A week of news and views from the Algarve...
Adriano Pimpão, a name perhaps little known outside of political circles in Loulé, is the president of the council’s assembly and as such, has agreed with a Social Democratic party complaint that there can be no vote on the council’s €104 million 2017 budget as certain councillors may be ‘interested parties.’
Pointing to several councillors who also run council-owned businesses or who have contracts with the council, Pimpão was within his rights to suspend the budget meeting and vote until he can be certain the process follows local council rules.
How many other of the Algarve’s councils are in the same position? This remains to be seen but well done Pimpão for saying that enough is enough and insisting that the rules are followed.
It was with disbelief that readers came across a news item warning that a rather inventive law passed in October 2015 under the Passos Coelho government allows Infraestruturas de Portugal to charge people for access rights if they have property next to an EN category main road.
Bills already have been sent out to householders and business owners in the north who happen to be on an EN road. It surely is only a matter of time before this latest tax-raising ploy travels south along the country’s crumbling Estrada Nacional network.
The infrastructure company said the National Road Network Statute is in force and the company merely is “carrying out the terms of the legislation” - failing to add “with gusto.”
The ‘sunshine tax’ was bad enough but the ‘living next to a busy main road tax’ is beyond a joke and this legislation should never have been passed.
As part of the political process to get the 2017 State Budget approved, the People-Animals-Nature party’s single MP was bought off by a €1 million pledge to fund council kennels.
Since 2001 it has been mandatory that all councils have a kennel for stray cats and dogs. This legislation has failed as only 180 of Portugal’s 308 municipalities have bothered.
How this legislation fits with the Algarve mayors’ intention to build two ‘super-kennels,’ one in the Aljezur area and a second in Alcoutim, remains to be seen.
One reader commented on the Algarve mayors’ plan for the two kennels, “The idea of having 2 big kennels is outrageous, it will be a huge disaster for the animals, who will travel half way across the Algarve to look at the canils for a dog? Who will travel half way across the Algarve to leave their unwanted dogs in the canils? Who will care for these animals, who will fundraise to keep them, who will find them homes? The majority of the dedicated volunteers already doing this are opposed to the idea, maybe they should be asked why before this project gets off the ground, maybe their 'analysis' should start with the people who know?”
Maybe this is an idea that only looks good on paper, or on a spreadsheet, and will not provide the service needed. The original plan for one kennel for each council has failed, so what is the best way forward?
Another person on the Algarve list of most reviled government employees is Paulo Carmona from the national fuels authority, the ENMC.
It was Carmona that helped push through the oil and gas exploration contracts that have sparked a level of demonstration and petition never before witnessed in the region.
It was Carmona that chaired the lively public consultation meeting in Faro in January this year, well after the exploration contracts were signed the previous autumn by the then Environment Minister Jorge Moreira da Silva.
It is fair to say this meeting was not Carmona’s finest hour. He failed to tackle the heavy fire from anti-exploration activists and concerned residents, threatening on several occasions to shut down the meeting as he struggled to control it.
It is with the greatest of pleasure that we reported the ENMC has been shut down and its various activities shared out between other of Portugal’s numerous government departments. Whether Carmona will be offered another post within this devolved structure remains to be seen but it is cheering to think, rightly or wrongly, that the nation’s inexorable move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy systems has claimed its first high-profile scalp.
The government is not best pleased with the position it has been left in with these concessions. There are exploration and extraction contracts in place for onshore and offshore blocks which now sit uneasily with a government keen to pursue renewable energy development as part of its obligations under the Paris agreement on CO2 reduction.
Decisions are needed quickly on the two Portfuel onshore drilling and extraction contracts, then on the offshore blocks. The PM needs to be bold and pull the trigger on the oil companies which already appear to be on the retreat.
The Secretary of State for Tourism has an easy job these days as her sector is booming and there are plenty of photo opportunities available with new and refurbished hotels opening weekly.
One area that is failing, and failing badly from a compliance and tax-raising aspect, it the Alojamento Local sector of tourism rental properties.
Ana Mendes Godinho has tried to make “34,000 registrations” sound like a roaring success but with 120,000 unregistered property owners ignoring the rules, the eight-year-old scheme is dead in the water.
There always were too many government departments involved for the AL legislation ever to have been a success.
The blame for the failure sits squarely with the previous Secretary of State for Tourism, Adolfo Mesquita Nunes, who stood up at the April 2015 re-launch of the AL scheme in Faro and told the audience that the AL revisions were all his own work and that everything now would run smoothly. It didn’t and still hasn’t, with further administrative tweaks serving only to strengthen the resolve of the vast majority of property owners to avoid compliance and evade tax.
The current Secretary of State does not have the inclination to anything other than issue empty threats that the scheme is being policed and those under the radar will be caught and fined.
Clearly, the government is happy that this optional approach to the AL legislation is acceptable and as long as tourists come here and spend money, what is the point in governing a sector that has proved to be ungovernable?
The Ria Formosa islanders on Culatra, flushed with success over their victory in saving their homes from Teixeira Sebastião’s demolition contractor, now are concerned that their sworn enemy, like Lord Voldemort, is not dead but planning his next attack.
Teixeira, the former head of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, was forced to resign as its president after he upstaged the Minister of the Environment by issuing property demolition notices at the same time as the minister was informing parliament that he would be dealing with the demolitions on a case-by-case basis.
