A week of news and views from the Algarve...
Rumblings of discontent have started in the former Portuguese colony of Angola whose leaders consider their former masters resentful of Angola’s self-determination and wealth.
The latest spat concerns Manuel Vicente, the vice president of Angola and the ex-boss of Angola’s national oil company, Sonangol.
Vincente has been charged in Portugal that he bribed a prosecutor to drop charges of embezzlement and money laundering.
Portuguese State prosecutor Orlando Figueira is said to have trousered around €750,000 to ensure the charges against Vincente were dropped.
Both have been charged with corruption but Vincente has Angola’s government on his side and claims the charges are “entirely fictitious” with unnamed sources in the Angolan government saying the case is “neo-colonialism” and “revenge by the former colonial master.”
If Vincente has done nothing wrong, then he should defend his good name in court. If he refuses to come to court, many will assume he is a corrupt liar who has been helping himself to oil royalties, along with the rest of Angola’s ruling elite.
Either way, this case is an embarrassment to both governments so we can expect a neat political move to exonerate the Angolan vice-president while Figueira takes the rap - similar to the result of the Ponte de Sor attack by the Iraqi ambassador’s twin sons and the attempted murder charge that will never see the light of day as the case had been transferred to Iraq.
Finland already has scrapped the deal, Sweden is moaning and the Dutch are still pondering the tax free status afforded many of their retirees that have decided to move to Portugal to take advantage of her benign treatment of overseas pension income.
The numbers qualifying have leapt with over 10,000 expatriates last year being accepted under the scheme that leaves Portugal’s national earners and most foreign residents paying the full whack while many retirees have a tax free retirement.
Though undoubtedly successful, these tax schemes are fundamentally unfair, rewarding many who would have moved here anyway and creating resentment in those who do not qualify for untaxed pensions.
As yet, there are no study results available to judge how much in indirect taxes these various categories of incomers do contribute to the Treasury in buying property, cars and employing cleaners and gardeners.
Until then, many expatriates pay the full tax rates applicable to their incomes and, if easily upset, do not bring up this subject over the garden fence.
Although Portimão council managed last year to borrow its way out of short-term debt, swapping it for long-term debt, the average time taken to pay suppliers in 2016 is shocking at 1,683 days.
In October 2016, Mayor Isilda Gomes finally got her deal and borrowed €142.5 million from the Municipal Aid Fund which was set up by the government - with funds from the taxpayer.
Long-suffering suppliers to the council should by now have had their bills settled.
Whether former Mayor Manuel da Luz is aware of his incompetence when it comes to money, remains to be seen. He may have to reimburse the council if found guilty of maladministration by association with those currently charged for the various financial scams that were going on under Manuel da Luz’s nose.
In the meantime, a semblance of fiscal order descends on Portimão and once again it can afford to tend its parks and repair its pavements.
“Lone Star, Lone Star, Lone Star,” keep saying it often enough and we will become accustomed to the name of the US company that is so close to controlling Novo Banco.
Lone Star is a vulture fund, pure and simple. When it has control of Novo Banco, the bank set up and funded by other banks and taxpayers’ funds after BES went bust in 2014, it would be foolish to think that suddenly it will become a serious, thoughtful, prudent and effective force in the domestic banking market.
If it does, all well and good but it is more likely to behave as vulture funds behave, stripping out costs, raising money against fixed assets, paying a series of huge one-off dividends and selling a business that will be loaded with debt and existing mainly to service a sale and leaseback property portfolio.
Lone Star’s Iberian chairman, Olivier Brahin, promises much, even to keep Novo Banco’s current €23,500-a-month president on after the deal is done, but sweet words now are simply to get the deal - and the Bank of Portugal and Finance Minister are falling for it, hook, line and sinker.
The Communist Party is one of the left wing crutches on which the Prime Minister relies in parliament to get Socialist policies voted through.
A clutch of Communist Party MPs have petitioned parliament to get the Algarve’s Via do Infante tolls scrapped. They say, “There is clear evidence that the introduction of tolls five years ago was deeply detrimental to the interests of the Algarve, with very negative repercussions on the mobility of citizens and economic activity in the region, contributing to the increase in difficulties for companies, the destruction of employment and the rise in regional road accidents."
Previous moves to have the tolls scrapped have ended in failure with this government and the last adamant, for no sensible reason, that the tolls stay - despite the economic folly of keeping them.
The Court of Auditors said back in 2012 that road users “are being robbed to the benefit of public-private partnerships,” and the MPs criticise the fact that the tolls process has involved a “fabulous income” for those companies involved.
The tolls agreement was signed under the José Sócrates government so maybe when he eventually gets to court we can find out if he was paid to pass this disastrous legislation as there are no economic reasons for these tolls to exist - even the PPP profits end up with the concession holder’s Spanish parent.
