Network forum puts local politicians on the spot .jpg

Network forum puts local politicians on the spot

• The Network event provided the audience with the rare chance to directly question politicians about issues affecting the Algarve
• The Network event provided the audience with the rare chance to directly question politicians about issues affecting the Algarve

NETWORK, THE association for working and business women in Portugal, staged a successful forum at the Hotel Montechoro in Albufeira last week, giving members and local business people the rare chance to directly question politicians about issues affecting the Algarve region, reports The Resident’s Caroline Cunha.

Hosted by Network president Linda Smith and chaired by Sheena Rawcliffe, managing director of The Resident and former president of Network and AFPOP associations, the event’s panel featured Macário Correia, President of Tavira Câmara and President of the Junta Metropolitana do Algarve, Hélder Martins, President of Região do Turismo do Algarve (RTA), the Algarve tourism board, and Isabel Soares, President of Silves Câmara.

What ensued was a lively debate covering a wide range of issues including marketing of the Algarve region abroad, the need for a year-round tourism product, the looming closure of Silves SAP (the 24-hour service provided at Silves Health Centre), Almancil’s poor image, the region’s leisure facilities and the licensing problems affecting the property rental market.

Tourism all year round

On the subject of fighting seasonality in the tourism industry and the need to create a 12-month tourism product in the Algarve, Hélder Martins spoke at length about the efforts being made to negotiate with tour operators and airlines to create more out of season routes.

Despite some headway being made in the area, with Ryanair increasing its number of flights to the Algarve and new routes set to begin this summer, he spoke about the challenges and problems he faces. “I am aware that money changes hands between some tour operators, airlines and tourism boards,” said Martins. “In some cases which have come to my knowledge, even when the destination is not popular with the tourists in the source country, meaning there is no demand, the deal is still done. The planes can be empty, but the tour operator is happy because they have the money in the bank. This is what I am up against.”

Major events

On a more positive note, Hélder Martins spoke of his plans to bring more entertainment events to the region, informing the audience that he had come directly from a press conference to announce the forthcoming visit of world famous flamenco dancer, Joaquín Cortés, to the Algarve, for a performance at Faro’s Municipal Theatre on March 30 (see front page story).

Emergency healthcare in Silves

A serious issue currently affecting the borough of Silves is the threat from the Ministry of Health to close down the 24-hour emergency service offered by Silves SAP (Serviço de Atendimento Permanente) at the Health Centre (see last week’s issue of The Resident).

News of the pending closure has greatly angered local residents, as many feel that Portimão Hospital is too far away and not a viable alternative in emergency situations. It, therefore, came as no surprise that Isabel Soares was asked about what the Câmara was doing to prevent the closure from going ahead.

Ably assisted by her personal translator Luís Santos, Isabel Soares made it clear that she feels strongly about the matter and is taking a firm stand. “For the first time in my life, I took part in a public protest, joining around 200 residents in a demonstration outside the Health Centre last week. We know the government is in need of money, but cuts cannot be made to health,” she said.

Soares explained that she has written numerous letters, namely to the regional health authority, parliamentary groups, the Minister for Health, the Prime Minister and even to the President of the Republic, expressing her total disagreement with the plan to close down the service. She has warned of the risk the closure would pose to the lives of local people and even told the audience that she would be prepared to authorise roadblocks, if necessary, to get the point across.

Property licensing

The hottest topic of discussion, however, seemed to be the licensing of property for rental and the recent spate of inspections being made at villa rental agencies (see January 20 issue of The Resident).

According to the numerous members of the audience who stood up to pose questions, hefty fines have recently been handed out for non-compliance with legislation which is only recently being reinforced and which many claim to be unfairly obstructive and unworkable.

Other members of the audience were keen to know if their existing licences were now invalid due to the transfer in administration from the Direcção Geral de Turismo to local câmaras. It must be said that the panel appeared to be rather confused and unable to supply definitive answers.  

Hélder Martins took the opportunity to make it clear that he is strongly in favour of there being controls in place to monitor the rental of private accommodation. He cited the fact that when fatal accidents happen due to faulty appliances in the home, bad publicity affects the region as a whole. He also pointed out that more often than not, in such situations, the finger of blame is often pointed at the tourism board, whether the property in question was licensed or not. He did not, however, comment specifically on the existing legislation for the licensing of rental properties.

Dennis Swing Greene of financial consultants EuroFinesco pointed out that he had only come across one câmara in the Algarve which was equipped to issue the licence, this being Albufeira Câmara which have produced an easy application pack, hinting that other councils need to come up to speed, and quickly.

Tax consultant and chartered accountant Filomena Ramilo warned that by fining rental agencies to such a degree (some have received fines of 150,000 euros), the economy as a whole would suffer, since businesses will be forced to close and the government will no longer receive income from the taxes. She also said that it would cause widespread unemployment in the industry and more people seeking support from the State.

Filomena Ramilo was extremely vocal on the issue and demanded that Macário Correia make it clear to his fellow câmara presidents that something had to be done to solve the unsatisfactory situation, as many of her clients needed urgent solutions.

The panel were in agreement that a more workable procedure needed to be found in order to make it easier for villa owners and rental agencies to comply with the law, however, they did say that the law was not a new one.

While neither Macário Correia nor Hélder Martins could offer an instant solution or a clear answer to appease the objecting members of the audience, the promise was made that the matter would be followed up. Macário Correia confirmed that he was due to host a meeting with the presidents of Algarve câmaras that very afternoon to discuss the problem. Meanwhile, Hélder Martins explained that the Almancil Business Association had invited him to take part in a meeting on the same subject, due to take place this week, a meeting which will also involve representatives from Loulé Câmara. Macário Correia asked those at the meeting who had received fines to write to him with the details, promising that he would look at their cases personally and speak to the appropriate câmaras.

If you would like more information about Network and its meetings, call Jane Hazeldine on 282 458 257 or e-mail info.network@sapo.pt

If you are worried about issues concerning the licensing of rental properties and are looking for support from specialised professionals, the following contacts may be useful:

– EuroFinesco, Tel: 289 561 333, e-mail irs@eurofinesco.com

– Dra Filomena Ramilo, Tel: 219 239 190, e-mail gce@mail.telepac.pt

– Almancil Business Association (membership enquiries), Tel 289 391 591, e-mail dir@aea.pt

– Neville de Rougemont & Associados (lawyers), Tel 289 895 420, e-mail pghidoni@ndr.pt