Health minister ensnared by new ‘incompatibility’ controversy
Manuel Pizarro: photo - António Cotrim/ Lusa

Health minister ensnared by new ‘incompatibility’ controversy

Manuel Pizarro in process of ‘dissolving’ health consultancy

Portugal’s new health ministry Manuel Pizarro has found himself ensnared by yet another controversy over alleged incompatibility, only weeks after taking over his role.

First it was the fact that his wife is president of the Order of Nutritionists, which is ‘regulated’ by the health ministry. This ‘polemic’ appeared in many ways manufactured, but Mr Pizarro quickly nipped criticism in the bud by saying any dealings with his wife’s Order would be done by his secretary of State Margarida Fernandes Tavares, not by himself.

That might have satisfied were it not for revelations that even Margarida Fernandes Tavares has received payments in the past from pharmaceutical companies – including Merck Sharp & Dohme, Gilead Sciences and Janssen Cilag – according to tabloid Correio da Manhã.

Now, into the mix, comes the news that Mr Pizarro had a consultancy business that has worked for various pharmaceutical enterprises, also including Gilead Sciences.

It hasn’t gone down well, in spite of the fact that the minister assures he is in the process of ‘dissolving’ the company.

Television commentator Paulo Baldaia tells SIC that overall citizens get the distinct impression that the government can do whatever it likes.

“The government thinks, that when it suits, what counts is what the law says, full stop – like in the case of the Minister for Territorial Cohesion. In this situation, ethics were not considered. But then we get to the Minister for Health, and it’s the law that can wait a little… Portuguese people are left with the idea that the absolute majority allows anything”, he said.

Baldaia added that he doubts very much the government would be behaving as it has if it were in a coalition/ alliance (as it was in the early years of António Costa’s prime ministership).

Left wingers Bloco de Esquerda have denounced the situation as an “enormous political mistake” showing “arrogance”, while right wing CHEGA has called for Manuel Pizarro to resign, and has even lodged complaints with the Public Ministry and the Constitutional Court.

It is however looking very unlikely that resignation/ dismissal will come. Tackled on the subject last night by journalists President Marcelo put the situation into context by saying: “In abstract it is very simple. If someone has an incompatibility which is really an incompatibility – I do not know if this is true or not – due to exercising functions that are incompatible with the exercise of a public function, whatever it is, what should be done immediately – if it hasn’t been done before – is to resolve the problem. And there are two ways to resolve it: one is to quit the public function, the other is to leave the private function”.

It is already clear which option the health minister is taking.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com