President Praises Mr. Fernando Ferreira
A certain Mr. Chris Ray writing in the Australia (17 October 2009), (Doubts Cling to Dili deal”, alleges that then Prime Minister Mr. Jose Ramos-Horta (2006-2007) favored an Australia businessman, Mr. Fernando Ferreira and his company Wideform, in granting them a long term lease of a prime land in central Dil
President JOSE RAMOS-HORTA comments:
As Prime Minister (July 2006 – May 2007) during the most critical period in our country’s young history, I did my very best to pacify and stabilize the country, restore people’s faith in the Government, while the same time, trying to improve investment environment. I pushed for timely decisions by the government on business registration, streamlining procurement procedures, fast track decisions on leasing land to suitable investors, national and international.
As soon as I took office as Prime Minister in July 2006, I asked the World Bank and the IMF to assist in simplifying our procurement procedures, business registration, and work on a whole new tax law that would make Timor-Leste more attractive for foreign investors. In 2006, Timor-Leste was embarrassingly way down, just one point above the Democratic Republic of Congo in the World Bank annual report on “Doing Business” around the world. We have gone up many points according to the Bank’s 2010 report.
The then government’s reputation with business was not a favorable one. It was known as not credit worthy as it would not pay its bills.
There were millions of dollars due to business. For instance To Timor Telecom alone it owed US$1 million. The then Prime Minister, Dr M. Alkatiri was conscious of this and appealed to cabinet members to pay up their bills. Yet when I took office as Prime Minister, we were deluged with unpaid bills to the private sector, national and international.
I have known Mr. Fernando Ferreira for over 20 years. His story is not different from the many young men and women who left their native countries, Portugal, Greece, Italy Lebanon, China, etc in search of a better life elsewhere. Mr. Ferreira arrived in Australia from Portugal in the 70’s with very little cash in his pocket and began work as a bricklayer.
Today Australia Business Review ranks his Wideform group of companies among the 300 largest companies in Australia
In 2008 Mr. Ferreira was honored by the President of Portugal as “Entrepreneur of the Year”. In 1989 he was awarded with the prestigious “Ordem de Merito”, equivalent to a knighthood, and carries the little “Comendador” or “Sir”.
Mr. Fernando Ferreira’s relationship with Timor-Leste dates back 20 years when we first met. I understand that Mr. Chris Ray might never heard of Mr. Ferreira then. Back then who really cared about the plight of the East Timorese? Very few people in Australia cared about our struggle. In fairness, newspapers like The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, TV networks like SBS and ABC, did cover from time to time and I am grateful to them for this.
Mr. Fernando Ferreira, a very humble and discrete gentleman, tried to help in different ways, for instance, paying for my travels to Europe and the US in the early 90’s to undertake my diplomatic work. In 1996-97 I asked and Mr. Ferreira paid out tens of thousands of dollars to print and distribute worldwide graphic pictures of torture that had been smuggled out of the country.
What impressed me most then was that Mr. Fernando Ferreira never wanted any public recognition. He kept on supporting our struggle, even though he personally did not believe that we stood a chance to reverse Indonesia’s occupation of Timor-Leste. But for him, in his own words then to me, “for me the issue is not whether I believe you will get rid of the Indonesians. They are far too powerful. But this is an issue of justice, fairness and anyone with a conscience must try to help”.
On 30th August 2009 I honored Mr. Ferreira and several other businessmen, Timorese and non-Timorese, not so much for their success as businessmen, but for their integrity and for showing a heart.
Mr. Fernando Ferreira and Mrs. Estela Ferreira have been generous sponsors of numerous Church projects in Timor-Leste, working closely with Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baukau, and Fr. Jojo who looks after 100 orphans in Baguia, and street children in Dili.
Mr. Fernando Ferreira and his Wideform group came to Timor-Leste in 2006 not because they saw a major business opportunity in my country. Who would? They came because I pleaded with them to come and help. Through me, via way, of my contacts in the region, I try to bring investors to Timor-Leste. Few are here because they trust me, in my leadership.
To conclude, if Mr. Ray had cared to read our laws and regulations, he would know that the Law does not require any public tender for purposes of granting leases to national and foreign investors. This is done based on individual expressions of interest, on the Government discretionary privilege. There was never a single case from 2000 on, under the United Nations, the Government led by Mr. Mari Bin Amude Alkatiri, or the current, of a land lease signed off on the basis of public tender.
I did put pressure on the then Minister of Justice to expedite the process. As today I put pressure on current Government to fast- track decisions on investment. Unfortunately, even though our tax regime is now one of the most attractive in the world, second only to Hong Kong, it still takes far too long for a business to register.
Potential investors are still given a hectic run around by officials. Investors have to arm themselves with endless patience. However, overall, Government budget execution has improved quite significantly, business confidence improved, with hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments pouring into the country, including a US$.300 million 5-star hotel project from Malaysia.
If Mr. Ray had contacted me (he did not) I would have explained all the above. He would have met Mr. and Mrs. Ferreira and would have been touched by their great heart and compassion. But it seems Mr. Ray was more interested in doing yet another political service for his former employers. END.