Motorcaravan hell, island demoltions, illegal subsidies, and 'the Angolan question'

Dear reader

Your Ed is back from his eastern Europe expedition and thanks the Portugal Resident for keeping his readers informed during his travels by allowing the reproduction its news items.

This week's news and views...

The Pyrenees is the main obstacle for the transmission electricity from clean solar and wind power sources in Iberia, to northern markets. These mountains are a natural barrier but political will also has been blocking the poorer south benefiting from markets in the middle and north of Europe.

Germany’s leader Angela Merkel said in her weekly ‘podcast to the nation’ that there needs to be more investment in solar and other ‘alternative’ energies in Portugal.

This was a welcome nod to Portugal’s enviable climate which must make it the best bet in Europe for suppliers to set up solar and wind power production facilities.

Germany plans to shut down its last nuclear power station in 2022 and will need a regular flow of replacement electricity to fill the gap.

If Portugal continues to approach this opportunity with its current ad hoc attitude, the country may well lose supply contracts to the Spanish when electricity supply over the Pyrenees is made easier.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11429-angela-merkel-encourages-portugal-to-invest-more-in-solar-energy

Giving the booming solar energy production sector a bad name are two former EDP directors, João Talone and Pedro Mendes, who have managed to obtain approval for a solar plant in Bensafrim which the taxpayer will end up funding through massive, old fashioned subsidies.

The government’s current (sic) policy is that the alternative energy supply industry must stand on its own two feet and that the taxpayer can no longer be expected to pay subsidies to private electricity generation businesses.

Talone and Mendes own Hyperion which is investing €63 million in the solar farm at Herdade de Saberosa in the western Algarve but they expect to receive an €80 million subsidy sanctioned by Portugal’s environmental agency which allows the company to sell its electricity at “values above the market price.”

The taxpayer ends up being stiffed again with the company claiming that the agreement, for which details are suspiciously sketchy, was signed in 2013 - long before the government changed its policy on subsidising the sector.

The environment agency in fact has no remit to set and agree tariffs and the paperwork is missing: dodgy business as usual, then.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11432-intrigue-as-public-consultation-over-63-million-bensafrim-solar-plant-closes

Over in Spain, the attention being paid to the decrepit nuclear power station at Almaraz has meant that even the smallest procedural upset or broken widget will have environmentalists pouncing - and rightly so.

This scrutiny is necessary as the plant is well past its sell-by date, with the Spanish wanting to extend its life and to build a nuclear fuel dump close to the river.

Almaraz is 100kms from the Portuguese border on the Tagus, which of course becomes the Tejo when it flows through Portugal, hence the worry that if something spills or explodes, Portugal will be affected.

The latest unscheduled shutdown at the plant was caused by a dodgy pump that is meant to keep the reactor cooling system working - the area of operation that already has been highlighted as a ‘serious problem’ by several independent experts.

Like Germany, Spain should be decommissioning these old power stations and looking to the future, not keeping old units going in the face of safety concerns just because they are fully depreciated and the electricity produced is cheap.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11440-controversial-nuclear-power-station-suffers-two-new-malfunctions-in-three-days

One Portuguese company that is investing in alternative energy infrastructure wants to expand by building a production facility down at the docks in Aveiro.

ASM Energia needs to make more wind turbine towers. These are for export as Portugal is not interested, but importantly, the company is to invest in new ‘wave energy’ systems, pointing out quite sensibly that Portugal’s coastline is a rather good place to be based.

So, what’s stopping this company from forging ahead? The Ministry of the Sea: which is not being helpful. In fact the ministry is managing to frustrate the planned investment rather than jumping at the chance to ensure the necessary site and infrastructure are in place.

Maybe the minister, Ana Paula Vitorino, is too busy lunching with her oil company friends to ensure this dynamic alternative energy infrastructure company is given the help needed for it to install new plant and take on workers.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11468-top-portuguese-company-expands-into-alternative-energy-production-from-floating-offshore-generators

Manuel Vincente, Angola’s vice-president, is implicated in a serious bribery case in Portugal.

Portugal needs to seek Vincente’s extradition to face charges as, not surprisingly, he is unwilling to appear voluntarily.

What at first seemed to be a case of Portugal taking a bribery case seriously, whatever the political storm caused, now has turned into a farce with the Angola government simply stating that its internal legislation ‘does not allow for its political leaders to face prosecution from overseas.’

Of further concern is the attitude of Portugal’s Minister of Justice, Francesca van Dunem who has accepted this state of diplomatic affairs and says that attempts to see Vincente in the dock should not be attempted.

