Newsletter: abortion, motorhomes and the Algarve's 750th birthday

Dear reader

A week of news and views from the Algarve...

We now have a date for the long-awaited opening of the Algarve’s latest shrine to retail therapy, IKEA, which will throw open its doors to an eager public on March 30th.

It’s only the main IKEA store that is opening next month, we will have to wait for the other part of this large development to start trading, namely Mar Shopping Algarve, which is scheduled to open ‘sometime this summer,’ according to the Swedish company.

The newly appointed manager of the 2.4 hectare IKEA store, Abdelhak Ayadi, has outlived many of IKEA’s products as he has been with the company for 25 years.

All eyes will be on Forum Algarve and Algarve Shopping in Guia when the IKEA site is fully functional to see how trade is affected.

The IKEA development, when finished, will be offering a ‘family experience’ with outdoor fun for non-shoppers, and I quote:

"The space will consist of two zones - Welcome & Discovery and Mountain Area - designed to provide the best entertainment before, during or after shopping, fostering moments of fun for all ages and benefiting from the climatic conditions of the region. The two outdoor areas, intended for games and more 'radical attractions,' include amusements such as sound pipes, suspension bridges, water pumps, stone paths, water mills, tree tunnels, caves, slides and rock climbing.”

Environmental associations opposed a change in the land classification from ecological reserve to urban area. Their quest to halt the retailer’s plans was unsuccessful as IKEA had the willing support of Loulé council which couldn’t have been more helpful, keen to have the store and happy that thousands of jobs would be be created.

There will be new jobs at the retail site - also many jobs may be lost as local businesses close down or lay-off staff, unable to compete. This is capitalism.

Rui Horta and Costa has had to resign from a comfy non-exec job on the board of Portugal’s Post Office.

The press made this look like he had done something noble but his arrest and forthcoming prosecution resulting from Operation Marquês left CTT's Corporate Governance Committee with no choice but to insist Rui stepped down.

Horta e Costa used to run the Vale de Lobo company and is implicated in a fiddle involving €2 million in cash which ended up with Caixa Geral’s Armando Vara and the childhood amigo of José Sócrates, Carlos Santos Silva.

How Horta e Costa got his non-executive board position at the Post Office remains a mystery as he seems to have little in his background that would qualify him such a prestigious position.

The fact that Horta e Costa has been dropped is a credit to the Post Office which, after all, has only just got its banking license and would not wish this to be put jeopardy by having a convicted money launderer on its board – should Horta e Costa be found guilty, of course.

Continente are heading into ‘a little local difficulty’ by studiously ignoring events in Lagoa.

Environmentalists and the birding community maintain pressure on the council to at least admit that filling in the ancient Lagoas Brancas wetland site to create an industrial area for the supermarket and other businesses, is causing friction and protest.  

The council has tried the old ruse of offering an alternative area for birds to land on and rest. If accepted, I suggest that this deal will never happen.

The council will do anything to get the supermarket project through as the rates income and prospect of jobs for locals are hugely attractive - as is the deal whereby the council ends up owning three of the newly created lots as a payment for granting the original planning permission.

If the infilled site indeed includes a Continente supermarket, many may feel inclined not to shop there - after all, there is plenty of choice locally as Lagoa has more than a sane amount of supermarkets already.

But before any of this happens, Continente’s owners, Sonae, needs to re-read its own Social Responsibility blurb, "We have an active sense of social responsibility, and try to contribute to improving the communities within which we operate. Our behaviour takes into account the most recent environmental concerns and sustainable development policies.”

All of which, when you look at what is going on in Lagoa, is an example of top quality bovine ordure.

Changes to Portugal’s abortion law were seen as so important that the issue was decided by the public in a referendum in 2007. An earlier referendum in 1998 voted down similar proposed changes to make 'abortion on demand' a legal option.

Ten years after the successful relaxation of the restrictive exemptions for abortions, the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act has led to the evaporation of back street abortionists who often caused the death of those women forced down this grim route.

The 2017 referendum was the last time the public was asked to decide on an issue. Calls in 2016 for a referendum on EU membership were smothered by the new President, Marcelo Rebelo da Sousa.

One proposalto decide the oil and gas exploration issue, is for a national or regional referendum but this will be resisted to the last by the current government, as will other issues which are seen as ‘policy’ by our leaders, hence the public should not meddle.

As for the abortion rate, this dropped from nearly 20,000 cases in the depths of the recession and is levelling out at 15,000 per year.

Saddening, yes of course, but it now is safe for women to have the operation within the health service rather than having to risk their lives with back steet abortionists.

The Algarve is awash with motorhomes at this time of year and the 2016 breakthrough agreement between councils, the Regional Development and Coordination Commission and the Algarve’s tourist board seems to have had little effect as illegally lengthy stays in unoffiicial parking areas has become the norm.

The Algarve Motorhome Support Network defined suthorised sites across the region but, taking just one example of Olhão, there are over 100 vehicles parked between the police station and the five-star hotel, and many more next to the GNR station, both groups taking full advantage of wasteland.

What’s a mayor to do? Insist that this valuable off-season source of income moves on, or ignore the problem and hope the occupants keep spending in local stores and cafes?

It is clear that this market is growing, alongside the general boom in tourist numbers, with an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 motorhomes visiting Portugal this year.

Suggestions welcomed...

The 2016 boom in Portugal's tourism saw visitors outnumbering the population with 11.4 million foreigners choosing to spend time in this attractive and welcoming country of 10.5 million residents.

The Algarve was particularly successful, with hotels full and restaurants booked out, resulting in VAT and other taxes flowing to Lisbon at an impressive rate.

The response to the official tourist figures by the president of the Algarve’s tourist board, Desidério Silva, icluded a long moan about his lack of budget.

