A week of news and views from the Algarve…
The groundworks on land in Lagoa, prior to the erection of yet another local supermarket, continues to upset environmentalists - and with good cause as this freshwater wetland is home to many special birds, insects and mammals.
The council says it is just following the rule book and sees no reason to halt the diggers as the planning application from Sonae Group led to a public consultation in 2013, suggesting that people should have said something then, rather than get upset now.
The council's attitude is not stopping local activists and the environmental organisation, Almargem, from developing ways of publicising the plight of the Glossy ibis and the other birds that are being displaced. There is a petition on Facebook (Save Lagoa’s Lagoa) and demonstrations are planned.
Whether there were any objections in 2013, remains to be seen but these public consultation periods are seldom more than window dressing for decisions that already have been made
Which leads me seamlessly into the next story about the public consultation process, this time for the offshore oil and gas drilling plan from the Galp-ENI consortium that wants to sink a test well in the sea off Aljezur.
There was a public consultation period last summer and anti-oil association, ASMAA, organised a petition that 42,000 people signed to oppose the oil companies’ plans. Just four people made positive comments welcoming the conversion of Portugal’s seas into oil producing zones.
Before the public consultation period had even started, ENI contracted an oil support services company, MedServ, which duly has set up a base in the port of Sines.
After the public consultation - silence from the government, despite citizens, mayors, tourism bodies, ecological organisations, pressure groups and 42,295 signatories being due an opinion and answers to their questions in a parliamentary debate.
By chance, and due to the vigilance of ASMAA, it was discovered last week on January 26th that Miguel Sequeira, a hitherto unheard of government suit who was the Director General of the DGRM, signed a drilling licence in favour of Galp-ENI on January 11th and then, just 11 days later, left his job.
This is a similar pattern of behaviour to Jorge Moreira da Silva who, as Environment Minister, signed the original oil concession agreements last Autumn and days later was off to seek pastures new without a care in the world that he had just turned Portugal from an renewable energy star into a potential oil industry slave.
The reason it took a fortnight to realise the drilling licence had been granted to Galp-ENI was the government's ruse of posting the information, not on the DGRM website, but another one where oil watchers were far less likely to come across it.
Perhaps Miguel Sequeira could pop back in to explain why he signed the licence, why he exempted the consortium from having to hold liability insurance and from lodging a deposit – in your own time, Miguel, no hurry.
To review the government’s cynical abuse of the consultation process, its slavish devotion to the oil companies and its duplicity, read the following report:
On a cheerier topic, Lisbon is to get a second airport.
After years of worrying about increasing passenger numbers, the government has made a decision. Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport will reach saturation point sometime in the summer of 2018, so the Montijo airbase is to be converted for civilian flights to ease the pressure on Lisbon's main airport.
Whether this airport conversion and the addition of access roads can be finished by the summer of 2018 is not commented on by the government, but seems highly unlikely.
By leaving this decision until the last minute, Lisbon’s existing airport will reach breaking point next year. This will increase stress levels for passengers and airport staff, and reduce the effectiveness of the security services.
At least the current government has taken a decision - previous ones all have kicked this can up the road to leave the decision to someone else.
I did not know the Fonte da Pipa Palace in Loulé. This is a great shame as it burned down last week so I will never be able to gaze on its fine interior.
Why people only now are upset is interesting as the once-beautiful building was in a terminal state of dereliction, variously inhabited by the homeless and those whom we now must call, ‘Roma.’
Why was nothing done before now? Local councils devote much time and effort to telling us what we can and can’t do to properties, so how can a palace be allowed to rot and no action be taken?
More interesting than the comments of the local mayor, whose excuse is that he couldn’t do anything about the palace as ‘it is in private hands’, is: exactly whose private hands is it in?
The company that owns the palace, Quinta da Fonte da Pipa, Urbanizações, Lda, was registered in 1982 and is said to 'British owned.' There once was a planning application submitted by the company to build a housing estate in the palace grounds. Thankfully, this was refused but allowing the palace to decay for decades seems to have been the end result.
Who owns this company and why have the directors allowed this historic building, of which the Algarve has scant few, to decay for 35 years?
The problem with the ‘cash for driving licences’ scandal, currently in court, is that there are drivers on Portugal’s roads that should not be there.
Is vehicle insurance valid if there is an accident and one of those involved is proved to have obtained their licence fraudulently?
At minimum, those learner drivers who paid money to ensure a ‘pass’ should re-sit their driving exams.
"It was the obvious place to get into and Portugal is amazing in terms of infrastructure and renewable energy,” said Ozzie businessman David Frances from Dakota Minerals, who is to set up a lithium processing factory in the north of Portugal.
Frances aims to supply the growing market for electric vehicle batteries in Europe and power packs for domestic photovoltaic systems. This type of extraction industry is preferable to the oil industry, which is declining as the world warms and switches to renewable energies.