If the details of the collapse of Banco Espírito Santo are now just a distant memory, I offer you this report from Reuters which outlines how the corporate structure was arranged to maintain Salgado as ‘O Dono Disto Tudo’,how the bank managed to dupe the Bank of Portugal for so long (perhaps not so hard when you look at the calibre of its governor) and how Ricardo Salgado finally lost the family jewels and still claims he did nothing wrong.
The moral compass of another of the nation’s bankers seems also to be flawed as António Domingues, the short-lived president of Caixa Geral de Depósitos, made sure that the legal advice he was given on amending the laws applicable to the appointment of managers of State-controlled public companies, was paid for by Caixa Geral, even before he was employed by the bank.
Anyone with a sense of right and wrong would at least offer to pay this legal bill.
Domingues lasted at the top of Caixa Geral from August 2016 to the end of December last year. He resigned because the secret deal made with the Finance Minister did not go through. He refused to stay on a few weeks until the newly appointed boss could take over and Domingues now can be viewed as an expensive waste of time.
No doubt he is very clever but he is not a grown up. This is a time when the country needs its leaders to lead, not fiddle their expenses.
The Domingues story is nothing when compared to news last Friday that Caixa Geral must release all the information on its high value loans granted from 2000.
This is a joyful bonus as the committee of inquiry clearly will be able to review details of those loans made within the old boys’ network, loans made with little or no collateral, loans where there was a kickback to the person signing off the deal and loans to politicians that never had to repay them.
The Bank of Portugal, the Stock Market regulator and Caixa Geral’s directorate all vehemently opposed the committee’s request for these big loan details - I wonder why?
The public, through its MPs, has every right to know what lies beneath and has every right to expect prosecution for those who have ripped off the State-owned bank over the years.
Another row that has erupted in parliament is over the estimated €10 billion in funds that left Portugal’s banks for offshore tax haven accounts between 2011 and 2014.
Transfer details were collected by the issuing banks and forwarded, as is the law, to the Bank of Portugal which forwarded them to the Tax Authority but the account holders were never investigated, as should have been standard procedure. The outflow of funds was not reported by the Treasury, as it should have done, which blamed ‘a computer error.’
The former Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, of course denies all knowledge of this glaring laxity and professed a sudden keenness to find out what went wrong.
Taxpayers would like to know what went wrong and who issued the order to suppress these details that has allowed many wealthy Portuguese citizens to shift their wealth overseas without the taxman questioning the source of these funds.
Everyone involved is running around saying that something should be done. The wringing of hands is audible but the scam was successful.
Remember PT? Portugal Telecom was the company that lent Grupo Espírito Santo’s Rioforte Investments €780 million which it never saw again.
Ricardo Salgado was so involved with PT, being its single largest shareholder, that he was ever so grateful when his empire benefitted from a PT deal with the Brazilians, rather than with Sonae, that he sent PT’s chief executive an €8 million bonus.
Zeinal Bava at first denied ever receiving the money, but later agreed it was a bonus from Salgado for doing the deal with the Brazilian company, Oi.
Things went quiet, until Friday when Bava and fellow director Henrique Granadeiro were made formal suspects in Operation Marquês. Each is accused of receiving €20 million in unreported bungs that originated from Salgado.
We are nearing the March 17th deadline by which the Operation Marquês prosecutors formally must charge José Sócrates and we look forward to seeing Bava, Granadeiro, Salgado, Sócrates, Horta e Costa, Vara and 17 others trying to explain to the judges the heady world of multi-million, untaxed payments that kept the whole corrupt system running for so long.
In a case of ‘told you so,’ Germany’s Economic Research Institute has concluded that austerity has ‘amplified the effects of the recession, has stimulated unemployment and has discouraged investment.’
This was the same observation used by the Socialists to win power in the autumn of 2015 and after a year the effects of a bit less austerity, including increasing net incomes, does seem to have made country a cheerier place. The headline borrowing figures are still horrendous but parts of the economy are doing well and unemployment is falling.
It seems rich that the German Institute now is informing Portugal’s bail-out lenders that they got it all wrong by insisting on such harsh austerity measures but the last government did rather embrace ‘austerity,’ using it as an excuse for many unpopular actions.
Portugal is being showcased by European left wing parties as an example of a socialist government successfully running an economy, while many countries swing towards the far right.
With the lessons of the austerity period a least recorded, let’s hope the current ‘middle way’ has more success.
Portugal remains weak on foreign relations as it has been bullied by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, into dropping a legitimate complaint against Spain which is expanding an end-of-life nuclear power station just over the border in Almaraz.
Portuguese environmental organisations were concerned that a new nuclear fuel dump was being build on the riverbank of the Tagus, which soon turns into the Tejo as it hits the border and winds through Portugal to the sea. A small leak in Spain could be a major problem for Portugal.
