David M. Russell

The buck stops where, Mr President?

In Commentary on July 28, 2009 at 4:05 am

East Timor President, Jose Ramos Horta, seems like a lovely bloke. A real nice guy. It’s great to see he has recovered well from getting shot in the chest some 18 months ago by a bunch of would-be assassins although there may be some doubt as to whether the bullet affected his mental faculties.

You see, President Horta now appears mystified as to what happened to some $3 billion in foreign aid money donated to East Timor in recent years. Which is a real shame because that’s an awful lot of money for a tiny nation perched just outside Australia’s northern border. The Prez acknowledges that the money never made its way to his impoverished nation’s villages. “Either we, the East Timorese are the dumbest people in the world, or they send us the dumbest people in the world to teach our people. Because no-one can explain how so much money allegedly provided, has gone.”

Did you notice something there? Prez has bitten not only the hands that feed his country but – for good measure – the hands of those who were supposed to be fed. But the leadership escapes entirely unscathed. Funny that.

Dr Horta, a clever man himself, doesn’t know where the money went: “I never saw this money”. He suspects it all went on reports: “We have been psychoanalysed from every angle. They say it has been spent on ‘capacity-building’ but if that money was really used for capacity-building, every Timorese would have a PhD by now.” Funny, also, that Dr Horta got one but everyone else missed out again.

Perhaps the President should be advised that leadership is not just the ability to take decision but to accept responsibility. His spin doctoring on this issue sounds more like an audition for the role of Pontius Pilate. The fact that hundreds of thousands of impoverished citizens were denied badly-needed aid – whether by criminal intent or pathetic maladministration – is hardly an excuse for cheap wisecracks. It is even less of a reason for Australia and other countries to take Dr Horta seriously when he now asks for new foreign aid policies and better trade deals. Give us some meaningful answers before we put our hands into our pockets again, Mr President.

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