A week of news and views from the Algarve...
The government has let a key deadline slip by if it is serious about scrapping the onshore exploration for oil and gas across much of the Algarve.
The Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, says this deadline is no problem and that the government can still act to scrap the Portfuel contracts for the Aljezur and Tavira exploration areas, "the Government is in no way inhibited from terminating the contract that the previous government authorised to be signed with Portfuel, granting it almost half the territory of the Algarve for oil and gas exploration."
Portfuel’s owner, Sousa Cintra, has taken the government’s inaction as a green light and is to carry on with his plans to drill for oil and gas. "Seriously, I can’t understand so much noise and confusion around this project that might be worth a lot to the country, it just shows that people who speak have no real knowledge about things. Sometimes when you tell a lie many times, it becomes true, I regret this," said Sousa Cintra, who is adamant that any drilling and extraction of oil or gas in the Algarve has “no negative consequences for the environment.”
The contracts for the Aljezur and Tavira concession areas were signed off with endorsement from by Paulo Carmona, the president of the ‘Entidade Nacional para o Mercado de Combustíveis’ (ENMC), a man soon to be without a job as this National Fuels Authority is to be wound up and its responsibilities divided between other State agencies.
I wonder how much Carmona’s biased handling of the contracts and subsequent half-hearted ‘public consultation’ process had to do with this reshuffle - his irritability and clear alliance with the oil companies involved was shameful and the acres of negative press coverage he generated will not have enhanced his employment prospects.
As for the Algarve mayors group, AMAL has demanded a meeting with Jorge Seguro Sanches to run through its objections to risking the Algarve’s earning ability as a tourism hot-spot.
AMAL’s president and Tavira mayor, Jorge Botelho, commented on AMAL’s anti-oil and gas position and wants the contacts scrapped: "this matter can be resolved by mutual agreement and in a faster, less costly and beneficial way for all concerned." "The government ... has the ability unilaterally to terminate the contracts. That is why we hope this will happen.”
This is what the majority of the Algarve's residents want too, or do they?
Loulé mayor, Vítor Aleixo, has demanded that a regional poll or referendum should be held to find out exactly how many are for and how many are against oil and gas exploration and extraction in the Algarve and in her offshore zones.
Anti-oil association ASMAA already has submitted a 42,000 signature petition to parliament which was ignored. ASMAA also has been working on the logistics of a regional referendum which seems to be a sensible step.Now that at least one of the mayors is pushing for the same, there is a chance a referendum will happen: better still that the government just scraps the concession contracts and lets the Algarve get on at what it is good at.
Veteran journalist Len Port looks at Portugal’s high ranking of those countries leading the way in climate control policy and action - in fact Portugal is in the world’s top ten – and concludes that the government needs to scrap the oil and gas concessions or will face an increase in those joining environmental groups and opposing government policy, as already is happening in the US even before Trump has taken over at the White House.
One state-of-the-art solar powered factory planned for ‘somewhere in Europe’ but hopefully in Portugal, has been announced by Tesla, the company owned by billionaire Elon Musk and which produces electric cars and home-based energy storage systems.
High level talks have been taking place between Tesla senior management, Portugal's economy minister and prime minister.
This USD 5 billion factory would be a big boost for Portugal’s economy and international reputation. This factoy represents cutting edge technology in a booming industry and of those countries in the running, Portugal surely offers more sunshine than anywhere else in Europe.
Portugal also offers another, perhaps more important advantage - lithium, and lots of it.
This element is essential in the battery technology needed to power Tesla’s electric vehicles and Portugal has tonnes of the stuff, it just needs digging up.
Natasha Donn’s article published in the Portugal Resident explains Portugal’s good luck in having huge reserves of lithium that companies like Tesla need in increasing quantities. This could be a game-changer for Portugal’s moribund economy.
Another important investment appears to be going ahead. The impressively named ‘Multidisciplinary Research Centre for Excellence in Regenerative and Precision Medicine’ is to go ahead at Avepark, the Science and Technology Park in Guimarães, with outposts in the universities of Aveiro, Oporto and Lisbon.
Portugal produces many top-notch scientists, most of whom move abroad to pursue their careers. Maybe this new centre will start to reverse the trend.
The Algarve’s councils at last are spending after years of cost-cutting and debt renegotiation - cities are being tarted up and old projects revived.
One town centre project that started last week is the remodelling of the main square in São Brás de Alportel to create a modern area with lighting, fountains and music.
The council is spending €315,000 on modernising Largo São Sebastião and environs. Mayor Vítor Guerreiro explains the reason behind remodelling the square: "Whoever arrives there, can not easily work out where to cross, where to park and, many think that the statue of Bernardo Passos is a roundabout.”
While ‘looking to the future’ is a catchy phrase for changes to this pre-Roman town, few knew that the future included the demolition of part of a row of C19th vernacular workers’ cottages. Local cultural association Al-Portel said this action was an 'unforgiveable and unwarranted attack' made more insulting by the use of the space as a temporary builder's yard.
The mayor insists that the demolition is just a part of a process that “is valuing our heritage.”
Try that in Olhão these days and you can expect a lynching as residents certainly have organised themselves into a formidable group in opposition to the bizarre ‘modernisation’ of the city’s historic centre.
