With almost every sector in Portugal blighted by strike action, Public Ministry prosecutors have now joined the fray, announcing a walkout to start at the beginning of February.
The reason is arguably even more serious than a government failing to keep its word over improving pay and conditions.
This strike centres on what magistrates call a “secret agreement, celebrated at the 11th hour” by leading political parties designed to “condition criminal investigation into political corruption”.
Calling it a “political attack on the Public Minstry’s autonomy”, magistrates are demanding an urgent audience with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa who has already waded into the controversy, saying the combat of corruption is a national priority, and the autonomy of the Public Ministry “untouchable”.
Yet if the proposal to change the make-up of the Public Ministry’s Superior Council goes through, politicians would be ‘in control’.
Right now, magistrates on the council outnumber politicians by 12 to 7.
Say reports, the proposal, agreed by ruling PS Socialists and the PSD, was “revealed last week”.
In the words of António Ventinhas, president of the syndicate of Public Ministry magistrates: “It looks like the penal pursuit of those who line their own pockets and prejudice the country and its democracy has left a lot of people within parliament feeling uncomfortable”.
But no sooner had prosecutors made their stand, than the Socialists rushed to their own defence.
Vice-president of the parliamentary bench Filipe Neto Brandão said the strike was being called “on the basis of incorrect assumption. The PS never defended a non-magisterial majority…”
The syndicate however seems to disagree. “What is at stake is the possibility that politicians will be able to choose who is investigated”, António Ventinhas has explained. “Politicians would get the power to decide which prosecutors would be promoted and occupy decisive places in the combat of corruption”.
The issue boils down to whether society wants autonomous criminal investigation “or one dominated by political power”, he insisted.
In the broader context, justice in this country is already ‘under attack’ . Judges threatened a walkout in October, court staff are working strictly to rule (click here) – as are prison guards and PJ inspectors.