The most read news item on your algarvedailynews website in the last week was ‘Become a Portuguese citizen AND keep your British passport,’ sent in by ‘dear reader’ Sue Fletcher in the Alentejo who recently completed the process, including the somewhat daunting language test which, with study and determination, she passed.

I know I have highlighted this item before but the content is well worth reading, especially if you live in Portugal without having registered. Post-Brexit problems will not go away if they are ignored.

With regret, I take readers back to the Ria Formosa islands where, in a grown up democracy, there would be open and honest government and islanders treated with compassion and justice.

This demolition process really has been a shambles with the current Minister of the Environment going back on his word, as have so many politicians and civil servants before him, by issuing 60 more demolition notices, instead of the case-by-case consultation he promised.

Olhão’s Mayor, António Pina, was in Loulé court last Monday as his ‘chameleon defence’ of the islands was heard.

The testimony from witnesses showed that the first wave of demolitions had paid no attention at all to the rare island chameleon, an endangered species, and that those undertaking and managing the demolition process had been ignorant of the effects their actions were having on this island creature.

Sr Pina spoke to the press after his court appearance and said Olhão and Faro council are going to apply to categorise the entire Ria Formosa area as a UNESCO protected site. This, said the mayor, will remove the management of the islands from State control and should resolve the demolitions business once and for all.

Faro council voted on the islanders’ status and approved a motion to support their aquatic brethren and recognise the social, economic, historical and cultural value of the villages on the Ria Formosa islands, while demanding an end to the demolitions.

Hopefully, this successful motion will not be followed by another mayoral U-turn of the type Rogério Bacalhau is so adept.

Meanwhile, the islanders on Culatra face the forced repossession of 60 further properties on February 22nd and have called on the Algarve's support.

Why this affair is still dragging on defies polite description. It’s not like these island properties are in the path of a motorway. Why not let these people get on with their lives in peace? Or hold a referendum as the various laws being trotted out to evict residents, simply are not wanted

A seismic shift in power has been approved by the Council of Ministers which has passed a proposal that many State powers will be devolved to local councils.

On the face of it, this is excellent news as things like education may well be run better if run locally. The devolvement list includes health, social security, transport, culture, housing and civil protection with land classification and regional development to yet be decided on.

This was all going so well until I realised, of course, that people came as part of the package “and staff currently running these services will leave central government employ and be taken on by the councils with their rights intact.”

How staff running these devolved services will fit in with the councils’ HR regimes is a huge concern.

Many councils are staffed by those whose only qualification for the job was to born of the right parents. Nepotism at council level sits happily alongside inefficiency and inability, cloaked by huffy obstructiveness.

If councils take over these central services and staff, in a few years we can expect the same ‘do as little as possible’ culture to have spread and infected formerly healthy organisational structures.

The our very own bank, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, where the chairman of the committee of inquiry into the past management and loans policy, has quit.

Not only is this a first for any chairman of a parliamentary committee of inquiry, but it highlights the fact that politics has invaded these committees to the extent that this one has become unfit for the task it was charged with.

There are two issues at play in the Caixa story. The first is that the committee wants access to the recent emails and text messages between the Finance Minister, Mario Centeno, and the former head of Caixa Geral, António Domingues.

This is all about Domingues being exempted from having to submit his income and asset statements so we can see if he profited unduly from his position. He quit after a few months anyway, so this is academic but the row continues with Centeno’s job still threatened as he agreed the exemption without the power to do so.

Then the Bank of Portugal, desperate for information on Caixa Geral's big loans to remain secret, issued a statement saying the financial system would collapse of these details were seen by anyone other than those running the bank - remember, this is a State-owned bank that is asking for us to bail it out for around €4 billion just for starters.

Bank of Portugal’s lame duck governor, Carlos Costa, does not want these loan details released as they inevitably will show that his supervision and regulation of Caixa Geral was up the standard used for Banif and Banco Espírito Santo, both of which collapsed, much to Costa’s surprise.

The government, acting on our behalf as ever, wants to ‘refinance’ Caixa Geral with more of our money yet is whipping up support to keep Caixa's disastrous loans portfolio a secret.

Anyone asked to lend money should be allowed a good look at the financial state of affairs of the applicant: the position at Caixa Geral sould be no different.

The problem is that there will be many politically sanctioned non-performing loans that the government wants kept under wraps. It wants the refinancing done first and the true state of the bank's financial health revealed later on. This is a mess.

Over at Novo Banco, the American contenders to take over this ‘bridge bank’ created when Banco Espírito Santo went bust in 2014, are dancing to the Bank of Portugal’s tune by becoming all Portuguese friendly and sending letters to big national businesses offering them a slice of the bank and the chance to make a mint when it is run properly.

At least Lone Star has dropped the requirement that the taxpayer underwrites future losses from bad loans at Novo Banco.

The Bank of Portugal last week was scheduled to announce a winner of the Novo Banco sale contest - an announcement that Carlos Costa is dreading as at last we will find out how much his ‘rescue’ of BES has cost us and Portugal’s high street banks.

Guest article of the week is from journalist Natasha Donn at the Resident who has been following the harrowing case of the Portuguese grandmother jailed in Britain for standing up for her sick, elderly brother in a Tavira care home.

Teresa Kirk’s lawyer said he is, “ashamed to have any connection with a court system able to act in this heartless, incompetent and unsympathetic way.”

Councils in Britain are said to be taking billions from old people’s estates each year...

Happy Birthday Algarve!

February the 16th this year marked the 750th anniversary of the Treaty of Badajoz at which point the Algarve became inexorably joined to Portugal.

Historian Peter Booker rightly points out that the correct date is the 26th of February, as in 1852 the Gregorian calendar managed to lose ten days.

Click here for the history of this fine region:


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Until next week



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