A public meeting called by the mayor to enable the Lisbon architects to explain the thinking behind removing the iconic calçada streets and demolishing an important C18th building to make way for a viewing tower, was packed. The well briefed and knowledgeable audience of Portuguese and foreigners made it quite clear that enough was enough.
Having heard nearly three hours of 'frank and open' discussion, Mayor António Pina explained that the hugely detailed master plan created over the past five years, was ‘only a proposal’ and that the tower would not be built and the calçada pavements would stay – news to the Lisbon architects that had just spent some time defending these integral parts of their plan.
The council’s architect in charge of the ‘modernisation project,’ Ditza Reis, clearly was fully behind the Lisbon architects Baixa Atelier and was not receptive to locals with opposing views while she chaired the Q&A session.
The purpose of a consultation process is to hear the public’s views, not to side with the project architects. Maybe Ditza Reis’ desire that all the planned construction work must go ahead, whatever locals think, is a continuation from her involvement in a €7 million invoicing fraud against the council which involved a local contractor and the previous mayor Francisco Leal, or maybe there is some other explanation...
Duarte Lima, still at large despite his conviction in the Homeland fraud case while he uses every legal twist and turn to avoid serving his six year sentence, has heard that he is to be tried for murder.
Vice president of the National Policy Committee of the Social Democratic Party between 1989 and 1991, Lima is accused of the murder in Brazil of Rosalina Ribeiro in 2009. The case now has been transferred from Brazil to Portugal.
"The defendant travelled from Portugal to Brazil and here he murdered Rosalina Ribeiro, luring her to an ambush in a wilderness at the side of a highway and shooting her in the head and chest," according to the transfer summary.
The probable reason for the murder was to cover up the theft of €5.2 million transferred from Ribeiro's bank to Lima’s Swiss account and for which he had no credible explanation.
Lima's assertion that the enormous sum was, ‘for legal fees’ has not impressed the Brazilians, nor should it convince the Portuguese judges when Lima comes to trial.
Despite the 2013 ‘hopeless cases’ purge, Portugal’s court system is buckling under a mountain of cases with little progress being made.
The new Justice Minister, Francisca van Dunem, took up her position in late 2015 and many hoped that she could make changes without a huge investment. The situation now looks hopeless with important cases taking years even to be scheduled.
Portugal’s banks are to blame for much of the overload as they prefer to go to court rather than write-off unrecoverable loans. This ‘parking’ of bad debt makes their accounts appear better than they really are but clogs up the court system.
There are almost 900,000 pending cases concerning bad loans, unpaid bills and mortgages.
As for former Justice Minister Paula Teixeira da Cruz’s judicial reform, “it has failed,” says António Saraiva, head of the Portuguese Business Confederation, calling the courts “slow, costly and unpredictable.”
As one exasperated businessman commented, "Justice works terribly, it never has worked and I doubt it ever will. Nothing has improved for us since the reforms. Who is going to invest here if there's no way you can recover a client's debt?"
If Portugal wants to grow into a fully functional member of the (shrinking) EU, her judicial system needs radical change, not fiddling about around the edges as government currently seems content to do.
The increasingly out-of-touch governor of the Bank of Portugal, Carlos Costa, is determined to expound his ‘bad debt’ theory to any audience that will sit still long enough to listen. Costa's latest idea is to create a huge ‘bad bank’ in which to place all of the unrecoverable debts accumulated by Portugal’s banks.
This will free up the banks to start lending again, will sort out their capital ratios and dump the burden of their reckless lending decisions into the taxpayer’s lap.
A perfect end to Costa’s lacklustre career at the head of the country’s banking regulator.
The only problem with Costa’s 'bad bank' idea is that the prime minister agrees with him, a rare event in itself, but one that gives the plan some weight when being discussed in Brussels.
The extraordinary tradition of putting a cat into a clay pot and hoisting it aloft on a pole, setting light to the string and waiting until the pot crashes to the ground, thus releasing the animal, has come to a voluntary end in Mourão.
Rosa Santos, the woman who owned the cat used in the June 2015 Feria de Santiago event, ended up in court and has just been fined €450.
The judges were not best pleased that not a single witness came forward despite a town square filled with onlookers, nor did anyone come forward to admit responsibility for hoisting the cat aloft.
I am sure this town, in the Évora district, is lovely but from now will be linked to animal cruelty and civic cowardice.
The case in Pont de Sor involving the Iraqi ambassador’s twin sons beating up local lad, Rúben Cavaco, took another twist last week.
An enterprising con-man, pretending to be Rúben Cavaco’s lawyer, arranged to meet the ambassador in a Lisbon park to receive €30,000 in cash from the Iraqi, enough for his client ‘to forget the whole matter’ and to have charges and compensation claims dropped.
Luckily, an Iraqi embassy staff member phoned Cavaco’s lawyer, the real one this time, to discuss the paperwork. Thus the scam was discovered as the real lawyer naturally had never heard of the payoff plan.
The Iraqi’s say the ambassador would not have handed over the money, but why then did an embassy official phone the fake lawyer to discuss the paperwork...?
The case lingers on with diplomatic immunity still in place and no charges able to be brought for the savage beating that left Rúben Cavaco in need of reconstructive surgery.
A note from Madrugada:
Dear Editor, Many of you here in the Algarve – and indeed in...
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Until next week
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