Portugal’s anti-corruption agency “still doesn’t have minimum conditions to function”

“Politicians like to announce a profusion of bodies (…) only for nothing to work”

Portugal’s Frente Cívica (Civic Front) association has said today that it is “incomprehensible” that, almost two years since it was created and three months after a decree proclaimed it in place, the National Anti-Corruption Mechanism (MENAC) “doesn’t have the minimum conditions to function”.

Speaking to the Lusa news agency, the association’s deputy leader João Paulo Batalha said that “the delay in equipping Portugal’s anti-corruption institutions is no longer a defect, it’s a habit.

“It’s incomprehensible that almost two years after the law that created it, more than a year after its leadership was appointed, and three months after the decree proclaiming that it was up and running, MENAC doesn’t have the minimum conditions to function”

It’s also “incomprehensible that a staff of 27 employees has not yet been hired and that the platforms and information systems on which all the organisation’s work will be based do not even exist.

MENAC’s leadership has been displaying its irrelevance for over a year,” he stressed.

All this shows – in João Paulo Batalha’s opinion – how the fight against corruption “is not a priority, neither for the political power that created this organisation nor for the leadership that that same political power appointed.

“There is a generalised consensus on creating useless structures that consume public resources without any impact.

“The same pattern can be seen in the Transparency Body, which, created by law in 2019, still has no practical existence.

Politicians like to announce a profusion of bodies, which then feed a peaceful court of civil servants, only for nothing to work in the end,” Batalha continued.

This is why Portugal has been criticised by international evaluators such as the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) when it comes to anti-corruption policies.

“It’s no longer just a problem of ineffective measures. Citizens and international observers are finding it increasingly difficult to trust the good faith of the (Portuguese) State when it comes to fighting corruption and defending public integrity,” he said.

According to a statement sent to Lusa from MENAC: “MENAC is surveying the technical requirements for the electronic platform for receiving, automatically processing and storing instruments relating to Regulatory Compliance Programmes. The MENAC website that recently went live will host this platform. The acquisition of this platform depends on a public procurement process”.

The statement also explained that institution, which succeeds the Corruption Prevention Council (a body that celebrated “15 years of action” ) “will have an external whistleblowing channel to be contracted as soon as possible” and has already issued a recommendation on the “development of instruments envisaged for the entities covered”, such as the drawing up of corruption risk prevention plans, codes of conduct, training programmes and whistleblowing channels.

In terms of human resources, the situation is deficient due to “vicissitudes and constraints” resulting from the requirement for internal mobility in Public Administration, the statement signed by the secretary-general, Jorge Duque Lobato went on.

“The staff have not yet been fully contracted because, according to the provisions of MENAC’s statute, this depends on internal mobility instruments, which implies the launch of tenders and the possibility that the heads of the services may not authorise the departure of the respective officials”. 

Says Lusa, the statement suggests that “this new body for combating corruption in the public and private sectors (in organisations with 50 or more employees) received “only seven complaints in the first half of 2023 and recalls that the 2022 report registered four complaints of alleged corruption and embezzlement, which were referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office”.

Asked about the level of implementation of the budget allocation of €2.1 million announced by the ministry of justice, the statement said that actual expenditure by the end of the first half of this year was around €336,000, “a figure that represents a level of financial implementation of 16.72%”.

In interview with Lusa earlier this year, MENAC president, retired judge António Pires Henriques da Graça, acknowledged that he had hoped things would have moved “faster”, following his appointment a year before.

He also said that the combatting of corruption “will always be an unfinished task”; a work with “failures and limitations”.

Quoting Pope Francis, Henriques da Graça said that “no one is immune to corruption because corruption is born into the heart of man, and from there, if it benefits from a favourable social atmosphere, it will flourish”.

Frente Cívica has not commented on these words, but they will not have injected a great deal of optimism into the picture.

The association’s despair coincides with a pithy editorial in Expresso this week (about a different matter entirely) which explains that “doing nothing is a Portuguese speciality“.

Ricardo Costa, brother of prime minister António, observes that “the Portuguese are the only people in the world who manage the feat of ‘ending up doing nothing’“.

Source material: LUSA