New Year's day newsletter from algarvedailynews

As you awake, dear reader, and regret that final New Year's drink last night, I bring a soothing message of cheer for the year ahead.

Another 12 months has slid by without disruption in our adopted homeland. Portugal remains safe, friendly and distanced from the mayhem of Brexit, the immigration problem in Europe and the terrorist violence that has blighted some fellow nations.

No earthquakes, pestilence or oil spills, just the continuing ebb and flow of tourists to keep the region’s businesses going and the sunshine to keep us all happy and warm.

As for the prospect of an oil industry emerging to threaten our pristine shores, the emphasis has moved from the south but there remains much to achieve before we can rest.

Campaigners based in Peniche now have ahead of them the same struggle that has been tackled in the Algarve by dedicated individuals, groups and associations.

The game is not over in the Algarve as there remain real threats to our seas and beaches but anti-oil campaign progress through 2016 has been exceptional with the commercial ambitions of Repsol-Partex and Portfuel, disrupted.

As for us armchair activists, we can but thank those who have been out there canvassing from beach to beach though the summer months, demonstrating, waving banners in front of parliament and generally making such well-coordinated and coherent objections that the government has taken notice and is working within the law to cancel Algarve oil exploration concessions.

Many lost considerable amounts of money when the once-proud Banco Espírito Santo conned depositors out of millions in the months leading up to its collapse in August 2014. These customers have always had the sympathy of this column and, over two years later, a resolution is at hand, covered in a previous newsletter but repeated here:

As for the sale of Novo Banco, the 'bridge bank' created by a panicked Bank of Portugal governor, Carlos Costa, the programme descends into farce with the buyer unable to complete the purchase.

Added to this impasse, a group of 232 BES depositors has lodged a court action to stop the Novo Banco sale and to seize the bank's assets, including branches and furniture.

I have long questioned Carlos Costa’s ability successfully to run the Bank of Portugal.

He is accident prone and has failed to regulate the banking sector with anything like the rigour expected. This has cost the public purse billions of euros which the taxpayer has been forced to pay for.

This latest court action, should it delay the sale of Novo Banco, is just another foul-up but Costa’s happy and well-funded retirement awaits as, however badly he fails, his job remains safe until he settles into obscurity with his taxpayer-funded pension.

The former mayor of Olhão and his sidekick, the head of urban planning Ditza Reis, have been charged by the public prosecutor in Évora over the suspiciously low compensation paid to the council by Construções Largaça, the company that built the Village Marina de Olhão.

The developer paid €490,000 in compensation for its 'use of public space' as part of the building project. The fee that should have been paid has been calculated at €7 million.

This means the builder ended up €6.51 million better off and the council €6.51 million worse off.

The former mayor has caused mirth in the city’s bars and cafes by stating to the media that “no one corrupted me while I was president.”

Locals agree that Leal’s above statement is correct but add that he had been corrupted long before he took over the council. He and Ditza Reis face jail if found guilty of organising this vast and inexplicable underpayment.

It has been a saddening year for many as our idols have proved their mortality. The most shocking for me was the death of David Bowie. With impeccable style, he left fans with a new album with which to console themselves.

For many, the demise of George Michael, 53, was equally shocking, mainly due to his young age.

I asked for and was pleased to receive an exclusive comment from the impresario, Harvey Goldsmith, whose tribute included:

“So many great artists have passed. It feels like the beginning of the end of an era: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen and now George Michael. I was lucky enough to know and work with all of them. Each was special in their own right.”

One case that at least will start to be heard next year is that involving José Sócrates and chums including Joaquim Barroca, a director of the Lena group, Sócrates' former driver João Perna, Paulo Lalanda de Castro the former boss of Octapharma currently a prime suspect in the plasma supply corruption case. Also, the Portuguese-Angolan banker and financier, Helder Bataglia.

Sócrates must formally be charged before March 17th next year - only then will we know how thorough a job the public prosecutor has done in amassing evidence during the long-running Operation Marquês.

Portugal’s forested area is declining, mainly due to fires, new roads, dams and new tourist developments in countryside zones.

Only Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Namibia are losing forests faster than Portugal and the government soon is introducing legislation to halt the decline that has seen an average of 100,000 hectares of forest disappearing each year for 15 years. Quercus is not convinced that the government knows what it is doing...

Portugal’s farmers received €1.7 billion in subsidies last year.

Payments to the European Union’s farmers represent 30% of EU spending. Is this a sensible use of taxpayers’ money?

The arguments are laid out in this news item with some saying that farming subsidies affect the natural supply and demand for food and artificially shield farmers from healthy competition.

The original argument for the Common Agricultural Policy was for food security, but this was long before globalisation. What do you think?

The emigration of many of Portugal’s employable young has continued apace throughout the years of austerity.

This sustained exit has been the result of economic hardship at home and the ability of people to move to wherever they can find work within the EU.

There are now 2.3 million Portuguese born in Portugal that live elsewhere but this is only the seventh highest figure in Europe.

The concern is that Portugal will become a country of pensioners, and poorly pensioned ones at that.

One answer is job creation but successive governments have tried and failed to attract big business into the country.

Maybe the answer is nearer to home. Even though Portugal always scores well on the ‘ease of setting up and running a business’ chart, I dispute this - the country has never been an easy environment in which entrepreneurs can flourish.

Get the small business sector moving again and unemployment would be a thing of the past. Encourage and develop the renewable energy sector and qualified people will start to return.

Another year without an earthquake is worth celebrating, I always say.

Most will know of the 1755 ‘Lisbon earthquake’ which affected the Algarve but totally destroyed the capital and was felt across much of Europe.

Few may have heard of the 1722 Algarve earthquake which crippled many local towns and villages and is estimated to have reached 7.8 degrees on the Richter scale.

Finally, we wish the Ria Formosa islanders an excellent 2017. Recent years have seen their struggle for recognition damned and thwarted by successive governments.

With the exit of bête noire, Sebastião Teixeira, the president of Polis Ria Formosa Litoral who was sacked by the Environment Minister, a genuine spirit of consultation and cooperation has replaced the highly-charged stand-off over the demolition of island properties.

Parliament now has agreed a 13-point plan that accepts the islanders’ demands, the key one being their legal recognition as inhabitants rather than squatters. With this new status, progress can be made and calm restored.

Thank you dear reader for continuing to peruse algarvedailynews throughout 2016 and I wish you the happiest of years ahead.





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