One ideal outcome would be for the Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, to allow Polis gently to expire at the end of the year, which it is due to do, as a time-limited company.
The only problem being that the bulging files of unfinished work, including property demolitions on Culatra, would be passed to the Algarve Environment Agency, still run by none other than Sebastião Teixeira.
I fear the islanders’ campaign is not over just yet.
António Domingues cut himself a good deal in August as the new head of the State-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos but ran into problems when refusing to submit a statement of earnings and assets.
In fact, Domingues had been told by the Minister of Finance, Mário Centeno, that he would not have to declare his income and assets – a deal that Centeno will not deny or confirm.
Domingues held out and had to resign, to be replaced last week by the former Health Minister, Paulo Macedo, who keeps the raised salary but has no exemption from submitting the two financial statements as required by law for those running State-owned businesses.
Domingues and those of his fellow board members who resigned rather than submit their statements, have displayed precisely the attributes of the old-style, money-grabbing management that today is frowned upon. They were exactly the wrong sort of people to be running a bank that now needs honesty, transparency and an ethos of public service to succeed.
Paulo Macedo, the new CEO of Caixa Geral, also has missed a trick if he wants to be seen as anything other than greedy. By taking the huge salary increase negotiated by his predecessor, Paulo Macedo already is being seen as someone after his own interests rather than serving those of the people.
Another politician, turned fat-cat, is Durão Barroso whose move to Goldman Sachs International after ten years as President of the European Commission was met with universal opprobrium.
Barroso last week heard that he will not be offered an extension to his term as visiting professor at the prestigious University of Geneva. One erstwhile friend and current Professor Emeritus at the Swiss university, Dusan Sidjanski, commented, “I have cut all ties with him," and that Barroso’s connection to Goldman Sachs was a "stain on Europe" and "on his family.”
On €5 million a year at Goldman Sachs, on top of his €15,000 a month European Commission pension, Barroso will go down in history as a ‘former Maoist turned millionaire,’ rather than how he prefers to see himself - a politician who worked selflessly for the greater good.
The saga of the Italian rubbish shipment continues. Held in quarantine in Portugal, while tests were carried out to determine what actually was contained in the suspicious cargo, one reader asks “Can anyone explain to me why the Italians can't bury their own rubbish?”
With deep irony, CITRI, the company behind the controversial deal, is owned by the former Secretary of State for the Environment, Dr Pedro Afonso de Paulo, who has yet to comment.
Environmental organisation Zero has commented on the situation, but only to say that the rubbish should be sorted before burial or incineration to remove anything that can be recycled.
Why can’t the Italians sort and recycle, why should Portugal be used as a dump for Neapolitan rubbish and why did Dr Pedro Afonso de Paulo agree to import shipments of domestic waste, other than the €1 million involved in the contract? If Dr de Paulo is concerned for the environment, a business that dumps imported rubbish in Portuguese landfill sites seems an odd one to own.
The once-wealthy city of Olhão has lost another of its historic buildings. This time it was not demolished by an avaricious builder to make way for another apartment block, but simply crashed into the street during last week’s torrential rains.
The owner had failed to care for or maintain the property which long had been identified as ‘at risk.’
Mayor António Pina’s response to those demanding that historic buildings are classified and a minimum maintenance standard imposed, is that next year’s IMI rates bills will be 300% higher for the city’s many unused and crumbling buildings. This does not stop the old buildings falling down though, so a rethink is needed as to their preservation.
The Espiríto Santo clan seems to be operating as if nothing had happened to bring their names into disrepute.
The wonderful Comporta estate is owned by a subsidiary of Espiríto Santo Group’s ‘Rioforte,’ which itself is being wound up by a Luxembourg administrator. The estate is up for sale but only if your face fits and you are a family member.
Merchant Armory, in collaboration with the legendary American financier Asher Edelman, has tried to table a bid for the estate but has being refused by Haitong bank which is advising the administrator and handling offers for the Comporta estate.
Haitong, of course, is run by José Maria Ricciardi, one of Ricardo Salgado’s cousins, and it seems that a backdoor deal is being set up to ensure a low ‘insider bid’ is entered and accepted for the estate, potentially depriving creditors of hundreds of millions of euros.
We interviewed Mr Edelman in his Manhattan eyrie to get the low-down on the devious business methods being used to keep outsiders out.
One property development that should not go ahead has been agreed by Albufeira council whose members think it a good idea to buy a disused factory site at Mem Moniz, near Paderne.
The price, we are assured, is a bargain at €2 million. The development project is vague and there is no end user in sight.
This is exactly the sort of risky commercial behaviour that left so many councils in serious financial problems when the money tap got switched off in 2008.
The list of expensive, ratepayer-funded failures across the Algarve is a long one. Albufeira council risks money on an ill-planned venture that should be handled by people who know what they are doing and who realise the significant risks involved - not local councillors.
Good news to end on – the Hospital Centre of the Algarve management group that ran the merged Faro and Portimão hospitals is close to being wound up. The two hospitals soon will be free again to manage their own affairs.
Three years of leadership by Dr Pedro Nunes was enough to show the merger was not working. The creation of the new management structure in 2013 by the previous Government "was a mistake" and the methodology used "did not work", which led to "management inoperability" of the two hospitals.
The new Health Minister should agree the demerger of the hospitals by the year end, to the relief of all concerned and hopefully to the benefit of patients.
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Until next week
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