Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes
Uncomfortable questions swirl over Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Antunes knowledge of this latest 'disaster waiting to happen'. Image: António Pedro Santos/ Lusa

Latest government resignation reveals political inability – farmers

Confederation of Portuguese farmers goes after Agriculture Minister

The Confederation of Portuguese Farmers (CAP) has seized on the latest scandal in government – this time involving a nomination for Secretary of State for Agriculture – to highlight what it sees as the “political incapacity” of the Minister in charge, Maria do Céu Antunes.

“This is another episode that highlights the absolute political incapacity of the minister of agriculture, and reveals a glaring lack of management capacity to properly perform her duties,” CAP secretary general, Luis Mira, has told Lusa.

The 26-hour Secretary of State for Agriculture, Carla Alves, presented her resignation as she believed she did not have the “political and personal conditions” to even begin her duties, the day after taking office, said Mira. CAP wants to know if Ms Antunes was even aware of the “serious circumstances” that led to Carla Alves’ resignation?

This is where things get murky.

Last night on SIC, Maria do Céu Antunes was evasive. “Everything has been clarified”, she said – regarding whether or not she was aware of the judicial processes stacked up her incoming Secretary of State.

But SIC published a statement from the ministry some hours before which read: “Considering recent news, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food informs that the Minister of Agriculture and Food Maria do Céu Antunes had no knowledge of the involvement of Carla Alves in judicial processes”.

This statement does not gel with information published by Público, which wrote that Carla Alves had informed the minister on the seizure of bank accounts (belonging jointly to her and her husband) before being sworn-in to her new (short-lived) position.

Público claims “the Minister of Agriculture received this information and, questioned as to whether she transmitted it to the prime minister, Maria do Céu Antunes said she had no further comments to make”. 

For farmers who have felt enormous frustrations with Ms Antunes, this is all an opportunity that must not be squandered. 

Luís Mira has called for respect for farmers and said he hopes that “quickly, with new protagonists, it will be possible to find direction for the policies that the sector needs and that the country requires“.

It is not only farmers who have railed against the situation of agriculture while Ms Antunes has been at the helm; conservationists and environmentalists have been at their wits’ ends over decisions that consistently allow intensive agriculture in areas blighted by drought, and most recently the wine and spirits sector has called for Ms Antunes resignation, while agricultural associations are up-in-arms over the extinction of local boards of agriculture “without any form of public consultation”.

UPDATE: Since uploading this text, Iniciativa Liberal has called for a hearing in parliament of Maria do Céu Antunes, saying: “We want to know what the minister knew and what political assessment she was able to make, none, it seems, and therefore the minister of agriculture is also extremely weakened in this process.”

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