PRESIDENT of Silves Câmara, Isabel Soares, has given residents in Vale Fuzeiros her full backing to fight against the installation of electricity pylons in the area. “I am with the population, I am against the electricity pylons being installed in this area and will be discussing the matter with the Secretary of State for Energy in order to get the routing changed,” she said.
In an exclusive interview with The Resident, she discussed the pylons issue at length and also spoke candidly about the challenges she has faced in her role as President over the last few months and her future plans for Silves.
ISABEL SOARES is the only female Câmara President ever to serve in the Algarve and is currently enjoying an impressive third term in office.
An imposing character, both in terms of physical appearance and confidence, Soares evokes an image of power and glamour – today when I meet her, she is dressed in black, her outfit highlighted with a red, shoulder padded, power jacket and she is wearing strong red lipstick. She is charming and courteous but as soon as the interview begins, it is clear she pulls no punches.
Born and bred in Silves, Isabel Soares is 53-years-old and married with two sons. Clearly a family person, her office is adorned with photographs including large prints of her two granddaughters, aged two and three. “I’ve always lived in Silves,” she said proudly. “This is my home.”
I ponder what it is like being a lone female Câmara president in the Algarve and a woman in the midst of Portugal’s political arena? “It is difficult,” said Soares. “It is almost all men.” However, this is not something she seems phased by. “In any case, I think women are equally capable or more so than men, because they are more sensitive to problems in the community and family issues,” she said. So when are we going to see more women leading the Algarve câmaras? “It’s in their hands,” she said.
Silves Câmara hit the headlines in recent weeks due to irregularities with regard to the awarding of construction contracts in the borough. Five million euros was alleged to be the sum involved. An investigation was launched and several staff suspended. “It was very unpleasant,” said Soares. “It was very difficult for me as I trust my staff. When I discovered that something was amiss I requested an investigation to be launched straight away. The process is still ongoing but what I can say is that one staff member has been dismissed and two others were removed from their positions, assigned other duties and penalised, which is the procedure by law. As yet, they have not returned to work and I don’t know if they will have the guts to show their faces here again.”
Asked about the claims made against her personally, she said: “Of course the opposition parties took the opportunity to try to attack me and implicate me, but they did not succeed.”
Public protests appear to be the order of the day in Silves: first came the protest against the reduction in opening hours at the Centro de Saúde, then earlier this month there was a demonstration against the government over the delay in improvements to the River Arade. Isabel Soares personally took part in both these protests and now she is backing residents over the proposed installation of electricity pylons in the Vale Fuzeiros area.
“When there is something to fight for, I will go for it,” she said.
The protest at River Arade was over the government’s broken promise to begin sand drainage work in March, to make the river more navigable for larger vessels. So has the Câmara heard anything since this demonstration? “No, there has been no news yet, we have not heard anything. This government is a disgrace. The work was supposed to begin in March but nothing happened. Mário Lino (Minister for Public Works, Transport and Communications) is more concerned with the TGV (high speed train link) and OTA (new airport),” she said.
The latest issue is the threat of electricity pylons being installed in the farmland area of Vale Fuzeiros. Energy company REN has proposed a route which residents claim will not only damage the beauty of the area but threaten livelihoods, the local economy and negatively affect property prices. Locals were furious when they discovered the plans and claim they were kept in the dark. They agree the electricity lines, which will link electricity substations between Portimão and Tunes, are necessary, but believe the proposed location makes no sense.
When asked if the Câmara was partly to blame for the lack of information, she said: “No, not at all,” said Soares. “We only received information ourselves at a late stage. In my view, the Ministry for Energy and REN have not acted correctly. In fact, I can tell you that I have still not received details of the exact proposed locations for these pylons,” she said. “REN has been more concerned about costs than people.”
A public meeting about the pylons issue was held recently at the Câmara. “There were around 50 people there, mainly English and members of the foreign community. It was calm.” When asked about the claims made that some residents are putting their properties up for sale, Soares said: “I really don’t believe people are moving. This is exaggerated.”
Soares explained she totally supports the people and agrees an alternative routing must be found. “I requested a meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy, António Castro Guerra, on March 23. I also sent him a fax this week pressing for a meeting date to be scheduled as soon as possible so we can discuss this issue.” Soares said she had no idea how long it would take. “What I can say is that I don’t believe the pylons will be installed in that area. I think we can get the route changed.” And if REN firmly refuses to change the location… “The Câmara will embargo the works, this is within our power. We did this five years ago in the Tunes area and it worked; an alteration to the Tunes-São Brás routing was made,” she said with satisfaction.
Residents in Silves have bemoaned the lack of progress on some public projects in the borough. Was this due to lack of funds at the Câmara? “No, it concerns archaeological issues. It takes longer to move forward because we have to take extra care in Silves due to the many archaeological sites in the area and this makes projects more expensive,” she said.
So what does the future hold for Silves, what news is there of the much hyped 500 million euro Atlantis theme park? “The Icelandic investors behind this project seem to have disappeared,” Soares told The Resident. “I have not seen them here at the Câmara since January. However, we are available to assist them and yes, we do want the investment,“ she said.
What is still on the agenda for Silves and what are Soares’ aims for the remainder of her third term (until end of 2009)? “I want to push ahead with the upgrading of Armação de Pêra, finish the works in Silves and see the promised work to the River Arade realised. I will continue to work towards improving quality of life for the people of Silves culturally and environmentally.
Soares concludes our interview by confiding that, despite the recent struggles, she is considering standing for a fourth term at Silves Câmara. This is a woman who clearly relishes a challenge!
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