Rita Marques, Secretary of State for Tourism
Rita Marques, photographed when she was Secretary of State for Tourism Photo: JOÃO RELVAS/LUSA

“Illegal” ‘revolving door’ manoeuvre sees ex-Secretary of State ensconced in project she championed

“Illegality is absolutely clear”, says consultant in anti-corruption policies

Former secretary of State for Tourism Rita Marques has walked straight into a job in a company that benefitted from her intervention while she was in government.

The illegality of this revolving door manoeuvre could not be more clear, anti-corruption consultant João Batalha has told SIC television news.

As Observador (online) which broke the story explains, Ms Marques left her government job 38 days ago; the law requires a three-year ‘cooling off’ period” before former politicians can benefit from such postings.

But, in the words of a tabloid editorial today – referring to the political scandals of recent weeks – the country is not living through ‘normal circumstances’. It is what it is, therefore.

Says Observador: Ms Marques “will be the director of a private company, the Fladgate Partnership, and manage the cultural offshoot WOW which was granted definitive status of tourism utility less than a year ago, as can be seen in an order she signed on January 21, 2022. The move to the private holding company in the tourism sector comes just 38 days after Rita Marques was dismissed as a public official in the area of Tourism, which is contrary to what is established by law”.

Law  nº 52/2019 determines “that politicians may not exercise functions in private companies that pursue activities in the sector that was directly under their remit in the three years following termination of their mandates”.

Even more, the law expressly forbids functions in private companies “where there has been a direct intervention by the holder of political office”.

As João Batalha told SIC, the illegality in this situation “is absolutely clear”.

But Ms Marques does not see it that way. She has told Observador that before being invited into government in 2019, she had developed her “entire professional career” in the private sector. “It was evident to me that this dismissal implied a return to the business world. This is what has happened…”

Observador has dived deep into the permutations of Law nº 52/2019. There is an exception, for example, in the obligatory ‘cooling off’ period which applies when a former politician “returns to the company or activity exercised” at the date in which they began their period in government.

“Before becoming Secretary of State for Tourism, Rita Marques was the CEO of Portugal Ventures, a public venture capital fund management company. In other words, she did not work at the Fladgate Partnership, nor in any of its subsidiaries”.

WOW (standing for World of Wine) benefits from being exempt from taxes due to the general inspectorate of Cultural Activities, as a result of the dispatch signed by Ms Marques, the online adds.

Her new role, according to a note published by the Fladgate Partnership, will see her as a board member “with responsibility over hotels and tourism”.

The status attributed by Rita Marques to WOW opens the door, as Turismo de Portugal has advertised, to benefits such as: “IMT exemption in acquisitions of buildings or fractions with a view to the installation of qualified tourist utility developments; reduction of Stamp Duty to one fifth in acquisitions of buildings or fractions with a view to the installation of developments Municipal Property Tax (IMI) exemption for seven years; admissibility of expropriation for public utility of properties (and rights) necessary for the construction and expansion of developments ; and the possibility of establishing easements on neighbouring buildings”, details Observador, adding that this has not been the “only controversy” surrounding Ms Marques:

“Although she was sacked on November 29, 2022, four days earlier (on November 25) Prime Minister António Costa awarded her a housing allowance with “effect from the date she took office and for the duration of her government duties, in March 2022”, as reported at the time by ECO online.

Observador further points out that Ms Marques’ dismissalitself another ‘less than edifying’ moment in the history of this Socialist government – came in the form of a telephone call, from the Minister of Economy and Sea, while she was in Saudi Arabia, representing Portugal at a meeting of the World Travel and Tourism Council. As such the online suggests the matter has still not been properly resolved. (Dismissals, by law, should not be effective on the strength of a phone call).

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com