President “has seen enough”, says source
In spite of the summertime temperatures, a polar chill is creeping through Portugal’s corridors of power: nothing seems to be going the government’s way, from the wincingly embarrassing revelations in the parliamentary inquiry into TAP’s ‘management’, to relations between President Marcelo and prime minister António Costa.
Expresso’s ‘main story’ this weekend is the fact that Marcelo “refuses to visit any more RRP works with the prime minister” (RRP, or PRR in Portuguese, being the endlessly touted ‘recovery and resilience programme’ lavishly funded by the EU which is meant to transform Portugal from a country stumbling about in two left shoes, to one that is positively sprinting forwards in the latest most sought-after designer trainers).
The president’s reason is that “he has seen enough”, said an official source – who embellished this description with the fact that what he has seen so far “was not very much”.
And here we have it. The moment Marcelo has been warning about almost as long as the RRP was on the horizon: Portugal’s management even of ready billions appears to be lacking in any kind of professionalism. “On the day Portugal failed the deadline to request a third tranche of RRP funding” (each tranche is released on the basis of results…) Spain announced that it has already captured a quarter of the funding due to the country”, achieving what Expresso calls “53% of the envelope, while Portugal has only managed 17%.
“The delays in the execution of funding have been a constant preoccupation of Marcelo, and during the day he spent with the prime minister (‘seeing the results’ of RRP works this far) he questioned deadlines, setting dates that mayors said were foreseeable for completing the works, warning that if these deadlines were missed the unique opportunity would be lost…” explains the paper.
No one can say he hasn’t said all this before. But this week, suddenly, it is all looking fairly catastrophic.
According to Expresso, not only has Marcelo given pride of place in Belém Palace gardens to a massive modern sculpture symbolizing “discontentment with the way the country is being governed”
(this being the description of the sculptor Carlos Oliveira), he has decided that with the level of ‘discontentment’ now palpably running through the streets (most often in the form of mass demonstrations in Lisbon on a Saturday), he will try to steer clear of them.
No more public walkabouts – thus, no more accompaniment of the PM as he attempts to paint a picture of ‘great industry’ afoot.
And then there is the TAP parliamentary inquiry, and everything that seems to be bobbing inconveniently to the surface in it.
Tuesday was the ‘moment’ for TAP CEO (still in place, in spite of her television dismissal) to tell MPs that she felt she was being made a scapegoat in a political battle.
In spectacles that harked back to the glory days of Edna Everage, Ms Ourmières-Widener dropped all kinds of potential acid drops into the picture, already encyclopedically tainted with intrigue. One particularly bizarre detail appears to be the pressure put on her by the government to alter a TAP flight (from Mozambique) by 24-hours, to fit with President Marcelo’s personal schedule.
To have done so would have disrupted the plans of around 200 fully-paid up passengers.
According to Ms Ourmières-Widener she was told the decision came because the president was (at the time) the government’s “greatest political supporter, but he could turn into our greatest nightmare” if he wasn’t able to fly home on the exact date that he wanted.
President Marcelo has since said the whole story is news to him – but it has done nothing to make those running the country look in any way credible.
Yesterday, the revelations to MPs danced in all directions: Alexandra Reis, the former TAP director whose sacking and subsequent €500,000 golden handshake seems to have served as tipping point, from which everything slid sideways like a badly-set Molotov pudding, described a company driver who faced the sack for complaining he was being used to ferry around the CEO’s relatives in a company car.
According to Ms Reis one of the potential ideas for dismissing the man was that “he wasn’t vaccinated against Covid-19”.
This failed at the first post, because “Covid vaccinations are not mandatory”.
Ms Reis described how she disagreed with her former CEO’s plan to move premises to a rented building (on a long-term contact) while a privatisation process was underway – particularly a building without a canteen or parking; and she described how her sacking, albeit not televised in front of the nation, was done in such a bizarre way that she had to ask “what will my role be in the company”, before she was told her role was toast.
In many ways, pundits have seen this parliamentary committee as a godsend, as it exposes the extraordinary lack of professionalism at play ‘at the highest levels’ of government. But for President Marcelo it has served as yet another sign that the country he represents is falling depressingly short.
As much of Portugal clocks off for a long weekend, SIC television news says Marcelo will be calling party leaders to Belém (it’s not clear whether the summons will be over Easter, or afterwards). Sources simply admit “a colder phase in relation with the government is beginning”.