Success in fighting corruption shouldn’t just be seen from the quantity of public meetings, conferences or how many people have been convicted. Instead, success should be judged by whether we have a society with a strong mentality to reject corrupt practices in the work place and in daily life.
Success of a three-pronged approach
The first point to make is that although the investigation of corrupt practices is very important, it is not enough and insufficient to eradicate corruption in Timor-Leste. Many studies show that only a combination of strategies can make a difference.
In 2011, Comissão Anti-Corrupção (CAC) carried out a survey on people’s perceptions about corruption which showed us that many people don’t yet know the definition of corruption. There needs to be a focus not just on prevention and criminal investigation, but also on educating the public.
So we decided in formulating the CAC strategic plan to define two further areas of responsibility: education and research. We know the importance of knowledge through education but also the importance of calling upon people’s conscience to understand that corruption is dangerous to national development. With a strong society comes a strong sense of rejection of corruption.
Our view for the way forward was to have a ‘three-pronged approach’ of prevention, education and investigations that would give us the best success in fighting corruption in Timor-Leste. Look at these examples:
From an education perspective, CAC has implemented programs that provide information to schools from primary education up to university levels across the country. We’re calling upon young people to develop an awareness through seminars of the danger of corruption and its impact on social life and the development of our country.
From a prevention perspective, CAC implements its activities in collaboration with line ministries. To us, collaboration is very important because even though CAC can investigate undesirable conduct, we cannot modify the system of government. CAC alone will not solve any problems within the public service. We will work closely with many departments, including Foreign Affairs, Health, Agriculture, Tourism and the National Directorate of Taxation and Customs in the Ministry of Finance.
And from an investigations perspective, we are coordinating with other government institutions while training with experienced investigators in order to see more cases come before the courts.
But these activities have not yet reached their maximum impact. We know there is much more to do to develop a strong society and CAC as a strong institution. With the platform we have already put in place for fighting corruption, we are confident we can meet the needs of future generations.
CAC always takes a positive perspective so we consider the low public perception of corruption as incentive for staff to work harder. So let’s look at the reality of what CAC is facing here and now in the present and consider four challenges: institutional strengthening, political will for further anti-corruption legislation, the investigations process and the role of the public.
To implement the “three pronged approach” mission, CAC needed to establish a strong internal administration system. As a new institution, establishing and fortifying internal administration is an important priority. To do so, CAC has conducted regular trainings for staff in order to improve its work effectiveness.
We have recognized we need to improve our criminal investigations work and other areas which are still weak and need to be modified. This is of course a normal process for a young institution that has only just been established.
Courses have included a post-graduate certificate course at Hong Kong University, support by the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, as well as auditing and investigative courses held in Indonesia and Korea.
But the work investigators carry out needs to be supported by the public and the government. From the public, it may seem useful to complain about corruption and pressure state institutions to get attention, but in terms of a criminal investigative process it instead offers suspects the opportunity to hide evidence that may be needed by CAC investigators.
We have confidential systems in place to receive complaints, and so we ask the public to use these available resources.
Likewise, our education and prevention programs will be more successful when people are open to change and see the benefits of improving the prosperity of the country through eradicating corruption.
Another challenge we face is that we need Timor-Leste to expand its range of anti-corruption laws to include asset recovery, asset forfeiture, whistle-blower protection and a general anti-corruption law.
Although Timor-Leste has some articles in penal code that could apply to corrupt practices, there is a specific draft anti-corruption law that has been presented by the Minister of Public to the National Parliament. We are calling on members of Parliament to make this draft law a priority to be debated and adopted as early as possible.
In addition, there are no current laws to regulate asset declarations – a law that would be very useful in helping CAC’s work in prevention and criminal investigations. We are also asking the government to think about the best mechanisms to protect witnesses so it encourages more people to come forward and assist in the investigation process.
Regardless of political persuasions, what CAC requires from our elected representatives and the government to show strong political will to deliver a clear vision and clear strategy to fight corruption in Timor-Leste and support CAC.
We do know that there have been criticisms of CAC, but what we do ask is patience in letting CAC grow as an institution so we can meet the high expectations of the community. As an institution, we are here to stay and play a part in changing the way society views corruption.
Experiences from other anti-corruption agencies in our region, such as CPIB (Corruption Practices Investigation Bureau) of Singapore that was established in 64 years ago, shows the fight against corruptions will always continue. They are doing the same job now as they did decades ago.
The fight against corruption is permanent, no matter if there’s a change of government with the potential for different political parties to be in power every five years through a general election. Change has to happen from generation to generation.
By everyone putting energy together with the clear strategy that CAC has, we can eradicate corruption in our beloved country. We can realize our joint dreams of Timor-Leste as an independent country with its citizens living in prosperity. In the past we fought for freedom from oppression, now we must fight for freedom from corruption.(*)