Dili, March 8, 2011 — Five members of the U.S. Congress, representing the House Democracy Partnership (HDP), recently visited the Timor-Leste National Parliamentary Library and met with community leaders east of Dili in a continued effort to strengthen the independence, responsiveness and effectiveness of the country’s ten year-old legislature. After two days of intense discussion, a common theme emerged: good governance is built from communication.
The high-level visit culminated in a signing ceremony to mark the official start of a new project in the National Parliament to establish reliable internet and provide safeguards to service, which is now frequently cut.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about many problems, but I realized that we are still lucky, because we have friends like you, that would always support us, to build this new country,” said President of the National Parliament, Fernando Lasama addressing the Congressional members.
Congressman David Dreier, Chairman of the HDP, explained that HDP was formed in the spirit of seeking mutually-beneficial ‘partnerships’ and not one-way ‘assistance.’ Congressman Dreier, from California, was accompanied by fellow Congressmen Mr. David Price, from North Carolina, Ms. Lois Capps, Mr. Sam Farr, (both also from California), and Mr. Jim McDermott, from Washington state.
HDP’s renewed support builds on previous requests for assistance from the National Parliament. In 2009, with funding from HDP, USAID, and The Asia Foundation helped establish the Parliamentary Research Center (PRC). Today, the PRC is operated and fully managed internally by the National Parliament.
The Congressional delegation, traveling from the nation’s capital, Dili, to the district of Manatuto, accompanied by the honorable members of the National Parliament, Vice President Ms. Maria Paxão, President of Commission C Mr. Manuel Tilman, and Mr. Rui Menezes, visited the suco council, the next tier of nationally elected representatives.
During the face-to-face consultations between suco and National Parliament members, the two representative bodies shared concerns on local and national development issues. While such meetings happen infrequently, there are signs this will change. Ten days before the Congressional delegation’s visit, 59 suco councils gathered to establish the Baucau Suco Association.
With support from The Asia Foundation and USAID, in addition to the suco association in Baucau, another three associations will soon be formed in other districts. Some suco associations may follow these examples, independently, without of any additional assistance. Recently representatives of suco councils in Dili District, which holds the nation’s capital, have announced they are form an association as earlier as the end of March. In fact, within the next two years, suco chiefs say they seek to create a national body to represent themselves.
Summing up the importance of the United States’ development assistance and the U.S. Congress’s engagement with Timor-Leste’s representatives and legislators, President Lasama said during the ceremony to mark their cooperation, “The MPs are optimistic with our works, but if we were alone I think the situation would be very difficult.” His words underline the critical role of partnership as catalysts for change – partnerships built through communication.