Out campaigning and receiving very mixed receptions, Portugal’s prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho has once again alluded to government plans to privatise Caixa Geral de Depósitos, the country’s cash-strapped State bank.
This time it was just a sentence, given during a speech on Sunday in Castelo de Vide, where he was both heckled by people jeering “go and work, you rascal” and “liar”, while receiving flowers and applause from others.
Passos was talking about his care to “maintain a distance between the Bank and business” but added that he was “worried with CGD” – a reference that opposition parties have interpreted as the government’s thus far denied intention to privatise the public bank.
But as this question has been rolled around for years now, the nitty gritty of Passos’ speech has also come in for criticism – seen as yet more “indirect” coalition jibes at former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates, currently still held in jail after nine months without formal charges.
“We cannot channel finance to protect bad business deals just because we have friends there who we trust because we went to college with them or university, or because we know them some other way”, he told the youth of his party at the official closure of the week-long JSD Summer University.
This was not the reason for which banks or governments existed, he added.
“It’s not about promoting friends, but about bringing competent people”.
As national tabloid Correio da Manhã suggested Passos’ reference to the “promiscuity between politics, business and the Bank” was a clear attack on “controversial cases” in the public eye “like BES and Operation Marquês which is investigating the financing by CGD of tourist complex Vale do Lobo” – a case in which both José Sócrates and disgraced former Socialist minister Armando Vara are now official suspects.
The PS Socialists took the political sniping on the chin, saying they would not be rising to any such challenges.
A source from the party told CM that leader António Costa would not be playing into the coalition’s hands by “entering into a campaign of cases”.