the Council of Ministers and the Parliament to defend the Ministry’s state budget, I can be questioned because of not being able to execute the allocated state budget by 100%.

That is what I think the heaviest part on my side now. Though some are not aware of. Whether we want it or not, I won’t be able to execute the budgets for new general directorates and new directorates. The allocated budget from January to March can not be spent, as well as budget for the month of April because today is already April 9 (interview date-red). If God helps it to be approved within the month of April, I could only start to implement some programs on May. It means that the past four months’ state budget should be returned to the state treasury.

It is somewhat heavy to me, on my performance evaluation, if people start to ask during these four months, what have you done? This is quite a heavy responsibility, I therefore keep insisting and say to myself, I come here to work not to add more numbers to ministerial posts. If I come just to add more numbers, it is better for me to just work for Timor Telecom, which provides me a better life.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2019 19:17
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