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More problems for PM as Caixa Geral 'Committee of Inquiry' chairman quits

caixageral2Matos Correia, the chairman of the parliamentary committee looking into the dark and corrupt past of State-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos, has resigned while accusing Socialist and Left Bloc committee members of "trampling over democracy."

The Social Democrat chairman quit, as he believes that left-wing parties have been "limiting the commission's objectives," and that this is illegal and anti-democratic.

The committee was set up last July amid public hope that at last the bank’s past, specifically its willfully negligent lending policies, would be laid bare for public scrutiny, since which the left bloc and socialist party members on the committee have been limiting the enquiry's remit to exclude important aspects such as the current row over the former Caixa Geral’s president António Domingues’ short-lived tenure at the bank, and the exclusion of potentially key contributors.

Matos Correia has had enough and felt unable properly to do his job, accusing his erstwhile colleagues of taking "attitudes that violate the law, are a violation of democracy and call into question the normal way a parliamentary committee operates."

Matos Correia says that the PS, PCP and the Left Bloc had "assumed the right, which the law does not give them, to reinterpret the commission of inquiry’s remit according to their own intentions and objectives."

Committee work has been marked by "political acrimony" from the outset, notes Correia who said at a press conference this morning that “We all have a limit” and that his had been reached. Correia also has made history as this is the first time in Portugal that a committee of enquiry chairman has resigned.

At a meeting on Wednesday, which was the last straw for the chairman, the left wing parties joined forces to block PSD and CDS requests for access to messages and e-mails exchanged between Finance Minister, Mário Centeno, and António Domingues.

Their argument was that these requests did not fall within the scope of the committee. For Matos Correia, this was "limiting the remit of the committee," which, when set up, has been allowed free rein to do whatever it took to uncover the curruption and backhanders that typified the bank's operating style.

José Matos Correia’s decision to resign was taken today and transmitted to the President of Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues.

Correia said he hadn’t resigned over "political conflicts" but that "What is at stake is the need to reflect very seriously on whether or not we want to have parliamentary committees of inquiry and respect the rights of minorities." Because "if this is repeated in the future, it will mean that these committees run the risk of disappearing as their usefulness is called into question."

Finance Minister, Mario Centeno’s job hangs in the balance despite kindly letters of support from the prime minister and Portugal’s president, both of whom are implicated in the granting of special dispensation for Domingues who was allowed to skip the all-important step of submitting his income and asset statements - a normal requirement for everyone running a State controlled business.

Centeno is accused of lying to parliament and has been saved so far only by his intricate use of semantics. The press is uncovering more detail as the days go by and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Centeno will be able to stay on, despite the economy doing better under his stewardship as the nation eases itself from recession.