PM admits bar needs to be set higher in choice of council leaders
On the day that yet another mayor is remanded in custody pending trial for corruption, abuse of power and all the rest, Portugal’s prime minister António Costa – already figuratively firefighting with numerous government ‘scandals’ – has admitted the bar needs to be set a higher in the selection of candidates for mayors and parish council presidents.
“We must never forget all those who we must honour and respect, and so from the choice of parish council presidents to the choice of members of the Government, we must be much more demanding. We have 50 years of history and heritage that we must know how to respect and honour”, he told journalists in Coimbra.
Thursday’s Council of Ministers has already approved a ‘mechanism of scrutiny’ for members of government, involving 36 questions in five areas – current and previous activities, impediments and conflicts of interest, property situation, tax situation and criminal liability.
Notwithstanding the fact that critics see the questions as ‘obvious’ (in other words, nothing very impressive or ground-breaking), the latest ‘Operation Vortex’ has shown that scandals are not limited to government; and they are beginning to take on a look of ‘déja vu’.
For all his protestations of innocence, the former mayor of Espinho (Miguel Reis) failed to convince a pre-trial judge that there was no danger of criminal activity taking place if he was freed.
Also remanded in custody has been the purported ‘corruptor’ cited in Vortex, Espinho businessman Francisco Pessegueiro.
The other three defendants (including the head of Urbanism at Espinho borough council, now suspended due to his arrest) have been allowed home on bail.
Addressing journalists Mr Reis’ lawyer described his client’s treatment as “shocking”, and said he would be lodging an appeal.
He told reporters that someone who renounces his public function would as a result no longer be able to commit the crimes of a public nature that he has been accused of – and therefore there can be no reason for his client to be kept in preventive custody.
Vortex, like so many other council-based investigations before it, involves alleged abuse of power: council chiefs and officials who are seen, by public prosecutors, to have been operating not for the ‘good of the local authority’ but for the good of themselves and those around them.