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A Strengthening Friendship

U.S. Congress & Timor-Leste Parliament Set Up Exchange

Members of the House Democracy Partnership visiting Timor-Leste in 2011. Members of the House Democracy Partnership visiting Timor-Leste in 2011.

DILI/WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ask sitting Congressmen to share their opinions of Timor-Leste after recently meeting parliamentary and civil society leaders, and these are their responses:

“We all have a place in our hearts for Timor-Leste,” Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) said.

“I was impressed,”said Rep.Sam Farr (DCA).

“It’s a beautiful place. I saw a people and a country getting a foothold,” observed Rep. David Dreier (R-CA).

In a critical region of the world, Timor-Leste has emerged as an important country to the U.S.for its nascent democracy; and, with every passing year, the relationship has strengthened.

One symbol of the mutual commitment is the House Democracy Partnership (HDP).The Partnership is a bipartisan Congressional initiative that sets aside funding and provides institutional support for partner legislatures overseas, including Timor-Leste. The current commission has 20 members,10 Republicans and 9 Democrats with one vacant seat. Rep. Dreier is chairman and Rep. Price is the ranking Democratic member.

Timor-Leste was selected to join the program in 2005, the same year the initiative started. For Timor-Leste,that support has translated into creating a new parliamentary research service,integrating information technology into parliamentary operations and encouraging greater governmental oversight andefficiency.Othercountriesthatarepartof the program include Kenya, Liberia and Indonesia.

“We all have a place in our hearts for Timor-Leste.” David PriceU.S. House of Representatives (D-N.C.)

Since the partnership with Timor-Leste began, three Congressional and seven staff visits between the two countries have taken place.

During one session, for example, Congressional staffers shared best outreach practices with Timorese parliamentarians.

The idea of Congressional members assisting in the technical development of young democracies, is not novel. HDP is the indirect successor to the Frost-Solomon Task Force, which assisted the parliaments of 10 new democracies including Poland,the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia and Ukraine during the early to mid 1990s.

The current initiative in Timor-Leste works through USAID and the Asia Foundation to provide technical and material support to partner parliaments on a person-to-person basis in areas including defense oversight, constitutional services, procedure and information services.

Rep. Jim McDermott (l) and Rep. David Price visit with a mother and her new baby at a USAID-supported clinic in Manatutu. Rep. Jim McDermott (l) and Rep. David Price visit with a mother and her new baby at a USAID-supported clinic in Manatutu.

In February 2011, Rep. Dreier led a delegation of five members to Dili to meet and engage with parliamentary members. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (DWA) also were part of the group.

The delegation spent much of its time in Dili, but congressional members also visited USAID-funded programs in other cities. In 2010, retired staff from the Congressional Research Service met in Dili with staff of the Timorese National Parliament to discuss improvements in legislative research and analysis. In July 2009,a congressional delegation spent three days in Timor-Leste to discuss independent research in the policymaking process and the value of committee operations.

In 2008, the exchange went the other way: Parliamentarians from Dili traveled to the U.S.for legislative strengthening seminars. Over the years,there have been nine training seminars held for parliamentarians in Washington, D.C.

Rep. David Dreier (r) seated next to President of the Timorese National Parliament Fernando Araujo. Rep. David Dreier (r) seated next to President of the Timorese National Parliament Fernando Araújo.

“I felt a great deal of empathy and receptivity to us,”Price said of his recent visit.

Rep. Farr, said the partnership between Timor-Leste and the U.S. is ideal and allows for capacity building and civil society development.

“I’ve described the House Democracy Partnership as the Peace Corps committee of Congress,” said HDP member Rep. Farr. “This is constructive and was something that was needed.”

The bilateral relationship has deepened because of the partnership and will continue to do so in the coming years. Representatives said supporting emerging democracies is essential and worthwhile.

“Let’s just juxtapose this to what happened 235 years ago in America,”Dreier said. “I’ve interacted with different parliamentarians, and they are going through the process of getting the country moving. Democracy is a work in progress.We have experience and want to share it.”

For more information on the House Democracy Partnership, go to: http://hdac.house.gov/.

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