António Costa
Can he keep it all together? The PM. Image: ANTÓNIO PEDRO SANTOS/LUSA

Hanging by a thread? “Every day there is another scandal…”

Pundits discuss whether Portugal’s government can keep soldiering on…

A common theme now on all news programmes is whether Portugal’s absolute majority government “has the conditions to continue”.

Everyday there’s a shot at someone else”, former PSD prime minister, current mayor of Figueira da Foz, Pedro Santana Lopes has told SIC – convinced that President Marcelo should call time on the gathering smut and general feeling of a deterioration of authority.

The weekend particularly has been marked by the ‘sudden return from amnesia’ of former infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos. Yes, he does remember now that a paper passed under his nose detailing the half million euro ‘golden handshake’ offered to the former TAP director he then put into a top job at NAV. These memory lapses can happen in government…

Another deep feeling of malaise has been engendered by the ‘discovery’ that former Secretary of State for Health Jamila Madeira was a lobbyist for REN, earning three times her MP’s salary, for several months, while serving as an MP in parliament, before asking the commission for transparency on their opinion of the situation.

Last week, Jamila Madeira announced that she had suspended her contract with REN, but what of all those months when she was effectively representing this Chinese-owned company?

Columnist Octávio Ribeiro, in Correio da Manhã today, recalls that “during the pandemic it was possible to see (Jamila Madeira) receiving tons of Chinese produce, purchased in a hurry with public money. It is still unclear, whether at this phase, Jamila will have broken ties with the private sector, with rules dictated in Beijing”.

And then there are the endless details of ‘suspicions of corruption’ and cases under investigation by public prosecutors.

There are literally so many of them now that Lusa news agency has done a ‘recap’ in English,(of “some of the cases”) to try and help readers keep score.

Saturday saw discussions on how the potential ‘scandal’ on finance minister Fernando Medina’s watch in Lisbon City Council has been widened, to take in the years when prime minister António Costa was mayor of Lisbon.

The prime minister has said he has “absolutely no knowledge of the subject, and for this reason will not comment”. But then those were almost verbatim words spoken by former infrastructures minister Pedro Nuno Santos about the whopping golden handshake that he has now suddenly remembered, and the situation of former defence minister João Gomes Cravinho, who claimed to have had no knowledge of any slippage in works on the old military hospital – and who now, it appears, will have known that a job priced out at €750,000 was careering wildly off budget (where it landed with a thumping expense of €3.2 million).

All in all, it has been one of those weekends where everyone has an opinion of what has been happening, and very little of it is looking good for the government.

Correio da Manhã on Saturday claimed that “the President of the Republic has not discounted the possibility of dismissing the current government, and asking António Costa to construct a new one if Fernando Medina ends up having to present his resignation as a result of the Lisbon investigations (that would be the 14th in the government since last March). But even that option leads to potentially dark places, as all the new postings would be liable to the 36-point questionnaire created to weed out candidates with skeletons in their cupboards – and finding candidates able to answer the various questions in the correct way is looking like a tall order.

Sunday has harked back to the ‘Paulo Cafôfô’ investigation, and ‘lapses’ in his income declarations for various years. Mr Cafôfô affirms that he has “nothing to hide”, and that he was under the impression that he didn’t have to declare money in accounts “if it was less than 50 minimum salaries…”

“All this is very complicated, and very disagreeable”, Pedro Santana Lopes mused on air – referring in this particular instance to the memory lapse of Pedro Nuno Santos, but just as well to the wider situation where “we are all living in situation of suspicion (…) almost every day there is a shot at someone, and in this government, (the shots) have hit strategic ministers, which weakens the government”.

Santana Lopes almost went as far as to suggest this short-lived government tarnished by so much ‘furore’ has been ‘jinxed’. The PM has to stop the cycle , he told SIC’s news anchor. “There has to be an ‘enough!” and the start of something different…” he gestured, with his hands coming down on ‘enough!’

Thus, a new week is about to start, and no-one is laying any bets on what to expect. If one looks ‘beyond Portugal’, at countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, political faux-pas (as well as memory lapses) seem to be the flavour of the month, if not the season: Portugal hasn’t got a monopoly on events unravelling, or things going wrong (at least, that is one way of looking at it).

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com