Successive Portuguese governments have been in awe of Angola’s wealth and of its leader’s power. Angola is a deeply corrupt kleptocracy and Lisbon does nothing to influence this state of affair. As the country is an important trading partner with many Portuguese companies working in Angola, anything relating to Angola seems to receive special treatment.

It is not good international practice to allow protected Angolan nationals to come here and bribe our officials in the knowledge that they can get away with it under Angolan law.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11430-attorney-general-takes-heat-out-of-angolan-corruption-wrangle

Another well-connected Angolan, Álvaro Sobrinho, has managed to run rings around the Portuguese legal system which time and again has sought to nail him.

This is the man who ran BES-Angola where USD500 million remains unaccounted for and who lent money to companies that ultimately he controlled which have failed to repay loans that should never have been granted.

Sobrinho has not been so lucky in Switzerland where the Swiss Federal Criminal Court has refused to release €150 million held in a Credit Suisse account since 2015.

As for the dodgy company loans, Sobrinho said he “merely signed papers.”

Even the disgraced Espírito Santo banker Ricardo Salgado referred to Sobrinho’s employment as "one of the biggest mistakes of my career."

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11469-swiss-judges-suspicious-of-bes-angola-banker-s-rather-impressive-fortune

Remaining under the spotlight is Novo Banco which the Bank of Portugal’s governor is intent on selling on-the-cheap to the detriment of taxpayers.

The sale of 75% of the bank for €750 million up front to the vulture fund, Lone Star, will be the crowning glory of governor Carlos Costa’s career that, even if being generous, could at best be described as ‘disastrous.’

One late offer for Novo Banco refused by Costa was from Aethel Partners whose owners were in discussion with the Bank of Portugal to buy Novo Banco for around €4 billion - quite a price difference but not one that Costa paid any attention to.

It would have been easy enough for Costa to halt the Novo Banco sale process and engage with Aethel Partners but this lamentable governor insists that the Lone Star offer is in the best interests of the taxpayer - but can’t explain why.

As taxpayer funds are in play, can we not at least be assured that the Bank of Portugal’s governor has thought things through? (Note to self: do not hold breath at this juncture).

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11478-novo-banco-aethel-partners-were-led-up-the-garden-path-by-the-bank-of-portugal

Another Algarve anti-tolls protest used time-honoured reasons when calling for an end to this iniquitous system that benefits the concession holder at our expense.

Many have been worn down by the government’s mantra that the ‘user pays’ but in the case of the Via do Infante tolls, the user pays and then the general taxpayer pays again by subsiding the operator for the lack of traffic volume.

The concession agreement is the key to unravelling the government’s insistence that this is a good deal for the nation. The agreement contains secret clauses despite being a document signed on behalf of the Portuguese public which, therefore, should be open to public scrutiny.

There is a whisper that Paulo Morais, the anti-corruption university professor and politician, already is involved in studying into this dubious PPP contract.

If anyone can glimpse the secret clauses, which are bound to cover the amount of compensation to be paid if the government scraps the tolls, then a sensible discussion at last could be held to assess the cost to the Algarve of keeping tolls, against the cost to the government of scrapping them. Either way, it is certain the taxpayers will foot the bill.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11477-algarve-anti-toll-protest-shows-the-issue-has-not-gone-away

One court case, where many of Portugal’s publically owned transport companies had been locked into ruinous ‘swaps’ contracts, seems to have been resolved.

The previous Minister of Finance told the borrowers simply to stop paying as the terms of the agreements were unfair, in her opinion.

Understandably, Santander Totta took the State to court where the judges decided that the deals were signed with both parties fully aware of the terms and of the rapidly escalating interest rates payable should the bank rate fall - which of course it did.

Santander Totta has agreed to withdraw its claim for damages and the State has agreed to borrow €2.3 billion from the bank over 15 years.

This is a resolution of sorts but there has been no explanation as to how on earth these swaps deals were passed in the first place as they are totally unsuitable financial instruments for the funding of public service companies.

This was poor government and there remain suspicions that the bank and those who signed the deals acted improperly even if the contracts have been declared legal.  

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11481-swaps-contracts-litigation-ends-in-2-3-billion-loan-from-santander-totta

The Ria Formosa island property demolitions have started, but are a far cry from the widespread social cleansing that the (now sacked) president of Polis, Sebastião Teixeira, had envisaged.

A radically scaled-down number of derelict and unused properties are being removed with a government pledge that the issue of these islands and their inhabitants’ future will be considered in consultation with those affected.

