News and views from the Algarve…
Few readers will be unaware of the huge fire that last week swept down the hillsides of Monchique, leaving thousands of hectares charred and devastating wildlife and forestry.
The first blaze in Fóia last weekend was officially declared over on Sunday but last Wednesday the fire mysteriously re-ignited at several points just after the last fire truck had rumbled back down the road.
The new blaze moved quicker than the first and it soon reached the Arade river forcing the evacuation of those in four hamlets and guests and staff at the new Pestana-run hotel at the international autodrome.
Over 600 volunteer firefighters, hundreds of vehicles and several aircraft were used in a determined struggle over two days.
Stiff northerly winds, tinder-dry forests and impassable terrain conspired to make this fire the worst the Algarve region has seen since the Tavira fires of 2012.
On Friday evening the welcome news came that the fire had been put out and that, mercifully, no deaths had resulted from the original and subsequent acts of arson.
But who profits from fires?
A report by Transparency International, looking at the huge sums of taxpayers’ cash handed out to firefighting services, stated:
“The money is rushed through and each year, hundreds of millions of euros are spent in fighting fires without the public having clear and transparent information on the destination and the beneficiaries of these funds. Information about the fate of this money is scarce, almost secret, and the scant information that we have is worrying.”
An investigation in Spain that has reached court showed that companies involved in supplying air support to firefighting ground crews had been paying officials for years to rig bids.
Officials involved in Portugal were referred to but not named and the existence of widespread corruption among State employees now is in no doubt.
The Spanish cartel had access to a ‘coordinator of influence’ in Portugal “responsible for running a network of contacts within the institutions of Portugal to ensure everything went smoothly. There are emails that refer to meetings in Portugal to reach pricing agreements.” Who is this person?
Parliament already has demanded some answers and with the Spanish case showing us how the whole scheme works, answers will have to be forthcoming.
Next to be dragged down in this despicably corrupt industry was Major-General Francisco Grave Pereira, the head of Portugal’s National Civil Protection Authority, who was forced to resign and will face charges for ‘failure to act in the public interest.’ This all to do with the Russian ‘Kamov’ helicopters to be used for firefighting and their transfer to the private company Everjets.
Those making money from fires and the firefighting services surely must be the lowest of the low in a country already blighted by endemic State corruption.
The concept of public service for many of those paid by the State seems to be ‘how much is in it for me?’ rather than any thought of using taxpayers’ money in the best interests of the country.
As for the Monchique arsonist waiting for trial in jail, the Portimão judge who remanded him was wise to do as - had the 49-year-old barman been bailed, I suspect by now he would have been lynched.
The António Costa socialist government is adamant that the State-controlled bank Caixa Geral do Depósitos is to be bailed out by the taxpayer - as if we have not done enough for Portugal’s banking sector.
In a deal with Brussels, the €4.6 billion refinancing package will not be classified as ‘State aid,’ but still will have a severe impact on the national accounts.
How then did Moody’s give the deal the thumbs up?
In an unusually supportive statement, the US ratings agency bent over backwards to show the Caixa Geral bailout in a positive light, perhaps only because shutting the bank would cost more, but it is unusual to see such a positive spin from an agency that gives Portugal a ‘junk’ rating.
The government says there will be no sackings at Caixa Geral and the bank has tucked away an incredibly generous €700 million for staff opting to ‘retire’ early.
So, the taxpayer is being asked to fund generous retirement packages for staff and managers of a State-owned bank that has been run so badly it is insolvent. Maybe employees should get the same basic payoffs as if the bank had folded.
Ratings agency Fitch had a more realistic view of Caixa Geral, "Although the funds to recapitalise Caixa Geral come from the State, there is no clarity as to the ultimate impact that this injection will have on the deficit and the targets required by Brussels. What is true is that the recapitalisation will affect the State's financing needs which can lead to an increase in debt," - with this, few disagree… http://www.algarvedailynews.com/news/9750-fitch-raises-concerns-over-caixa-geral-s-refinancing-using-public-money
Portugal’s President opened the new judicial year with a call for the public to view the justice system more seriously and for politicians to treat justice as a priority.
Francisca Van Dunem, the Minister for Justice, has been in her job for nearly a year and has done little, if anything, to sort out the disastrous Citius computerised court and caseload system.
She has opened up courts that had been shut but still lacks the budget to make serious inroads into the mountainous backlog of cases.
If people have to wait years for civil cases to be heard and are stung by ever-rising charges to access justice, many will not be able use a system that is supposed to exist for the benefit of all.
If justice is slow and access is restricted, this is not a fully functioning justice system.
Reading the waffle from those in charge of justice in Portugal is depressing enough, but being told that the public’s attitude must change ‘to make justice a priority’ is arrogant and insulting.
The Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, visited the Portugal stand at the International Tournatur exhibition in Dusseldorf where staff promoted Portugal as a destination for nature tourism.
This sector is tiny, just 2% of our tourism income comes from the nature tourism sector, and attending this exhibition is at least a start to encourage those who eschew sun and sand holidays for the delights of trekking, horse riding, birdwatching and cooler holidays.
