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International Relations

Resilience Pays Off

His Excellency Agio Pereira was a student when he heard the call to serve

Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers, H. E. Agio Pereira

H. E. Agio Pereira is the Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers. A musician by training and career public servant, he is committed to a democratic Timor-Leste, reminding himself of the Buddhist saying in his office, “Too pure water has no fish – the courage to be imperfect is our greatest lesson.”

Timor-Leste is one of the youngest countries in the world. How have you seen Timor-Leste change over the years?

It’s been very special for me to watch. It was a war that lasted a quarter of a century. When I was in Lisbon,I was a young man and Indonesia had invaded East Timor from the border. People came together and told us to fight for our country. It took a whole lifetime. I made it back in July 1999 – after 25 years in exile. It was my country, but I could not recognize it.

How do you think Timor-Leste has progressed from a UN-administered territory to its own country?

Our people voted to determine our future. We decided on a liberal democracy. We wanted a liberal constitution.

You have previously said, “If you want peace, forget justice.” What did you mean by that?

It’s strategic. Justice is fairness. For us, it’s better to forgive. We’re in a David vs.Goliath sit- uation. This is a strategy. When the Prime Minister spoke to a group of veterans,he said, “‘From today onwards,there are no more traitors and heroes. We need people who can transform ideas into realities to benefit our nation and heroes.’”

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Timor-Leste?

Managing expectations. The ultimate responsibility of the leaders is to manage expectations.The expectations of the people are very high. None of us were ever in the government. Liberal democracy can become very nasty. Like Frank Sinatra, (we’re) doing it our way.

Poverty reduction is something to which you have devoted so much of your life. You were behind the campaign to bring electricity to the remotest parts of the world. What else needs to be done to further improve the livelihoods of the poor?

There is no shortcut. We need to build institutions of the state. We have to do it together.

When you were a student, you studied music. When you were a young man, what made you switch to a life in public service?

My conscience forced me into it.When I was young, I was very ignorant of politics. When people spoke of the revolution,I didn’t understand. But, I understood that unless we stand up we may lose our country and identity forever. It was a long struggle. We understood that if we don’t fight for the country, then who will? We may die, but we’ll die standing. We must keep going. In the end, we won. We won.

What do you think is Timor-Leste’s contribution to global affairs?

We have so much to offer in terms of post-conflict war rebuilding.

What do you want the international community to know about Timor-Leste?

I want the international community to know about the resilience of our people and our commitment to peace–it’s enduring and very profound. We want the world to know we have a determination to succeed at all costs.


Goodbye Conflict, Welcome Development