In fact, Dakota wants to run its plant on renewable energy, hydroelectric in this case, and Portugal is the chosen place.
The government yet again has tricked the islanders of Culatra as another 60 demolition notices were posted last week, despite a ministerial promise that there would be consultation, cooperation, harmony, transparency and open discussion.
The islanders already have submitted an excellent planning and environmental maintenance plan to the Ministry of the Environment, which condensed generations of local knowledge.
This document has not been acknowledged and the minister, João Matos Fernandes, told a parliamentary committee last week that he is coming up with his own plan for the islands - a plan which seems to include the continuation of a demolition programme that involves zero discussion with those affected.
Of concern to ratepayers in Tavira, Olhão and Faro, the minister said that the Polis Litoral Ria Formosa Company now has no budget to pay for improvements to the islands, even though such improvements were part of the original Polis remit that largely has been ignored for a decade. Island improvements will have to be funded by these three councils if they are to go ahead at all
The minister is abusing his position. Polis was awash with money and held much of it back to enable it to pay suspiciously large sums to a local company to demolish hundreds of island houses.
Why is there insufficient money left? I have said for years that the accounts at Polis need careful investigation as the previous Polis president was rather too keen to spend millions on demolitions at the very end of the company’s ten year life - since extended year-on-year.
Indecent haste to get invoices submitted and paid may indicate all is not what it seems. "Call it intuition, Watson..." Hopefully, I am wrong…
Beware of former partners of Goldman Sachs bearing gifts, or in the case of António Esteves, bearing a ‘once in a lifetime, unbeatable offer’ to buy up the bad debts and non-performing loans of Portugal’s banks for an impressive-sounding sum of €15 billion.
The Bank of Portugal and the Ministry of Finance seem to have sat on the Esteves offer so last week he broke cover and discussed it with the media. The next day, three additional bidders came forward who also have put in offers to buy these bad debts.
This flurry of activity is due to the Prime Minister’s desire to free up the banking sector, thus absolving poorly performing bankers from their past lending mistakes and enabling them to continue as if the economic crisis had never happened.
As Europe is not keen on Portugal setting up one big ‘bad bank’ to take on its banks’ dirty washing - the preferred option of the Bank of Portugal - the PM has been looking at other means to the same end.
Whatever happens here, I guarantee that the taxpayer will be involved – and not in a good way.
If there are any guarantees involved in the PM's ‘wipe the slate clean’ project, Portugal’s taxpayers will be making them without once having been consulted.
Before the ‘former-Goldman Sachs Esteves’ news hit last week, comments in Lisbon that Novo Banco could be sold for zero euros were the headline news.
The situation here is that the US bidders for Novo Banco want the Portuguese taxpayer to underwrite future losses. The government politically can’t afford to let that happen. Result: impasse. Hence the wide media coverage of the bidders for the entire banking debt of Portugal which was much more interesting to unpick.
The Tivoli in Carvoeiro now is owned by the Thai company, Minor Hotel Group, which eventually was allowed by the Luxembourg receiver to buy the Tivoli chain from Rioforte Investments, part of the collapsed Espírito Santo Group.
An extensive refit will be complete before the April 1st re-launch of the Tivoli in Carvoeiro. The number of rooms is reduced and the number of bars and restaurants increased. We wish the hoteliers good luck in this venture, and the other Tivoli hotels that the Thais now own in Portugal.
Another hotelier, Jorge Rebelo de Almeida, who heads Vila Galé Hotels, is a voice of quiet optimism and sanity amid the roar of a rapidly overheating tourism boom.
Taking advantage of the Revive programme, the one where the government is offloading national monuments to the private sector, Vila Galé Hotels took on the crumbling Convent of São Paulo in Elvas.
Rebelo de Almeida doesn’t know if the Elvas site ever will be profitable but he is rebuilding the convent anyway as he says the interior regions of the country need investment.
This refreshing attitude deserves commendation and I will visit his hotel in Elvas in solidarity, when completed. I am sure a beautifully rebuilt convent can be a great success in this historic border city and how refreshing it is to read of a businessman whose long-term view is not clouded by a lust for short-term gain.
I received an email from a reader last week. This particular reader was saddened that there was much bad news in the weekly missive and couldn't I cheer it up a bit.
My standard answer I hope holds good: when our politicians and business leaders stop lying, cheating and ripping us off, then is the time to cover the more delightful aspects of Algarve life - of which there are many that I hope we all enjoy to the full.
How willingly shall I put down my pen, but not in the immediate future as we have some splendid court cases coming up this year in which the mighty should be chopped down to size by a fully-energised public prosecution service.
Until next week
News you may have missed last week:
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Left Bloc leader, Catarina Martins, brought up the situation surrounding oil exploration in the Algarve and Alentejo...
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