Whether this sector is best left to the businesses involved, or whether the tourist board is better equipped to promote nature tourism, remains a subject for debate.
Doughty entrepreneurs providing for off-season tourists have managed to create this market without government aid but would welcome some joined-up thinking and funding if the sector is to grow.
Perhaps Turismo de Portugal would be wise to collaborate with successful nature tourism businesses rather than go it alone.
The Portuguese head of Lloyds bank, António Horta Osório, managed to keep his job after The Sun revealed details of his affair in Singapore with Wendy Piatt.
The Lloyds board backed its man, said the affair was a personal matter and seemed more concerned to confirm that Horta Osório has not fiddled his expenses during his weekend of passion.
As if on cue, The Financial Times then published its list of the ‘Top 30 most influential figures of the City of London’ which included the shamed banker.
Whether a man who can cheat on his wife can be trusted not to cheat on his customers remains a subject of debate in City wine bars.
Horta Osório’s apology, consisting of saying sorry to staff for the adverse publicity his extra-marital activities had caused, generally has not been viewed as a believable expression of his contrition.
Pedro Marques, the Minister for Panning and infrastructure, paid a visit to the Algarve and was asked why the government had not scrapped the Via do Infante motorway tolls in line with António Costa’s promise when he was campaigning to become prime minister.
Marques said the 15% reduction in toll fees was all we are getting, failing to mention that the Via do Infante’s tolls were set at a rate that is 30% higher than on the other formerly free roads.
There is some good news coming on the toll agreements as an investigation has been launched into the whole scheme which will hand around €3 billion of taxpayers’ money to the private sector. There will be more information on this topic in Sunday evening’s news.
The Left Bloc’s associated website, esquerda.net, has laid out the party’s stance on ‘the great oil debate.’
The article notes the poor royalty deal should oil or gas be found and extracted, the low exploration block fees and the fact that any oil or gas pumped ashore will be at market rates so there are no cost savings for the nation’s consumers.
Full of praise for the Algarve’s dedicated activists and groups such as ASMAA, the indefinite postponement of drilling off Aljezur and Faro is noted alongside the overarching point that under the Paris C02 agreement, Portugal should be reducing its dependency on oil while increasing investment and development in renewable energy sources which it is well placed to exploit.
The behaviour of the State, primarily though the fuels authority which seems to be an extension of the oil companies rather than representing our interests, has been little less than shameful.
The ENMC fuels authority has been described rightly as evasive, uncooperative, condescending and arrogant.
To this we may be able to add ‘illegal’ as the ‘cents per barrel’ revenue deal mysteriously has been altered by using a backdated addendum on the concession contracts - as if this would not be spotted and questioned.
The fight continues and activists can expect the use of more of those dark arts so far employed by the State’s organ, but with little effect as many of the organisations opposed to oil development in Portugal have proved to be knowledgeable, adept and street-wise.
The continuing story of AliSuper, its decline and eventual sale of its stores to competitors.
When José Nogueira bought the indebted business for €26 million in 2012, concern was expressed that someone without retail experience had invested such a sum in a business that anyway was shrinking under the weight of Aldi and Lidl’s marketing expertise and price advantages.
Nogueira assured 100 AliSuper staff who had underwritten a €1 million emergency loan in 2007 that this sum now was his responsibility.
Now that an official administrator is winding up the bust business, those guarantors are facing claims that they are unwilling and in many cases unable to fund.
Growers of oranges and other fine citrus fruits in the Algarve are fed up with having their trees stripped bare as soon as their backs are turned.
Stolen oranges used to end up being sold by roadside vendors and in the region’s cafes and restaurants but this now has become big business with highly organised gangs feeding stolen stock into the wholesale distribution system.
With an estimated €3 million worth of stock lifted this year alone, this sort of crime needs to be policed and stopped as it is hard enough to make a living growing fruit without it being pinched just as it ripens.
Smokers are subject to all sorts of grim on-packet warnings and restrictions on where they can enjoy a puff.
Many users have managed to switch to electronic cigarettes but the proposed legislation covering cigarette advertising and consumption has been extended to e-cigarettes seemingly without much thought at all.
If Portugal’s health department wants people to give up fags and if puffing vapour is the way forward, such blanket restrictions are hardly helpful.
One MP, Isabel Moreira, hopes the proposed legislation "never sees the light of day."
The Golden Visa corruption case, yet another one that is waiting for formal charges to be brought and a trial date set, was reported in the nation’s press - so comprehensively in fact that 11 journalists have been charged with ‘violation of judicial secrecy’.
There seems to have been no explanation as to where this leaked information came from but if the State Prosecutor wants to waste our money by taking the gentlemen of the press to court, rather than those in positions of responsibility who were involved in active and passive corruption, improper receipt of benefit, embezzlement, abuse of power and influence peddling, then so be it.
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and finally, from The Portugal Resident, for those imagining that the old BES has been wound up, think again:
Until next week
P.S. thanks to those readers concerned that the newsletter service suffered interruptions over the past two weeks.
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