News and views from a week in the Algarve...
At last the first autumn rains have fallen across the Algarve to dampen the parched ground and start to fill the region’s reservoirs.
Albufeira locals will not, however, wish for a repeat of the 2015 November 1st deluge that accumulated in a valley and swept over the inadequate flood defence scheme authorised by former mayor, Desidério Silva - who now is in charge of the region's tourist board.
The cost of the damage to downtown Albufeira was around €25 million with shop contents, vehicles, pavements and other civic infrastructure destroyed or damaged.
Former mayor Silva had gone ahead with his expensive flood defence system without the approval or authorisation of the regional hydrographical board - in fact the board advised against the Silva scheme. The former mayor has yet to make a public statement as to why he took such ill-advised shortcuts.
The team now planning Albufeira’s defence against a repeat of the 2015 flooding at least includes people who have done this type of work before, rather than politicians who think they know better.
The current mayor certainly has not rushed at the job, a year later the new project is still at the planning stage, and if Albufeira again gets hit this year, the damage will be the same - €25 million.
One politician whose interview technique truly must be exceptional is Jorge Moreira da Silva, the former Environment Minister in the right wing Passos Coelho coalition government.
Guilty of pushing through the Ria Formosa island demolitions (with barely disguised glee) and later signing the disastrous oil concession contracts for offshore and onshore drilling in the Algarve, this zealot has just been appointed as the Director-General for Development and Cooperation at the OECD and 'looks forward to returning to actively engaging at international level in environmental protection policies.'
Moreira da Silva has done more than any human being, living or dead, to expose the Algarve to wholly unnecessary environmental threats which should not be the role of any Environment Minister.
The lobbying for Moreira da Silva to get the job - by Paulo Vizeu Pinheiro, the Permanent Representative of Portugal to the OECD - is particularly shameful. Meanwhile the Algarve people have taken up the fight to undo the mess Moreira da Silva has left behind.
With only two days notice, representatives from the anti-oil association ASMAA managed to wangle their way in to the 'Preserving the Marine Environment' seminar and concluded, as there were speakers from both Repsol and ENI and an oil clean up specialist company from Norway, -
“that government is continuing with the oil and gas drilling process as if there are no objections from the general population.”
There alreeady is a 42,000 signature anti-oil petition and overwhelming opposition to oil and gas exploration in the Algarve as people know that the oil companies will not stop at the exploration stage, whatever the government claims is the case.
The onshore concession agreement signed between the government (on our behalves and ‘in the public interest,’) and Portfuel’s Sousa de Cintra broke many of the rules governing applicant suitability.
Jorge Moreira da Silva signed these concession contracts anyway which raises questions as to whether he had been coerced, induced or otherwise incentivised to sign away so much for so little.
Then, there was the insistence by Moreira da Silva that the Ria Formosa communities should be removed by knocking down their houses. This social cleansing operation used a series of increasingly weak excuses to enable the State’s contrators to flatten many homes.
This demolition problem has yet to be resolved. With only 300 houses gone, there remain 500 or so that are under attack with only a few days to go until another 81 are due to be demolished. The clock is ticking.
It turns out, though, that ‘Demolition Man’ Sebastião Teixeira from the Sociedade Polis Litoral Ria Formosa messed up on 20 of these addresses so the number of properties due to be flattened is reducing.
There was an historic meeting last Friday night in Olhão at which the island community representatives spoke to a specially convened council meeting and it unanimously was agreed by the 20 councillors present that the islanders should stay.
Olhão now has joined Faro council in their stance against the government and against the actions of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa. A document already has been sent to all levels of government from the President down, to condemn the demolition programme and insist that the islanders are left alone.
This motion has no overriding legal power but is another demonstration of local feeling as Olhão councillors from all political persuasions agreed that this matter had gone way beyond party politics.
There is a parliamentary debate due to be held, cynically scheduled for the afternoon of the day the next round of demolitions starts, with the ruling socialists facing opposition from those parties that enabled the António Costa government to be formed.
The feeble Environment Minister continues to back Sebastião Teixeira whom he failed to sack when he had the chance.
Events could get combative next week as each representative ended their Friday night speech with “the struggle continues...until the very end.”
Will politics fail, will force be used against protestors next Thursday, or will the government listen to those whose lives they are affecting so deeply in ‘the great injustice’ and call off Teixeira and his fleet of diggers?
