News and views from a week in the Algarve...
The Left Bloc MP, Paulino Ascensão, hit the nail on the head when commenting about the 2016 law that now prevents the State from seizing peoples’ homes and auctioning them off to clear tax debts.
"While enormous sacrifices have fallen on people to save banks, nothing was done to rescue the indebted families.”
Since the legislation kicked in last year, some 11,500 families have been able to stay in their homes while they work with the tax authority to clear their debts. It was in nobody’s interests to see yet more people evicted and more properties sold at auction, often for a fraction of their market value.
Snide comments from the right wing that this law was some sort of ‘tax evaders charter’ should be dismissed, the legislation was long overdue and now must be extended to include those who are to lose their homes due to debts to companies. It is often small amounts owed that trigger property seizures and auctions.
One area of domestic expenditure that always seems to rise is water and sewage charges where the rates mostly are set by local councils which control final distribution and billing.
In many cases these councils have used the heady mixture of a captive audience and their local monopoly to rip-off householders - Albufeira and Loulé are especially adept at this.
Albufeira finally has decided to give some relief to households as its finances are in better shape but there is a strong argument that water charges should have nothing to do with councils as they have not proved trustworthy.
The last government had a grand plan to reorganise the regional water companies and work to sort out this last link in the chain, the supply to the end customer, as this is where overcharging takes place. This plan was scrapped by the current executive as it was a precursor to privatisation, hardly on the Socialist government’s agenda.
The water industry needs rationalisation but with the councils using water charges to support their general expenditure, and setting up companies to run these services, there is no end in sight, or being discussed.
The opposition councillors in Vila Real de Santo António have spotted that the current plan to turn the current council-owned water company into a privately one, inevitably will lead to higher prices. This comes after tens of millions have just been spent to sort out the more obvious problems in VRSA such as the dumping of raw sewage directly in to the Guadiana river.
The VRSA mayor said in February 2016, “Over the past decade, we have made a financial commitment of €60 million in new supply networks, sanitation and water drainage and other work that represents the largest investment ever made in public works in the county, which also explains the council’s debt situation."
Long overdue I am sure, but the current deal proposes to leave local ratepayers not only paying this €60 million bill but also higher water and sewage charges as an inevitable result of the privatisation of the local supply company.
This industry is in a mess. Councils can not be trusted to be fair. What's the answer?
Wave energy, bio-mass, solar power, wind-generated electricity – the Ministry of the Economy was awash with green when announcing €800 million in private investment projects that advance Portugal's renewable energy agenda.
This all fits in well with international commitments for the increased use of renewables and for a reduction in CO2 emissions.
Meanwhile, on January 11th the same government sneakily signed an oil and gas drilling licence and is developing its sordid relationship with the energy companies to turn offshore and onshore exploration areas into sources of wealth for oil companies and of pollution and deep regret for the population.
There will be a debate in parliament on February 23rd to allow MPs to voice their opinions but will the government scrap these oil and gas concession agreements that the vast majority of the public does not want?
Experts from various of the anti-oil and environmental associations think there are adequate legal and procedural reasons to tear up these poor deals but the longer the government lets these contracts roll on, the more expensive it will be to extract the country’s taxpayers from already significant commitments.
Coach-loads of supporters are heading from the Algarve to attend the debate and to protest outside parliament.
Well done supporters of ASMAA and the other associations for fighting for a clean energy future without the risk of oil-spills on the Algarve’s beaches.
Still in Lisbon, the prime minister has dug himself a deep and slippery hole by continuing to support his finance minister who, it now seems clear, lied to parliament.
This case concerns one of the extraordinary concessions afforded to the new head of Caixa Geral, António Domingues who managed to get a vastly hiked salary, a whopping bonus scheme and was exempted from declaring his assets and income - unheard of for anyone taking up this level of public position.
The Finance Minister, Mario Centeno, denied that there had been a deal on these declarations but judging by copies of correspondence that now have appeared in a national newspaper, he is lying, or the documents are forgeries.
This is a resigning or sacking matter but the PM is supporting his man, but for how long?
Three years after news of high-profile arrests in Portimão, 21 people and companies are to stand trial for scamming €4.3 million from the council in a series of rip-off contracts.
But what of the fiscally diarrhetic former mayor, Manuel da Luz under whose reign this astounding culture of corruption flourished?
The former mayor is not to stand trial. The public prosecutor believed his claim that, despite being the man in charge, it was his underlings who were running the contracts in question and if any money went missing, it was them wot nicked it.
This does not mean that Manuel da Luz is above blame.
If a compensation order is made, the court can make him pay up. This is curious as Manuel da Luz will not have been on trial, yet might lose assets which, if he truly did not benefit from ill-gotten gains, may see him financially wiped out.
Critics point out that Manuel da Luz's assets seemed mysteriously to have grown during his mayoral tenure, but I couldn’t possibly comment...
Another of the region’s mayors, Rui André up in Monchique, has suffered the indignity of a censure motion that accused him of failing to see council projects through to the end and of announcing initiatives that never get completed.
André's response was that council finances were being rebuilt over recent years, leving project money short, and the only projects he could complete were those with external funding.
This sort of politically motivated attack on a mayor is par for the course, especially during a council election year, and André has the goodwill of much of his electorate - just not of a majority of his fellow councillors.
Who can name three of four of the 1,000 local events under the 'Algarve 365' promotional banner?
