A week of news and views from the Algarve...
The remains of the Roman city of Balsa lie not far under the ground near Luz da Tavira in the eastern Algarve. This must be the most important known site in Portugal that has yet to be excavated. The land covering Balsa is privately owned and the Roman city’s remains have suffered for years from invasive agricultural activities with nothing much being done to protect the area.
The uncooperative landowner made a big mistake by leasing a large area to the Spanish fruit company Surexport Cia. Agricola, S.L.which, without all the necessary licences but with plenty of weak excuses from company manager Ignacio Márquez, started to build greenhouses and put down irrigation systems to the inevitable detriment of what lay below.
A complaint from one local expatriate set in motion a series of events which finally saw this intrusive work halted by the CCDR-Algarve but the company later was allowed to restart its construction work as it was deemed to be outside the current protection zone.
Finally, Alexandra Gonçalves from the Algarve’s Cultural Directorate has stated that she is proposing to the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage that the whole site be protected and that Balsa is covered by an enlarged Special Protection Zone.
How this important site has avoided classification and protection until now remains a mystery. If the Algarve and the government are serious about heritage (debatable with the current leasing programme for many historic buildings in the Revive programme) and about diversifying sources of non-traditional tourism revenue, then having the remains of a large Roman city still to be excavated would seem to be an exceptional opportunity. Pompeii receives 3 million visitors a year, many of whom arrive on cruise ships. Is there a chance here for some creative thinking?
Laying the symbolic foundation stone for a new sewage plant was but one of the Secretary of State for the Environment’s tasks last week but sewage is a subject in which Carlos Manuel Martins is deeply immersed.
The new Olhão-Faro treatment plant, located noticeably nearer Olhão than Faro, in reality is a state-of-the art facility at which the company Acciona Agua will use something called Nereda® technology to reduce significantly the energy used and to cater for variable flow rates between winter and summer seasons.
Carlos Manuel Martins has relevant experience as he once ran Águas do Algarve and a similar sewage plant in the north where the residual water was used by the local IKEA store in its heating and cooling processes.
While spending €22 million on the Olhão-Faro facility, no plans have been made to use the residual, post-process water for agriculture.
This waste water will contain chemicals and nutrients which will continue to be pumped into the Ria Formosa which, even though a natural area of great importance, would be better off without this nutritious mix which speeds up weed growth and depletes oxygen levels.
Martins mused that the waste water could be used at the new IKEA site between Loulé and Faro but there are no plans to do anything other than dump this useful liquid asset into the Ria Formosa while local agriculture continues to use reservoir and borehole water for thirsty citrus and red fruit crops. Surely this is an opportunity missed.
A low-running cost super-plant that sells its waste water could have lowered local water and sewage bills, but where’s the profit in that?
Over to Brussels where the Portuguese former European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, has been cleared of doing anything wrong by joining Goldman Sachs as the highly-paid non-executive Chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
The Commission’s ethics committee did state that Barroso "had not demonstrated the insight that can be expected from someone who held the position that he held for so many years."
So, Barroso can keep his retirement pay and benefits and his new salary but not a shred of respect or dignity.
The committee stated that Barroso knew his appointment would come under sharp criticism and inevitably would cause damage to the reputation of the European Commission and to the European Union generally. Barroso claimed he knew "very well what are my responsibilities to the European institutions and, of course, will commit to act with integrity and reserve."
If Goldman Sachs’ reputation could sink any lower, it would have. Meanwhile, Barroso’s pocket-filling self-interest is being mirrored by many of Portugal’s business and political elite.
Which brings us to multi-millionaire António Domingues, the new head of Caixa Geral de Depósitos, whose negotiated salary increase and 50% bonus opportunity simply is not enough for him to settle in and get this State-owned bank back on track.
Domingues and his fellow, highly-paid directors refuse to submit their tax declarations to scrutiny, as every director must in any business where the taxpayer is a significant shareholder.
This transparency requirement has been in place since 1985 whereby those running companies owned by or controlled by the State submit their tax returns so that the public can be assured that self-interest and conflict of interests are spotted.
There also is an analysis of assets on taking up the job and on leaving. This is to check that there has been no unaccountable increase in wealth.
Domingues and his board have shown they are unsuited to be directors of this State bank. Caixa Geral is not there for the directors’ convenience and they should resign.
Yesterday’s announcement by the President of the Republic of Portugal that these directors must submit their tax returns should be enough to warn us that, even if these men eventually bow down to the pressure being exerted, they are not fit to run a bank where transparency and honesty are but two of the more obvious requirements.
The proverbial has hit the fan in Vila Real de Santo António after the Loulé Court ruled that various buildings and developments were granted planning permission in contravention of planning laws.
The current mayor blames the last mayor, António Murta, and Murta's wife who conveniently held the job of head of planning at the council and should have known what she was doing.
The row between the current and former mayor has descended into a slanging match in the local press but it is unlikely that expensive villas at Monte Rei Golf and Country Club will have to be demolished as these planning matters have a way of quietly being resolved, usually by changes to the council master plan.
Other properties may have to go, such as those at Lota beach, but the better-off are likely not to be troubled.
The situation in VRSA is reminiscent of the August 2015 story in Albufeira when an apartment building in Olhos de Água and the top floor of the apartment block next door, were destined for demolition - again by order of Loulé’s administrative court.