The EU complaints procedure is there to be used and should be encouraged, not blocked by the European Commission president who does not like to see squabbles among the lower ranks.
An environmental study will be released sometime before mid-April, 2017. This is destined to be a pointless exercise as Spain already has issued a licence to build the fuel dump and will just ignore complaints from its junior neighbour, as it always does.
Portugal relied on European Union rules to provide an impartial assessment and judgement on the Almaraz problem but the sometimes sober Juncker seems content to act as a bully.
The environmental lobby in and around Lagoa continues its fight to preserve the bird-rich wetlands that were being filled in and on which a supermarket is to be built.
At last, the local council seems to be taking notice of the complaints and an MP has informed the Minister for the Environment, João Matos Fernandes, that this important site is home to many rare and protected species.
Almargem has penned an excellent letter to the environment agency, which I reproduce in full:
To the Alentejo basin where the Galp-ENI oil and gas exploration consortium was granted a drilling licence on January 11th, to the shock of local anti-oil associations and activists.
"We are going to be drilling in Portugal for the first time next year (2018) in what will be the first deepwater well in the country," said Thore Kristiansen, Galp’s Chief Executive.
Meanwhile, the Algarve’s pressure group ASMAA has presented a legal action at the Attorney General's Office requesting a halt to offshore oil and gas drilling in the Alentejo basin and for the cancellation of the Galp-ENI licence covering the Santola exploration block.
ASMAA’s petition cites ‘numerous illegalities in the concession procedures for the exploration, research, development and production of oil and gas, in particular the Santola contract between the Portuguese State and the ENI-GALP consortium,’ and that ‘The final TUPEM drilling licence was issued without an environmental impact assessment and with only 10 days notice.’
Next, was protest day in Lisbon for ASMAA and its anti-oil supporters while inside parliament MPs discussed a complaint by ASMAA that the 42,000 signature petition, submitted as part of the public consultation process for the Galp-ENI concession, simply had been ignored and the licence granted anyway without a single response to any of the legitimate questions raised by a concerned public.
The day went rather well...
Not such positive news for the Ria Formosa islanders on Culatra as 40 Maritime Police created a rather intimidating environment as goons from Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, under the instruction of the Minister of the Environment, spray-painted numbers on those properties slated for demolition.
As you will recall, minister João Matos Fernandes agreed with parliament that the islanders should not be subject to the sort of treatment that they had suffered under the recently sacked Polis boss, Sebastião Teixeira, and that when it came to any further demolitions, these would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis” and only after full consultation.
Fernandes has done the opposite and 60 repossession and demolition notices have been sent out, the first of which were served last week. The Maritime Police stood by and were backed up by a Naval frigate.
There has been no ‘case-by-case’ discussion, no contact from Polis apart from its posting possession notices, and no recognition of the islanders as anything other than inconvenient - which is how they are being viewed by the State that seems to have other ideas for the islands now that tourism is keeping the economy afloat.
Whether there ever can be a proper recognition of the rights of these communities is a question that I keep imagining has been answered. Then the minister blunders in again, ignoring parliament and causing unimaginable worry and fear to people that just want to live in peace.
It was astonishing that the assembled islanders, while watching the numbers being sprayed on their buildings, chose to sing Portugal’s national anthem – the anthem of a country that once resisted oppression and took control so that this sort of State-sponsored bullying would never happen again.
Over on the mainland where Olhão’s mayor held a public session to launch his new plan for the city’s riverfront area and two public parks. Around 100 locals sat through a presentation from an architect who does a lot of work for Polis, which will be picking up a significant percentage of the bill.
The new park designs are modern, causing apoplexy for those who want nothing to change.
Attention needs to be paid to the effects of converting the main road past the markets into one-way only.
Those wanting to preserve Olhão’s historic city centre, vociferous in a recent campaign to stop the council’s misguided modernisation plans, may be relieved that the council’s desire for shiny and new can be diverted to the riverfront. Other will disagree and want the city to stay as it is.
There a video of the new plan at the end of this news item: readers’ comments welcome
Do you know there are 97 different varieties of fig tree in the region, 44 types of carob tree, 78 varieties of pomegranate, 227 types of citrus?
A project at Tavira’s Agricultural Experiment Centre has resulted in this collection of samples, many of them quite rare.
The intention is that the farmers can take advantage of the Tavira studies into improving the production potential of these specimens and will be able to handle and taste the different varieties before choosing which to plant.
Many readers interested in fruit trees and other aspects of gardening and food production should visit the Mediterranean Spring Garden Fair next weekend at Quinta da Figuerinha near Silves where one of the three free talks will be from the fruit tree specialist, Jean-Paul Brigand.
Full details are at the end of this link:
Until next week
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