No, me neither and the head of the region’s hotel association, the characteristically grumpy Elidérico Viegas, has criticised the programme half way through its run as it has not filled his members’ hotels.
The organiser of Algarve 365 said that bringing tourists to the region was not the point of the programme - it was to give those already in the Algarve a choice of things to do.
The programme is costing €1.5 million - good value for money? The jury is still out as the series of events does not end until May.
The current Algarve 365 season is the first, yet already participants and exhibitors are being pushed into commiting to a 2017/18 programme without any feedback on current visitor numbers. This does seem hasty.
I asked a couple of weeks ago whether there was any part of Portugal’s economic life where scoundrels and crooks have not taken full advantage?
This was after reporting on the driving licence scam where learners could 'pay to pass.' I foolishly had thought that we had hit rock bottom, but no.
The latest in outright crookery concerns the concessions granted to companies running hospital cafés and canteens. The person in charge of granting these lucrative licences is married to a businessman who provides such services.
Natércia Pina awarded contracts to companies controlled by her husband, Manuel Cleto. The concessions at Portimão and Faro hospitals are two that are being analysed.
Pina is the coordinator of her local Social Democratic Women group, a self-styled pillar of the community 'with strong PSD connections...'
I recall with fondness the riding school opposite the International School in Porches where generations of children learned to ride, under the caring tutelage of Gill who, I heard with shock earlier this week, had a car accident and now is tetraplegic - apart from some movement in one arm.
For those of you that know Gill, this appalling outcome is being dealt with in her inimitable and positive manner. This link gives more details and suggests a way to help:
One helpful British reader had submitted a very useful summary of her experiences in obtaining Portuguese nationality and thus becoming a dual citizen.
This could be a sensible pre-Brexit move for many, we don’t know yet, but it is interesting to read of one person’s successful journey. Here are some points:
Benefits include lifelong access to state healthcare. Amongst retired UK Expats across Europe, 'access to state healthcare' is the most cited reason to move back to the UK.
Should you become mentally or physically incapacitated you will not have the worry of reapplying for a UK passport or Portuguese permanent residency, both of which only last for 10 years.
Certainty regarding your status in an EU country after Brexit.
The ability to move around Europe unhindered after Brexit and enjoy all the benefits of being an EU citizen.
Being able to vote in national elections.
For more details on the ‘why and how,’ follow this link:
Over in Quinta do Lago, the bank has pulled the plug on The Keys development by refusing to agree to an application by Birchview Imobiliária for a Special Revitalisation Plan.
The debt Birchview owes to State-owned Caixa Geral is €278 million, advanced at a time when this size of loan would have been authorised by Armando Vara.
Yes, this is the same Armando Vara who is a defendant in Operation Marques, accused of receiving kick-backs from property companies in return for loans.
Quinta do Lago SA is keen to distance itself from The Keys which the company is at pains to stress has nothing to do with the Quinta do Lago estate.
No matter, as down the road at Vale de Lobo there should be entertainment enough when Rui Horta e Costa, the Vale de Lobo company’s former boss, goes on trial for corruption, abuse of trust, fraud and money laundering as part of the same Operation Marques investigation.
Operation Marques is the one that has former PM José Sócrates under the spotlight.
When finally this investigation comes to trial, Horta e Costa will no doubt be rubbing shoulders with Armando Vara and many other old friends.
The fight continues at the Lagoa wetland site, home to many species of rare birds, which is being filled in, prior to extending a nearby industrial area by an area big enough for seven new lots, two of which will be handed over to the council as part of the planning permission deal.
The council has rather feebly stated that the permissions were given by a previous administration and hence it is powerless to intervene and failed to mention the deal whereby it gains valuable industrial lots.
Rumours that part of the site is to become a Continente supermarket are unproven at the moment - Sonae Group seem unwilling to answer my emails.
The council knows full well what is going on so the mayor inevitably will be absent during Sunday’s morning protest by those concerned that yet another natural area is being trashed.
The in-filling of the site was halted last week, but restarted the next day.
One thing is certain, Lagoa council has behaved poorly: just like those old-style councils that hold on to information and deliberately are obstructive when those that actually pay their salaries have a legitimate enquiry or complaint - ‘you reap what you sow.’
We wish the protestors a clear Sunday morning and lots of media coverage in their quest to keep the Alagoas Brancas site for nature.
The last thing Lagoa needs is another supermarket.
News items you may have missed:
Lagos council has launched an open bid for remedial work at Ponte da Piedade and to join...
Plane-spotters at Faro airport this afternoon were surprised to see one of the Portuguese Air Force’s surveillance...
With an eye to the elections coming up this autumn, Loulé council has announced investments of €21...
Anti-corruption campaigner Paulo Morais said that drivers using the Algarve's Via do Infante motorway are paying twice...
Most Brits who contemplate taking on Portuguese citizenship don’t want to give...
Many of you will remember Gill from the horse riding centre opposite...
Caixa Geral de Depósitos has rejected a rescue deal for the Keys, based at the Quinta do Lago estate. The taxpayer-owned...
A GOLDRA Lunch will be held at MONICA’S, Vale d Lobo on Saturday 25th February 2017, from 12pm for 12.30pm, to raise funds for the charity. See further details below. CLICK...
We are delighted to invite you to our next Business Cocktail evening sponsored by BPCC Member, Decorpita. This cocktail will take place on Thursday, 16th February, in Faro. These are short...
Until next week
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