This was resolved by altering the local master plan. The former Albufeira mayor, Desidério Silva, yet again escaped responsibility for his actions during a term of office notable only for his incompetence and cronyism.
When the Regional Health Administration of the Algarve announce that a Faro hotel had been closed down while an outbreak of legionella was being dealt with, the public had a right to know which hotel was being referred to.
A coy official statement last week omitted to mention the hotel’s name; the Adelaide Hotel was soon identified on social media, but at least the Administration's statement explained the source of the bacteria that had hospitalised four tourists.
The police and the public prosecution service are less reticent when pointing the finger. News of a major corruption swoop on several Air Force facilities included the ranks of those arrested and the way a food purchasing scam has been operating.
Costing the taxpayer around €10 million, invoices for food delivered to Air Force messes were grossly inflated with the overpayments later divided up between personnel and suppliers.
The reason given fort his monumental rip-off was the lack of decently sized pay-offs for those retiring from the service. Senior officers decided the best thing to do was to steal money to help pad out retirement packages.
Public service seems to have evolved into self-service.
The Navy’s submarine purchase scam was bad enough but nobody in Portugal has ever been prosecuted. Will those in the Air Force food scam avoid punishment also?
In 2014, the collapsed Banco Espírito Santo was rescued when the Bank of Portugal stepped in and set up Novo Banco to take over BES branches and its 'good' assets.
The deal was that this new ‘bridge bank’ would be sold off before August 2017 and the money that had been thrown at the rescue by a panicked Bank of Portugal governor would be returned in full, or so we were assured - why, there might even be a profit....
Two years later the bids are in for Novo Banco and the Bank of Portugal’s governor, Carlos Costa, will be advised by a consultant which suitor to choose to buy the loss-making business.
For Carlos Costa to break even, the successful bidder will need to stump up €4.9 billion. This sum is made up from €1 billion to repay the taxpayer and €3.9 billion to repay the Resolution Fund which is funded by Portugal’s high street banks.
Optimistic estimates are that the current bids are in the €500 million to €1 billion range. So, at the top end of expectations the governor will have lost €3.9 billion yet somehow retains the support of the prime minister despite their occasional public spats.
We will know the financial damage from this rescue by the end of the year but the favoured latecomer, China’s Minsheng Financial Holding Corporation Ltd, is being ‘advised’ by none other than Espírito Santo family member, José Maria Ricciardi who is running Haitong Bank SA.
Haitong, of course, was the Chinese bank that bought BESInternational after Ricardo Salgado’s Grupo Espírito Santo empire turned to dust.
Ricciardi is Ricardo Salgado’s cousin, not that they are on speaking terms, so if Minsheng is successful and ends up owning Novo Banco, the family rift may widen and Ricciardi’s gloating can begin in earnest.
Interesting to see that one of our advertisers is selling Tesla battery technology. SHS in Almancil has become an authorised reseller for the Tesla Powerwall and Powerpack rechargeable lithium-ion battery energy storage products.
The Powerwall is for home use and stores electricity for solar self-consumption with the larger Powerpack intended for commercial use or when feeding electricity to the grid.
I don't know much about the pros and cons of this latest storage technology but SHS will be able to answer questions.
July 1st, 1916 was the worst day in the history of the British Army.
Day broke over the Somme river valley in northern France and the fighting began. By nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers lay dead and a further 40,000 had been injured in the most awful of WWI’s bloodbaths.
Between July and November 1916, fighting in the Somme area had claimed 618,247 dead and injured Allied soldiers and 454,500 German.
These figures remain incomprehensible to those of us who have lived through decades of almost constant peace in Europe.
This year, the Royal British Legion is focusing on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and the Poppy Appeal currently taking place will end on Remembrance Sunday, 13th November with a service at St Luke's Anglican Church at Monte Palagueira, Santa Bárbara de Nexe.
For details of the service click on the link below:
Those concerned with the modernisation of the centre of Olhão have a chance to air their views at a public meeting next Friday, November 11th. This has been set up by concerned residents, not the local council, so frank and open discussion is expected and encouraged.
Objections to date have been to the destruction of large areas of the city’s iconic calçada paving in favour of anodyne machine-cut modern paving slabs, the installation of out-of-keeping modern lighting and seating, the destruction of a fine old building in order to build a modern six storey viewing tower in the middle of a quality residential area, and the construction of a new cultural centre when the rather beautiful C19th Recreativa building could again so easily fulfil this role.
This situation does beg the question - 'who is looking after the Algarve's patrimony?'
If local councils are able to push through totally inappropriate modernisation schemes for key historic areas, there is little hope that much of the Algarve’s historic areas can be preserved in the long-term.
Destroying calçada pavements that have geometric and whimsical patterns of outstanding artistic merit is but the first step in the poisoning of Olhão’s core.
The council has done well so far in helping to attract tourism and foreign residents but its current plans, drawn up by a Lisbon-based firm of architects, are inappropriate yet seem to have bedazzled councillors into believing that ‘modernisation’ somehow is a good thing for an historic centre.
All the details are on the link below, as are forms for those wishing to comment but are unable to attend the public meeting.
I like the ‘enjoythealgarve’ e-magazine as it is always interesting, beautifully laid out, humorous and this month features my favourite subject (me) in the ‘Algarve expat stories’ feature.
Until next week
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Christmas & New Year
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