PM Costa
PM Costa made his announcement yesterday evening

Government ‘reshuffle’ separates ministries of Infrastructure and Housing

But PM’s choice of ministers “suggests he is thinking more of himself than country”

Portugal’s prime minister António Costa called a press conference yesterday evening to announce that he was breaking up the ministry vacated by Pedro Nuno Santos in the wake of the latest political scandal that saw State-supported TAP airline pay an outgoing director €500,000 with no political heavy-weight seemingly authorising this expenditure.

The Ministry of Infrastructures and Housing is now no more, and there are separate ministries, one of Infrastructures, the other of housing.

President of the National Association of Landlords António Frias Marques has welcomed the decision to give the “enormous task” of housing its very own ministry, as has the association of  Lisbon tenants – which is also happy with the PM’s choice of new minister, 34-year-old Marina Gonçalves, who has been working on housing under Pedro Nuno Santos for some time.

But this is where the delight peters out.

Political pundits, along with members of parties in opposition, have wasted no time in criticising Mr Costa’s choices.

The new minister of Infrastructures is 47-year-old former secretary of State for Energy João Galamba – a politician who has already been the brunt of various journalistic investigations into alleged ‘cronyism within the Socialist party’, and is understood to be under investigation by the Central Department of Investigation and Penal Action for his role in the concession of a green hydrogen project in Sines.

As tabloid Correio da Manhã reports this morning: “In this case, crimes of trafficking of influences, corruption and the favouring of the H2Sines project, composed of EDP/ GALP/REN/ Martifer and Vestas are under investigation. CM has questioned the Attorney General’s office about whether this inquiry remains active and at what stage it is at, but did not receive a response in time for publication”.

With regard to Marina Gonçalves, questions are much more based on her age and lack of experience in the outside world. 

The new minister, who is the youngest in the history of Portuguese democracy, has spent her professional career within the PS party. Political reporter Bernardo Ferrão said on air yesterday evening “she has no experience” outside of the party, and therefore, in his opinion, is a “less than ambitious choice”.

But there is one thing the two new ministers have in common. They are both “considered close to Pedro Nuno Santos”, explains Lusa. And as such, their appointments are seen as the prime minister ‘keeping the peace’ within PS ranks, now that Pedro Nuno Santos – seen as a possible successor to António Costa – has been excluded from the nucleus of political power.

Costa is thinking more of himself than the country” both Ferrão and veteran analyst José Gomes Ferreira told SIC’s news anchor Clara de Sousa.

For now it is what it is. President Marcelo has arrived back in Lisbon from Brazil, and according to reports, he too is less than impressed by Mr Costa’s choices.

Says Expresso, Marcelo “clearly has not been satisfied with the changes chosen by António Costa, and did not refrain from referring to the proximity between João Galamba and the outgoing minister Pedro Nuno Santos”.

“Let’s see”, the Head of State repeated to journalists repeatedly asking for his thoughts. “If it works it is a good idea”, he ventured. “If it doesn’t, we’ll draw conclusions from that (…) It’s up to the prime minister to choose the path”, he added. “Either he chooses the path of taking advantage of the situation to innovate, or (he chooses) to continue and tinker as little as possible. He chose the second way; it is up to the prime minister to choose – and depending on the results, either it will be a success or it won’t be, that will fall on the prime minister”.

Another less than positive detail from Mr Galamba’s past is that SOL newspaper claims he sent a text message to José Sócrates a month before the latter’s arrest in 2014 warning him that ‘something was up’: “I don’t know what it is but you are going to have media exploitation”, said the message.

None of the political parties have said anything positive about António Costa’s choices – Iniciativa Liberal echoing the concerns of media pundits, considering that the PM “is more preoccupied with the internal equilibrium of the PS party than with the future of the country”.

The new ministers will be ‘sworn in’ in the presence of President Marcelo tomorrow evening at 6pm.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com