But insist ‘there is nothing to see here’
Another day, another row over perceived ‘incompatibilities’ involving government ministers – the potential ‘nudge-nudge wink wink’ benefits of holding office.
This time the spotlight is on the Ministry for Science, Technology and Higher Education, and the foundation (FCT) it oversees.
Hugely-respected scientist Elvira Fortunato is the country’s minister of science and technology – indeed the prime minister’s decision to appoint her as a government minister was viewed earlier this year as admirably ambitious; a ‘breaking of the traditional mould’.
Now media sources have leapt on the detail that under her watch FCT has awarded €56,275 to AlmaScience, a company in which Ms Fortunato’s husband Rodrigo Martins is a director.
Sábado ‘broke the news’, and reported that Ms Fortunato’s office saw no ‘impediment’ to this financial support – for investigation into the intelligent, sustainable applications of cellulose.
“Exercise of (the minister’s) referred powers does not cover decisions regarding the design and support of financing”, said the statement, continuing that “all research projects are assessed by panels made up of independent experts, predominantly affiliated with foreign institutions”.
But there is more where all this is coming from.
Explain other mainstream reports which have picked up Sábado’s exclusive, “to this new case of possible incompatibilities within the government comes an eventual conflict of interests involving Elvira Fortunato, who may not have ceased activity in a company connected to investigation”.
This crinkle concerns a 15% share Ms Fortunato had in NPTE, a company developing and commercialising paper transistors and electronic biosensors.
Says Observador, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education told Sábado that Ms Fortunato left the company on March 18, 2022 before taking office. However, according to Sábado’s reporting, “there is no communication on the Justice Portal about the cessation of Elvira Fortunato’s activities, and the last record is of a capital increase at the end of May, in which the minister put forwards a thousand euros”.
Clearly, this is ‘small potatoes’ in terms of financial benefits. But there have been so many potential incompatibilities popping up in recent weeks, that this latest one has simply aggravated what has become a very raw matter.
Observador recalls that this ‘case of incompatibility of Elvira Fortunato’ (or perhaps that should read possible case) “joins those of Pedro Nuno Santos, minister for infrastructures and housing, Ana Abrunhosa, minister for territorial cohesion” and Manuel Pizarro, health minister, who “affirmed he was aware of the incompatibility of his job in government with the management of a company in the area of health”.
Is that it then? Can we all relax now? Well, no, there is another case jostling for attention: today Correio da Manhã refers to the company Aeroflora – which sells agro-forestry products – and is owned by the wife and father of João Paulo Catarino, secretary of state for the conservation of nature, forestries and territorial planning.
It will be difficult to argue that Aeroflora operates in a area out of the secretary of state’s control/ influence. Even more difficult perhaps to explain the “seven contracts won by the company in direct contracts with multiple local authorities”. (Direct contracts meaning the work/ services required were not put out to tender).
According to CM, “João Paulo Catarino also has a 25% share in a company that received €28,101.77 in support from a European fund for agriculture”.
SIC notícias ‘Polígrafo’ slot (a polígrafo being a lie detector) has already established that the Aeroflora situation is what it describes as “another case of possible infraction of the law on incompatibilities”. Other news sources have gone further, suggesting it is most certainly “another case of incompatibility of office exercised within the XXIII Constitutional Government led by socialist António Costa with an absolute majority”.
But yesterday, Minister for the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, Mariana Vieira da Silva, insisted that the government believes the law of incompatibilities is being “totally complied with” in all cases that have this far come to light.
The fact that President Marcelo has voiced concerns, and asked parliament to review the incompatibility law is extremely relevant – but it may lead to nothing if the ‘absolute majority’ government continues to believe the law is fine as it is, and being “totally complied with”.