Councils call for more power

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Prime Minister António Costa and many other high-profile politicians were in Portimão on Saturday (December 9) for the national congress of the Portuguese municipalities association (ANMP). Giving local authorities ‘more power and more money’ to allow them to be more autonomous was the hot topic under discussion, with President Marcelo saying that “2018 is a good year” to bring the matter of decentralisation to the table.

The desire to move forward with the process of transferring powers away from the central government had already been expressed by PM António Costa right after October’s local elections.

“This will be the mandate for decentralisation,” he promised at the time, adding even more weight to his words last weekend at the Portimão Arena.

“Decentralisation is the cornerstone of the government’s programme,” he said at the congress.

Costa also guaranteed that any power transferred from the state to local authorities will be “accompanied with a respective package of financial means”. In other words, the PM says councils won’t be burdened with extra costs if they do gain more responsibilities.

Giving the closing speech at the congress, President Marcelo said that 2018 is a “good year” to debate decentralisation as there aren’t any elections taking place.

And as the process of decentralising powers would only take place after the 2019 legislative elections, the key would be to come up with a plan that would not be jeopardised depending on who won the elections.

This is why the President is calling for a fruitful debate and for “convergence, not just among the group with the majority seats in Parliament” but also with the other political forces.

He also said that decentralisation would only work if the process was made totally clear and transparent, namely in terms of what powers and how much money would be transferred to councils and other local authorities.

Decentralisation has long been a contentious issue in the Algarve, where many feel ‘forgotten’ by the central government. The general belief is that if local authorities have more power, they will be better equipped to deal with the issues of their region as opposed to state officials in Lisbon who do not have a firm understanding of the real problems on the ground.

The event was also used to elect the new ANMP board. Manuel Machado, mayor of Coimbra, was re-elected as president while Portimão mayoress Isilda Gomes retained her spot as one of the vice-presidents.

Faro mayor Rogério Bacalhau was named to the association’s ‘Conselho Directivo’ (executive body), along with Fernando Queiroga (Boticas), Ribau Esteves (Aveiro), Miguel Costa Gomes (Barcelos), Almeida Henriques (Viseu), Alfredo Monteiro (Seixal), Rui Santos (Vila Real), Nuno Mocinho (Elvas), José Leonardo Silva (Horta), Paulo Santos (Batalha), Marco Martins (Gondomar), Pedro Folgado (Alenquer), José Manuel Bolieiro (Ponta Delgada), Pedro Ferreira (Torres Novas) and Alberto Mesquita (Vila Franca de Xira).

Vítor Guerreiro, mayor of São Brás de Alportel, was named a permanent member of the association’s ‘Congresso Nacional’, described as the main body of the association, with Vítor Aleixo (Loulé), Rui André (Monchique) and Rosa Palma (Silves) ‘on call’ as his substitutes.

Francisco Amaral (Castro Marim), António Pina (Olhão) and José Amarelinho (Aljezur) were also voted as members of the ‘Conselho Geral’, which features members from the many different bodies of the association. Francisco Martins (Lagoa), Osvaldo Gonçalves (Alcoutim) and Joaquina Matos (Lagos) were also named their substitutes.

€50 million for councils to clean forests

During his speech, PM António Costa also spoke about the challenges that boroughs around Portugal are facing, the most pressing of all being the forest reform.

As he recalled, local councils will have €50 million included in the 2018 State Budget to clean private forest areas that are considered fire risks but that owners refuse to deal with.

The main goal is to avoid a repeat of this year’s tragic killer fires.

Mayoress radiant

Portimão mayoress Isilda Gomes, who was re-elected vice-president of ANMP, was “very happy” following the success of the event.

“The general opinion of the over 1,000 mayors who were here was that they loved our town, praised our infrastructures, and felt welcomed by the people of Portimão,” she said.

“The congress will go down in the history of local power in Portugal, with decentralisation proving to be a national priority and one of the cornerstones of state reform.”

BY MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]

Photo: Prime Minister António Costa pictured with Portimão mayoress Isilda Gomes outside the Portimão Arena last Saturday where the national congress of the Portuguese municipalities association ANMP took place