[lg policy] Access to Security Information and Language Policy in Timor-Leste

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 22 14:24:13 UTC 2012

Access to Security Information and Language Policy in Timor-Leste

East Timor Legal News 21/06/2012 Source: Fundasaun Mahein, 21 June
2012 Press Release -

 FM’s Voice Number 35 (English Version.pdf) is deeply discuss about
the issue of language in Timor-Leste remains a thorny one. 10 years
have now passed since the restoration of our Independence, yet
Portuguese, one of this country’s official languages set by the
constitution, is still only spoken by a very small minority of people,
most notably the country’s elite. However, TVTL and the government
choose to disclose information and advertisements in Portuguese.

Despite also gaining the status of official language in Timor-Leste,
the previous two governments in 10 years, have failed in translating
all legislation into Tetun, which is the most widely spoken language
in this country. Most legislation is drafted in Portuguese, which
consequently translates into less involvement and input by Timorese in
the legislative process. This renders its implementation harder and
has a potentially high impact onto the lives of people in Timor-Leste.

This report also highlighted that the Portuguese speaking elite in
this country have a strangle hold on the running of affairs in
Timor-Leste and have forced all government workers and civil servants
to operate and handle documents in Portuguese. This explains to a
certain degree the difficulties faced by many in the public sector to
conduct their work effectively. Working in a language one is not
fluent in, when attempting to develop a country is not ideal. Many
public servants spend a large chunk of their time taking Portuguese
lessons, especially in the judicial sector.

We live in a country where very often, Government officials diffuse
information to the public in Portuguese without a clear understanding
of what they are reading. Moreover, draft legislation in Portuguese is
debated and ‘scrutinized’ by parliamentarians who do not understand
the language. As well as limited scrutiny, enforcing solely Portuguese
in state matters, results in the public being restricted in its
ability to provide feedback. Despite this, Portuguese continues to be
solely applied.

Additionally, the elite’s insistence on using Portuguese limits
people’s ability to contribute to political and civil life. People and
most notably this country’s youth find it hard to form opinions and
contribute, which results in a growing sense of frustration. With
already high rates of unemployment, this frustration is made worse,
when many job vacancies request fluency in Portuguese.

This is also a great problem within our security forces. Many within
the PNTL and F-FDTL do not understand their organic laws and other
relevant legislation and this causes quite some trouble when it comes
to their implementation. This also leads to the greater risk of
officers committing crimes.

Within the general population and civil society, additional problems
will result by the insistence on Portuguese. The recent land laws for
example drafted in Portuguese may cause some problems, as many will
not have access to them or will have no idea on their existence. The
language issue also results in less scrutiny by the media, civil
society, student unions and other organizations.

Furthermore, it can be argued that the Lusophone minority violates the
constitution by often referring to Bahasa Indonesia (one of two
working languages along with English recognized by the constitution)
as Malay language and by not attempting to develop Tetun further.

In this election, unfortunately not many people have highlighted this
issue, which Fundasaun Mahein (FM) believes, has a great effect on
people’s lives. FM recommends the upcoming government to undertake the
official translation of all legislation into Tetun, and implement a
whole government system whereby legislation is automatically
officially translated.

FM also recommends that the next government undertake the development
of Tetun with the aid of Timorese linguists. This project would be
closely monitored by the National Parliament and would report to the
President of the Republic. The standardization of Tetun into a modern
language would be a priority and FM would welcome the opening of
Departments of Tetun across the various universities in Timor-Leste.
The government could implement a ‘Tetunisation’ campaign around the
country and this could start by signs being posted in Tetun. Lastly,
FM would welcome a requirement set to all international agencies
operating in Timor-Leste that all their published documents be
translated into Tetun.

Finally, so that FM is not seen as being hostile to Portuguese, we
recommend that if the government is serious on promoting the teaching
of Portuguese to the general population, then it must provide greater
resources to our schools as currently our teachers do not even have
the sufficient amount of textbooks required to teach. At FM, we simply
believe that Tetun should be treated as an equal to Portuguese. The
constitution clearly states two official languages and we hope that
our politicians would respect this. Is it too much to ask that our
government operate in a language understood by most?

ETLJB Note: See also East Timor: Language and The Law on the East
Timor Law Journal


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