There also is some welcome investment planned for the Ria Formosa area and the islanders can be congratulated for achieving much of what they set out to achieve.

This is no comfort to those who lost their properties in the early, aggressive seizures but there now is hope that Polis will not continue to behave in the appalling way it has in the past.

The Environment Ministry stated that "In the intervention initiated today first homes are not targeted. Buildings that support the activity of fishermen and shellfishermen in the Ria Formosa also were safeguarded in this operation."

This is pretty much what was wanted but it has been a long, hard road to get the politicians to this point.

Whether 80 Maritime Police were needed to maintain law and order on demolition day, remains questionable.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11476-ria-formosa-demolitions-start-on-culatra

The thorny topic of motorcaravans has been back in the news with owners of legal camp sites in the Algarve complaining that the authorities are not doing enough to fine illegal motorcaravan campers, thus encouraging them to use registered facilities.

With a reported 180,000 motorcaravans currently in the region, the legal campsites could not possibly cope if everyone used their services.

Council mayors are adept at saying one thing and doing another and have been allowing illegal camping. Local businesses benefit from the additional income, especially in the winter months.

The January 2015 regional strategy for motorcaravans was a case of the mayors being seen to do something, while doing very little. The network of regional accredited campsites remains wholly inadequate for the demand.

Lagoa council has decided, in its wisdom, to turn part of the idyllic Sítio das Fontes riverside park in Estômbar into a council-run campsite. This has caused local disquiet.

A sensible rethink is needed as the 2015 plan for the Algarve lacked achievable elements - a fact that should have been obvious to those involved.

This is buoyant off-season business but the needs of motorcaravan owners are not being served.

Motorcaravan holidaymakers remain vilified yet the region lacks both the necessary facilities for them and the legal back-up to control any excesses.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11472-lagoa-beauty-spot-developed-as-a-motorcaravan-park

If I stole €8,000 from parish council funds, I would expect an uncomfortable spell in jail.

Not so for Abilio Romão who was proved to have pinched the money but has been given a €900 fine, ordered to repay the stolen funds and a handed a four year prison sentence - suspended.

No doubt he is indignant that he was caught out, after all, why become the president of a parish council if you can’t help yourself to its funds, everyone else is doing it....

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11506-lenient-sentence-for-council-president-turned-thief

Another case with an interesting sentence was that of the bank manager given 111 years, fortunately reduced to seven.

Fernando Gonçalves worked for Banco Português de Negócios, the bank that was bailed out by the State with €1.8 billion of taxpayers' money in 2008 and later sold to Angola’s Banco BIC for €40 million.

Gonçalves had been operating a mini Ponzi scheme yet remained undetected for years. So much for the bank’s internal audit but this is not surprising in an institution that was run by crooks and incompetents.

Also, why has this case has taken ten years to be judged?

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11502-bpn-banker-sentenced-to-seven-years-in-prison-for-cheating-clients

An announcement after the Council of Ministers meeting last week set alarm bells ringing for those involved in letting their property to tourists but not holding the necessary Alojamento Local licence.

The Government at last has made a start in cleaning up this sector by asking Airbnb and other rental platforms to ask their owners for each property’s AL registration number.

This announcement was not accompanied by any relaxation of the AL registration procedures.

The ‘carrot and stick’ answer to the problem of the illegal rental market continues to elude the authorities but this new move is a start, even though it lacks teeth.

The government wants to encourage tourism. The illegal rental market brings huge amounts of cash into the Portuguese economy. The approach to date has been ‘to punish illegally rented property owners’ but I have not read stories of shame about those caught out - in fact has anyone been caught out and fined?

The government has done very little to evolve a sensible and workable AL scheme. It’s in the Treasury’s financial interests for the government to do nothing much at all - a policy that suits all parties, except those who have gone through the registration process and are suffering fiscal inequality as a result.

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11514-illegal-short-term-lettings-market-suffers-a-near-fatal-blow

A new role for notaries, that of fraud investigators, is enveloped in legislation which will require cheque numbers and bank account details to be recorded on property transaction ‘escrituras.’

This will stop a money laundering opportunity as currently no funds actually need to change hands when a property is sold. The seller just has to tell the notary that he has been paid, if asked.

A reader’s comment from ‘Charly’ asks whether Chinese Golden Visa buyers will be included in this new EU-wide regulation. It they are, this may put off some buyers as the origin and destination of funds will have to be noted and cash, as we know, is out of the question...

http://algarvedailynews.com/news/11508-property-purchase-contracts-to-include-bank-and-cheque-details-due-to-new-eu-regulations

 

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Until next weekend

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