Entrepreneurs urge reforms

Delegates at the high profile Portugal’s Promise conference have unveiled a list of 30 proposals aimed at improving the performance of the economy and the state. A total of 500 economic ‘movers and shakers’ from prominent enterprises helped to draw up the conclusions, mostly focusing on the need to increase efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. Reform was the most commonly used word by speakers at the event. António Mexia, president of the executive commission of Galp Energy and one of the organisers of the initiative, said that there was currently a meeting point between the will of the government, which is determined to instigate reforms, and the favourable disposition of business leaders to comply.

But business leaders pressed a more radical agenda on the government, urging it to reign in public spending even further, reducing it to below 40 per cent of Gross Domestic Product and recommending only modest salary increases in the public sector.

Managers, businessmen and economists said the state should make more concessions to private initiatives, identify processes to curb excessive bureaucracy and reduce red-tape ‘strangulation’ in sectors such as justice and education. “We need a pared-down state and we need to ensure it doesn’t asphyxiate civil society. We also want a state that is more independent and robust,” said António Carrapatoso, president of the executive commission of Vodafone. Business leaders recommended specific measures to make the state more efficient and to boost economic development. These include further alterations to the labour laws, allowing for greater flexibility in the workforce. They say that employers should be able to dismiss workers on the back of a compensation payment reflecting the age of the worker and his length of service. Currently, dismissing an employee with this kind of payment is only possible if it has been proved that the position has become extinct or if it involves collective dismissals.

Entrepreneurs also proposed more transparency in government financial affairs, including the creation of a website detailing everyone’s contribuinte numbers and the taxes they’ve paid. They also support the elimination of ‘secret banking’ by the state and have called for a control and audit mechanism over fiscal administration. Other proposals include an escalated attack on social security fraud, boosting opportunities for businesses to enter foreign markets (particularly the Spanish market) and finding instruments to gauge the quality of public services. In the field of education, the proposals include encouraging universities to establish ‘road shows’ at the sites of prominent firms and dissuading pupils from abandoning their studies at secondary school level.