Budget watchdogs send out new warning over government accounts

With finance minister Mário Centeno already accepting that government spending forecasts are out-of-sync by at least €50 million, budget watchdogs UTAO have warned that this could be just the beginning.

The 2017 budget – now under parliamentary scrutiny – has dramatically “underestimated” expenses that the government will have with public sector workers, say the experts.

Hospitals are already spending more than estimated on salaries, less public sector workers are taking up options of early retirement and all in all the document due to be voted on by parliament at the end of the month “may not satisfy Brussels”.

It is not a new ‘overview’ of the PS executive’s financial plan for 2017, but it is the kind of criticism that carries weight.

Elsewhere, Opposition parties continue to maintain that budget document is “full of tricks” and smartass accounting.

As PSD MP MP Duarte Pacheco has declared: “The government may not have handed over an empty pendrive (which they did last year), but they have just delivered part of the information”.

For now, national tabloid Correio da Manhã has made much of Centeno’s forecasts being “hoodwinked” by the reality of what is really going on within the civil service.

The finance minister told parliament yesterday (Wednesday) that of the original “estimated 20,000 civil servants” likely to take early retirement next year, numbers had “passed to 15,000 and were now at a level of around 6,000”.

At the beginning of the year, the European Commission was equally dubious on this point, says CM.

Since then, public sector salaries have all returned the the levels at which they were slashed in the name of austerity in 2009 – meaning that State payroll costs are effectively higher now than ever.

The projected ‘two-for-one’ substitutions pledged by the government have turned into ‘one-for-one’ – meaning that retirement numbers are well down, and showing signs of levelling out altogether.

CM adds that Centeno was “bombarded” with criticisms yesterday, but stood his ground, if not with much gravitas.

Giving a list of his ripostes, one ran like this: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

The debates continue, as final decisions remain over three weeks away.

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