Breakthrough - Spanish join the Algarve in total condemnation of A22 tolls

tollscrash2Yesterday’s key meeting in Loulé – ‘II Forum Algarve/Andalusia’ - saw representaives from all of the Algarve’s political parties, local business groups and key political representatives from Spain in total agreement that the tolls on the Algarve’s motorway should be suspended immediately.

This political unification brings a new impetus to the tireless efforts of the Committee of Users of the Via do Infante (CUVI).

In a full house, a wide-ranging debate concluded that the ruinous tolls system should be done away with.

The panel, headed by Jorge Botelho, the President of the Algarve mayors group AMAL, together with CUVI members and business leaders from the Algarve, reached an historic and unified agreement in front of an audience of over 150 people.

A new, powerful body is to be formed as a result of yesterday’s landmark accord which has cross-party support for the first time.

CUVI organised the event in partnership with Loulé council, both considered that the agreement is indeed a breakthrough in the fight against tolls on the Via do Infante/A22,

"We have always argued that there should be the broadest possible consensus that goes beyond partisan political views" said João Vasconcelos, CUVI member and Portimão council member.

Vasconcelos challenged the president of AMAL, Jorge Botelho, to be the public face of this struggle, a challenge accepted by the Tavira mayor, who did not hide that in his opinion there is no place for tolls on the Via do Infante,

"After an extended debate, there are two conclusions we can draw. First, the process is not against anyone, it is solely for the suspension or abolition of tolls on the Via do Infante and the renovation and upgrading of the EN 125 road. Second, this is not a matter of partisan political or private interests, this is for the good of the Algarve," stated Botelho.

"As councilors we believe that there needs to be a revival of this process, because the introduction of tolls on the Via do Infante is proving to be an economic disaster due to restricted mobility for local businesses and residents, and for the tourism sector,' said the AMAL president.

During his speech Botelho recalled that "what the government did was a betrayal of the Algarve, placing tolls on the A22 when it had assured the regional mayors that this would only happen after the EN125 had been repaired and upgraded.”

Besides many mayors being present, the vast majority from the Socialist Party, there was Francisco Amaral from the PSD and MPs Cecília Honório from the left Bloc and Miguel Freitas from the Socialist Party. Also present were  representatives of many business associations, including Vítor Neto of the Employers Association of the Algarve Region and Armando Santana from the Car Rental Association of the Algarve. Supporting the call for the abolition of tolls were former dean of the University of the Algarve Pimpão Adriano, the former mayor of Faro José Vitorino and of the guest of honor, the Vice President of the Association for Transparency and Integrity Paulo Morais who contributed to the debate.

Morais made a much anticipated presentation ‘Two years of Tolls - PPP ruinous to the Algarve.’  

The Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for Portugal’s road system, partnerships which in many cases are still shrouded in secrecy despite the €4 billion cost this year alone to fund the secret deals, are expected to run for another 20 years in many cases.

“The Algarve’s A22/Via do Infante is just another PPP with an annual cost to the taxpayer of €40 million. The tolls on Portugal’s formerly free SCUT roads led to a decrease in traffic – around 50% on the A22 – which led to less fuel being bought to the extent that the government lost more in fuel duty than it gained in tolls income" explained Morais.

“Despite all financial information on the toll systems on Portugal’s motorways being kept from the taxpayers who are funding the programme, we know that in the Algarve due to the gantry system for recording traffic number plates the cost of collecting the tolls is a full 29% of the income," continued Morais who mentioned the distinct probability that corruption was the key driver behind these financially disastrous deals.

The Portuguese State receives inadequate revenue from tolls as fewer motorists and trade vehicles are using the motorways, but the contracts with concession holders contain clauses that remove all risk from the private sector which can bank on a profit of around 23-24% at the taxpayers’ expense.

This is why the A22/Via do Infante concession holder receives a support payment of €40 million a year from the general taxpayer – so much for the Passos Coelho mantra of ‘user pays.’

Morais suggest the government has two options, dramatically reduce these support payments, or scrap the contracts all together as they were signed in a conspiracy of corruption and therefore illegal.

"The most correct is to say is that political activity in Portugal has become a central mega-business" said Morais who gave as an example the PPP legislation which was approved by the Commission of Public Works which had seven members on the board who also were being paid by construction companies.

The mayor of Olhão, António Pina, summed up the general outrage at the government’s stupidity, corruption and summary treatment of the Algarve region, "I came to hear Dr. Morais and have been thinking whether I should say something or not,” said Pina, adding "Há uns filhos da puta que nos andam a roubar!”


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