Journalist Natasha Donn from the Portugal Resident already is ensconced on the island and will be giving a blow by blow account of this David and Goliath battle for these island homes - including the use by the government of a 200 tonne naval vessel designed to intimidate the locals. This is a link to her first report:
Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the State-owned bank that has been run so badly under various complicit governments, next year needs around €5 billion from the taxpayer so it can ‘recapitalise’ itself. This is a polite way of saying that the taxpayer will be covering the failed and non-performing loans built up through years of negligence and corruption.
It is not helpful that the government recently pushed through a law that unties the relationship between top State employees’ pay and that of the President of the Republic of Portugal.
The first example of this has been the pay package for the bank’s new chief, António Domingues whose €423,000 basic could be topped up by a bonus of up to 50% of his salary. The rest of the new board is being paid “the going rate for bankers,” according to the Finance Ministry.
The Left Bloc is incensed that these State employees are being paid substantial salaries when the bank is owned by the taxpayer, the bank is about to receive a further €5 billion from the taxpayer and a plan to create a national ‘bad bank’ could leave Caixa Geral free of all its bad debts.
These salaries are at private sector rates but being paid to public sector employees whose initial greed in negotiating inflated pay deals shows them already to have their own interests at heart, rather than those of the taxpayer and of the nation.
Over at the Bank of Portugal the whining of its directors, for so long able to cruise along in neutral as bank after bank failed under their inept supervision, has increased in volume as the State Budget for next year includes a performance target - the Treasury wants and will get €450 million out of BoP’s profits or reserves, it doesn’t much matter which.
The squeals are audible and cries of ‘looting’ already are being heard from the Bank of Portugal.
Some relief from the planned ‘sunshine tax’ has been announced with properties with a valor patrimonial tributário of under €250,000 (i.e. most properties in the country) exempt from being charged for their sunny aspects and sea views.
This change is one piece of good sense from a government which nonetheless is determined that owners of high value properties and properties used for short-term lettings, will pay through the nose in the years to come with initiatives such as the €600,000+ property wealth tax which remains in the 2017 draft budget.
The Algarve’s ever-vigilant Communist Party has been complaining that the EN125 roadworks remain on hold and that the plans for various by-passes seem not to have been progressed.
There have been many complaints that the EN125 roadworks scheduled to restart on September 1st are at a standstill, nor has there been any communication from the government as to why it has failed to pay the contractors for work done to date.
It’s a shame the EN125 and the Via do Infante have become politicised with the government using road funding as a political tool to ensure mayoral compliance in other matters.
There should be a regional road budget set and ring-fenced, this would stop this 'on:off' nonsense and consequent years of delay to the detriment of the region and its tourism industry.
Another example of decay and a lack of planned maintenance is the crumbling harbour in Faro where it is plain to see that chunks of wall are missing. What is not so plain to see is that water is seeping under roads, gardens and pavements thus causing dangerous instability.
Docapesca is responsible for these harbour walls and said it would see that everything is repaired but only when a developer is confirmed for the proposed new marina and cafe complex - this could take another ten years.
Docapesca’s attempt to kick its responsibilities into the distant long grass was exposed by local news service Sul Informaçao whose dogged questioning finally produced an amended statement from the dock company that it would schedule the work for 2017 - well done those journalists.
One dock where some repairs now are needed is in Vigo, north-western Spain, where the good ship Boa Esperança, the pride of the Algarve Tourist board’s fleet of one, managed to hit and sink a fixed metal walkway.
The port authority opted to display the results of this ‘mechanical failure’ on YouTube, to the amusement of viewers and no doubt to the embarrassment of the Captain.
A notably larger ship, the Thomson Spirit, ran into difficulties as it tried to dock in Portimão’s silted-up quayside area, managing to get stuck in mid-channel.
This incident again brings up the subject of dredging in the Arade river and elsewhere in the Algarve and highlights the anti-Algarve discrimination that has been a constant theme long before the responsibility for the Algarve’s ports was moved to Sines on the west coast.
The Captain of the Thomson Spirit was taking a gamble by attempting to dock at low tide but his embarrassing experience now will deter other ships’ Captains from risking a stay in Portimão, much to the detriment of the local economy.
Faro council has done something noble and has refused to accept a €2 million cash offer for an African wooden figure currently housed in the municipal museum.
‘Nkisi Nkondi’ clearly is of significance and the council faced the choice of selling this item, gifted to the council in 1917, to a specialist company or keeping the figure and making the most of its new found fame to increase the number of visitors to the museum.
This was a sound choice by the councillors who voted unanimously to keep the Congolese figure - what would you have done - keep it or sell it?
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Until next week
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