COVID-19 Op-ed

The Curious Case of Subsided Subsidies: Failed Political Promises in the midst of COVID-19 in Timor-Leste

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Celso da FonsecaStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, some countries have implemented
subsidies for their citizens. Economic assistance from the state have helped
combat both negative health and economic consequences of COVID-19 on the
marginalised. Various policies have been made to respond to the needs of the
citizens, such as economic and social packages, direct aid packages, reducing
tax costs.Even before Covid-19 struck Timor-Leste, poor people and
communities working in the small business sector and non-formal jobs have
already been struggling to gain profit and provide for basic needs. This
health crisis had left the vulnerable and marginalized with little chances
for survivalIn response to this, in March 2020, the Timor Leste government
had promised to grant subsidies, but on a $15 electricity fund for every
household was provided.  Others have yet to be given out. For instance,
members of the National Parliament declared deducting their salaries by 50%,
so as to spirce funds for the salaries of staff who work at the frontlines
(doctors, nurses, police, and all the COVID-19 prevention teams on the
field). GMN (April 4, 2020). Similarly, on 8 April 2020, at a council
ministry meeting, the government promised to provide a subsidy of $100 for
all citizens – an “economic package” to help citizens during the “state
emergency” due to COVID-19 prevention. GMNTV (Apr 8, 2020).When the subsidized
program was publicly announced by the government, some actions were
immediately taken by some Timorese communities. For example, in Dili, members
of a community went to the sub-district office to arrange for a family member
card as proof of family identification to access social assistance subsidies
(GMNTV, 10 April 2020.) The hope of getting subsidized, however, is not
realized. On 16 April 2020, the subsidy which was promised was rejected.
(Timor Post News, 16 April 2020).The refusal of subsidies sparked a negative
response from the public. Critics, for instance, argued on social
media:The member of parliament have no heart, and this COVID-19
situation has been used to gain an advantage
 getting 500,000” (Anonymous, 21
April 2020)Getting monthly salary, pension fund, travel much time
abroad, do those are not enough? This bitter situation, you have stolen the
money of the citizens. (
Anonymous, 21April 2020).You,
parliament member, look at the poor people. They need a subsidy to
. (Anonymous, 21 April 2020)The government has funds to
allocate for the COVID-19 outbreaks, yet the promised funds for subsidies
turned out to be a fluke. This is happening during a situation when people
are hungry, and there is no income to cover their needs. This situation can
trigger anger, annoyance, and criticism of the public to the government and
parliament.Money politics has been labeled towards the member of parliament
and the government in Timor-Leste. All promises that have been made turned
into public hatred. Because the community assistance policy (subsidy) is an
empty political promise for the benefit of the parliament, rather than for
the benefit of the community. Poor people, vulnerable, and marginalized
people really need the money to survive the State of Emergency brought about
by Covid-19. This situation requires the government to set aside politics,
and step up to focus greatly on the economic and social health of everyone
living in the country.References:Social
Media: Anonymous (21 April 2020)GMN (April 4, 2020): PN husu koa salariu
Deputadu-ho membru Governu apoia pasiente iha ospital:  <>
Accessed on 21 April    2020GMNTV (Apr 8, 2020) Governu Sei Fo
Subsidiu Ba Kada Familia Ho Dolares Amerikanu 100 <>
Accessed on 21 April 2020GMNTV (Apr 10, 2020) (Autoridade Suku Fatuhada no
Comoro halo ona Atualizasaun Dadus    uma kain. <>Accessed
on 21April 2020

Tatoli (April,
21, 2020): Konstitusaun obriga PN Fiskaliza Ezekusaun Fundu COVID-19  <>
Accessed on 15 April 2020

Timor Post News (16 April, 2020): Governo
Rejeita Subsidiu 100 ba kada familia.

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