New suspicion of ‘incompatibility’ hits government
Hugo Mendes, secretary of State for Infrastructures and Housing (with minister Pedro Nuno Santos in background) Image: Ana Martingo/ SIC noticias/ Lusa

New suspicion of ‘incompatibility’ hits government

As President admits 2023 will be “first big test” for PS legislature

Yet another ‘suspicion of incompatibility’ has hit the PS government this weekend – centring on the wife this time of the secretary of state for infrastructure and housing, Hugo Mendes.

Up till now, Mr Mendes has not been any kind of household name. Not so his immediate boss, infrastructures and housing minister Pedro Nuno Santos – who himself has been in the firing line over perceived incompatibilities.

Now it is the turn of Ana Cristina Chéu (or Mrs Hugo Mendes) who has been hired as a legal advisor to the administrative council of the Authority of Mobility and Transports – which happens to be a State body directly overseen by her husband.

In some circles this ‘suspicion of incompatibility’ would be outed straight away as ‘nepotism’ – a scourge attributed in the past to PS Socialists who are currently enjoying an absolute majority .

But this weekend it is simply presented as “another suspicion”, to add to the long list that came before it in which everyone involved then pretty much refuses to see that anything underhand or incorrect could possibly be at issue.

Observador online broke this particular story on Friday. It is now being ‘repeated’ in less detail by other media sources. By Monday it may have fizzled out.

Says SIC television news, Ms Chéu’s (Mrs Mendes’) hiring occurred “a month and a half after Minister Pedro Nuno Santos delegated Hugo Santos Mendes with powers legally assigned to him, regarding the Authority for Mobility and Transport”.

Observador has sought to question the process, only to be informed that there is “no incompatibility in the light of the legal regime for the exercise of functions by holders of political office and senior public positions”.

Indeed, the Authority for Mobility and Transport, questioned by Observador, has said that the hiring the lawyer wife of the Secretary of State for Infrastructure was part of an “internal restructuring” aimed at “strengthening the technical capacity of its staff, including through the launch of tenders for the hiring of qualified human resources”.

Ana Cristina Chéu was hired by former Minister of the Sea, wife of former interior minister Eduardo Cabrita

The hiring of Ana Cristina Chéu was decided by Ana Paula Vitorino, former Minister of the Sea and wife of former Interior minister Eduardo Cabrita.

Ms Vitorino worked with Ms Chéu in the past, explains SIC (in fact Ms Chéu ran Ms Vitorino’s ministerial office between the years 2015-2016).

According to the Authority for Mobility and Transports, Ms Chéu  “had the best score in the contest for the position, in which she was evaluated by Ana Paula Vitorino herself”.

This means she ‘beat 41 other prospective candidates’ for the post that pays a base monthly salary of €3,800.

Explains Observador, the role ‘legal advisor’ to the administrative council of the Authority of Mobility and Transports could, theoretically, see Ms Chéu in a position of influence in a situation where the council was in conflict with the government “represented by her husband Hugo Mendes”).

But, for the time being at least, the official word is that ‘there is nothing to see here’…

‘Nothing to see here’ has been the line preferred by the PS Socialist executive since the start of these ‘suspicions of incompatibility’ – and so far it all seems to have worked quite well. Polls show voters are less than impressed by the various ‘scandals’ – but polls are polls: they come, they go. People ‘forget’.

Enter President Marcelo, however, who has warned this weekend that 2023 isn’t just going to be ‘difficult’; it is going to be the first ‘big test’ of the PS legislature. He was referring much more to the handling of the economic situation and all that goes with it – but ‘cameos’ in which perceived incompatibilities jostle against each other week after week, certainly won’t help the picture.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com