Portugal’s EU bazooka: ‘fraud-checkers’ say they need more human resources

Yesterday in Coimbra Portugal’s PS government had another ‘feel-good moment’ talking about all the money it hopes will flood in from Brussels to help the country overcome the desperate economic effects of the pandemic.

But today national media is concentrating on the ‘risks of fraud’ the funding jamboree brings with it – and how entities tasked with making sure this doesn’t happen say they simply don’t have enough staff.

Stress reports, a demand “common with all the entities tasked with vigilance is the absolute necessity for reinforcement of human resources”.

As prime minister António Costa delighted in informing everyone yesterday, the PRR (Plan for Recovery and Resilience) should see ‘direct support of €5 billion’ – to be spent in projects for Innovation (€1.364 billion); qualifications for human resources (€630 million), Business Capitalisations (€1.555 billion), Decarbonisation (€715 million), Digital Transition (€650 million) and Bioeconomics (€145 million).

There will also be another €2.7 billion potentially available in ‘indirect support’: in Infrastructures (€690 million), Hydro-management (€390 million), the Energetic Efficiency of Buildings (€70 million), Hydrogens and other renewables (€371 million), Quality of Public Finances (€406 million), Economic Justice and Business Environment (€267 million ), Digitalisation of Public Administration (€278 million).

And then, he added, there is another €11 billion in the PRR in what he called “public order to companies”.

It’s not instantly clear what all this means, but as tabloid Correio da Manhã says: “It’s a lot of money to spend in a short period of time (four years) – and these ‘two factors’ (money/ small period of time) “exponentially increase the risk of fraud”.

It wouldn’t be the first time EU funding ‘went awry’ – but it would signify a massive loss to Portugal if this unprecedented package was wasted. The PM himself has said ‘this is an opportunity that simply cannot be wasted’.

If everything goes well, according to the government, every euro of the PRR will translate into an impact of €1.4 on GDP, adding 3.5% to national wealth by the end of 2025.

By the end of 10 years, Portugal’s GDP will be 2.2% higher than if it hadn’t had the help of the PRR – and in the next 20 years “every euro invested through the period 2021-2026, under the auspices of the PRR, will translate into an accumulated gain of roughly five times more”, pledged the executive.

The ‘great preoccupation’, nonetheless, rests on the ‘model of government’ presented, explains Correio da Manhã today.

As other news sources have remarked, this PRR has been presented to Portugal ‘more times than we care to remember’. Back in February however checking entities (particularly the Agency for Development and Cohesion (ADC) and the general inspectorate of finances (IGF)) raised concerns after they were ‘presented with a series of anti-fraud measures’ to be adopted which they considered ‘insufficient’.

The problem is ‘bums on chairs’: the entities say there needs to be more of them, so that every single aspect of projects vying for funding can be thoroughly vetted.

A ‘positive’ for this story is that President Marcelo has already set up his own team in Belém to watch this process (click here), as he means to leave Portugal in much better shape at the end of his 10-year mandate than it was when he took over (in what we then viewed as troubled times) in 2016 (click here).

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