Rui Moreira talking yesterday with President Marcelo in Belém. Photo Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Government struggles to stem municipalities’ ‘mutiny’

Porto mayor tries to get President Marcelo ‘on side’

The agonising ‘decentralisation’ debate saw Porto mayor Rui Moreira visit President Marcelo yesterday to try and get his support to ‘fight the government’.

The issue is the government’s ‘rules’ on decentralisation, which, says Mr Moreira, leave municipalities hog-tied, no more than ‘contractors’ of government policies.

His belief is that ‘decentralisation’ should mean what it says: municipalities should be allowed to make key decisions in strategic areas like education and health, away from Lisbon’s influence.

Mr Moreira has already removed himself from ANMP, the national association of Portuguese municipalities because of this. Understanding is that other councils will follow. This has caused the minister for Territorial Cohesion to jump into the fray, stressing the government will only work with the ANMP (see below).

Yesterday’s meeting saw Rui Moreira ask President Marcelo NOT to rubber stamp the 2022 State Budget before corrections are made to it regarding money-flow to councils for the ‘decentralisation’ of education.

He has explained to journalists that as the State Budget stands his council is due to receive six times LESS in terms of funding to maintain the municipality’s schools than it did before this aspect of decentralisation kicked in.

President Marcelo has shown he understands municipalities’ arguments, says Rui Moreira, in comments he made recently in which he acknowledged that “the transfer of resources to municipalities under the terms of decentralisation underway are manifestly insufficient”.

In Matosinhos last week, Marcelo appealed for dialogue between the government and local authorities and said he “understood the reason for municipalities’ dissatisfaction”, reports SIC.

Minister attempts damage control

Minister for territorial cohesion Ana Abrunhosa has had the difficult task of “challenging” municipalities by giving them nothing really to hold on to.

She told journalists yesterday that as far as she is concerned, she will only deal with the ANMP.

Says Lusa:  According to Abrunhosa, the government “negotiates exclusively with the National Association of Municipalities” and will then talk with all municipalities “only when the agreement on the decentralisation of competencies is concluded”.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how many councils follow Porto out of the ANMP, the government means to stand its ground.

“We all want a strong Association of Municipalities”, said Abrunhosa.

Mayors and municipalities “have much to gain by joining forces with others” who discuss decentralisation and other matters of interest to local communities through the governing bodies of the ANMP”, she insisted, adding: “Let it be clear – our interlocutor is unique, it is the association of municipalities.”

It’s a stand off in other words, unless President Marcelo pulls some strings (in plain sight, or behind the scenes).

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com