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Minister of Labour accused of turning blind eye to Social Security ‘scandal’

Investigative journalists at TVI24 have lifted the lid on yet another potential scandal to rock the political establishment. This time it centres on allegations of abusive management at IPSS “social solidarity institute” Raríssimas – set up to help people suffering from rare diseases and which benefits from over a million euros in annual government subsidies.

The report led by Ana Leal shows the president of the association Paula Brito e Costa paying herself an exorbitant (and illegal) salary of over €6000 per month, using Raríssimas funds for a trip to Brazil, a luxury spa holiday, fancy gowns and top-of-the-range wheels.

But much worse, Brito e Costa appears to have been doing all this in plain sight and company of political benefactors, who have since insisted they knew nothing about any of it.

As João Miguel Tavares, writing in Público, summarises: The current Secretary of State for Health, Manuel Delgado, “received a sum of three thousand euros a month from 2013 (a total of 63 thousand euros)” from Raríssimas for “technical collaboration in the area of health organization and services, (without clarifying what in fact the work entailed)”. PSD MP, Ricardo Baptista Leite, “who is part of Raríssimas Health Commission” is apparently “in the pipeline to be the next vice president”. PS MP Sónia Fertuzinhos had the costs of a working trip to Sweden advanced by Raríssimas (although she has said that the association “will later have been reimbursed”); and “as Portugal is very small” Fertuzinhos just happens to be the wife of Vieira da Silva, Minister of Labour and Social Security, former Raríssimas general assembly vice-president and “absolute stranger (he says) of everything that went on in the institution”.

Stresses Tavares: “There is no evidence that any of these people have done evil deeds. They have simply limited themselves to being Portuguese politicians, for what that means in inertia and cronyism”.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Sunday – a little over 12 hours after TVI’s exposé aired – that it should not take this kind of whistleblowing before the State becomes aware of what is going on in its own institutions.

“It shouldn’t”, agrees Tavares. “But the question really should be, does the State want to know? Everything indicates that it doesn’t”.

Needless to say, viewers and the public in general have gone into overdrive. Within two days, an online petition has gathered thousands of signatures demanding the immediate resignation of Paula Brito e Costa, her husband Nelson Oliveira e Costa (also apparently paid an overly large salary for his work at Raríssimas: according to president of the national federation of social solidarity institutions Lino Maia, the law stipulates that no IPSS employee should be paid more than €1685 per month) and son César.

Today, the story is in almost every paper, the latest fodder for newsreaders, chat show presenters and anyone who wants to talk about the concentric nature of political scandals in Portugal.

Forced to admit that his ministry had begun investigating allegations about Raríssimas four months ago, Minister of Labour Vieira da Silva still maintains that he knew nothing about any form of abusive management.

The fact that this makes no sense has not stopped newspapers from pointing it out.

Said tabloid Correio da Manhã this morning: “Vieira da Silva, minister of Labour and Social Security, denied yesterday that he had any knowledge of abusive management at Raríssimas before the TVI report transmitted on Saturday, but confirmed that the Institute of Social Security had opened an inquiry underway on July 31 after receiving a letter from a former accountant of the association with accusations”.

The official line now is that “an exhaustive inquiry” must get to the bottom of all this – despite the fact that TVI seems to have done its homework to grade A standard.

Says Público, the Public Ministry has become involved, so it is now a matter of waiting to see what happens next.

Leader writer Tavares believes Paula Brito e Costa has no alternative but to resign (see below for update): TVI’s documentary was “so well researched, not only in documents but in people prepared to talk” without the cloak of anonymity, that the only path for her is “the door to the street”, he writes.

This is the third explosive TVI report in the space of weeks. The first – about what really lies behind last summer’s fires – was largely sidelined by national media, but this one and another on illegal adoptions at a former Lisbon children’s home look like running for quite some time.

Meantime, the Raríssimas board has issued a statement in which it claims to have been “ambushed” by Ana Leal and her team at TVI which then went on to “manipulate” information.

“All the accusations presented in this report are insidious and based on documentation presented in a decontextualized way”, said the association.

Tabloid Correio da Manhã concludes its report today saying that Paula Brito e Costa “denies the abuses. She says the expenses (trips, gowns and meals) were used to increase the visibility of Raríssimas and were all approved by the board, as was her salary”.

Brito e Costa has also denied that her husband was paid a salary of €3,200 a month, saying that “up until January 2017, he had taken just €750,” said the paper.

UPDATE 3PM

Both Paula Brito e Costa and secretary of state for health Manuel Delgado have now resigned.

SUBSEQUENT UPDATES:

Vieira da Silva is due in parliament to answer MPs questions on the scandal, while Raríssimas board is due to make a public statement. In the meantime, Paula Brito e Costa has returned various ‘belongings’, in particular the BMW which she was leasing at a cost of €900 per month, say reports.

For up to date developments see our Top Stories section.

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