By: Cecília Pires
IN AN interview given to The Resident four days before the disappearance of Madeleine McCann from Praia da Luz, in Lagos, the Civil Governor of Faro gave his views on crime and safety in the Algarve.
Is it still safe to visit and live in the Algarve? Many expatriates and tourists are concerned with the answer to this question, mainly because of the recent reports on attacks over tourists and villas. The Resident took the opportunity to ask Faro’s Civil Governor, Dr António Pina, about this and other issues in an interview at his office.
The interview was conducted while a protest from CGTP-In, one of the major workers’ unions in the country, was ongoing outside. Protesters were playing classical music and chanting slogans against government reforms in the public services. Despite that unexpected visit, the district governor was, as usual, in a very good mood.
When asked about the general perception on rising criminality, Dr António Pina didn’t show excess concern and explained it with the police monthly reports sent to him. “Statistics don’t show a rising trend”, he said. “I admit isolated cases like a robbery on a beach or in a villa, for example, contribute to increase fears in the neighbourhood of those events.” However, he added, “this doesn’t necessarily reflect an increase in criminality.”
The Algarve, said the governor, is a very international region in a country where borders are open. “But we are still more secure when compared with other tourist destinations. Of that I am absolutely sure.
“Sometimes information is printed in a more sensationalistic way. That also gives the wrong impression of the security in the region,” he said.
According to the governor, the University of Algarve made a study last summer to understand tourists’ perception on security when leaving the region. “More than 80 per cent said they were satisfied and many of them said they felt more secure here than in their own country”, he said.
The ongoing reform in the public sector, and specifically the security services reorganisation, is due to result in many more agents on the streets, which, he said, would increase security across the country.
“From the 8,000 agents identified as working in desk services, around 2,000 will go back to patrol the streets,” he said, adding that the Algarve region will receive some of them but not revealing how many.
Recent reports carried in The Resident, quoting the Minister of Internal Administration, António Costa, saying expatriates should not worry about the summer fires, were challenged by the government’s representative in Faro.
“There is absolutely no reason at all to use different messages for Portuguese and non-Portuguese residents in the Algarve,” he said. “We need the co-operation of the whole population.”
The fire departments are using updated charts from the agricultural authority since last year, he said, responding to reports that the operations were based on military maps more than 10 years old.
The agreement made with the Área Metropolitana do Algarve (AMAL) to create a new satellite surveillance system on water spots in the region was also an important step in the fire fighting programme, the governor added. However, he felt that to be successful, this needs the co-operation of everybody.
“We feel attitudes are changing but it takes time because many of the people we talk to are elderly people.”
In the meantime, extra efforts are going into the surveillance stage as well as in the search for new solutions, such as the proposed construction of two biomass energy production units in the Algarve, one in Monchique and the other in São Brás de Alportel.
While he wanted to see the continued development of the Algarve, the Governor was keen to emphasise that while huge investment was welcome in the region, there had to be a balance: “I believe we must want a ‘happy marriage’ between the economy and the environment.”
He thought this was a realistic ambition, based on the Plano Regional de Ordenamento do Território (PROTAL), the regional development plan for the region, which is yet to be approved.
“In the interior areas, the urban perimeters will be able to expand to allow more young people to live there. They will be given the chance to restore old houses or even rebuild new ones,” he said.
Another important aspect, he felt, is that young people are only interested in the interior regions if they can work there. For that, the new PROTAL will allow for small and medium industry parks.
He doesn’t share the idea of transforming the Algarve into an ‘Indian Reservation’ but he also did not want the region transformed into a place where everything is permitted in the name of economic growth and real estate investment.
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