Alexandra Reis
Alexandra Reis only took office at the Treasury last month... now she's gone in yet another dismal episode in TAP's recent history. Image: Lusa

TAP “golden handshake” row: Secretary of State resigns

… but will it be ‘enough’ to calm simmering fury?

Early this morning came the news everyone expected: Portugal’s secretary of state for the treasury Alexandra Reis has submitted her resignation, after being requested to do so by her immediate boss, the minister of finance, Fernando Medina, following the latest dismal TAP ‘scandal’.

In the statement, Medina explains that he took the decision to “preserve the political authority of the Ministry of Finance at a particularly sensitive time in the lives of millions of Portuguese” – a reference to the cost-of-living crisis caused by inflation, writes Lusa.

Reis has been at the centre of a controversy relating to the indebted national flag carrier, TAP, after Correio da Manhã reported that she had received a €500,000 ‘indemnity’ for leaving her post as executive director of the state-owned airline ‘early’ (when her term still had two years to run). 

Months later, she was appointed by the government to chair Portugal’s air traffic regulator, Navegação Aérea de Portugal (NAV), adds Lusa, and then shortly after that she was invited into government

“At a time when we face important demands and challenges, I consider it essential that the Ministry of Finance remains a benchmark of stability, authority and citizens’ trust,” stated Fernando Medina in the note released by the Ministry of Finance today. 

“These are fundamental values for the good conduct of economic and financial policy and the management of the State’s business sector.

Medina thanked Ms Reis for all her work, praising her “professional curriculum of enormous merit” and the “quality and correctness with which she defended the public interest in this personally difficult period”.

But can these words possibly bring an end to the swirling controversy?

On Monday, Mr Medina along with Pedro Nuno Santos, the infrastructure and housing minister with responsibility for TAP,  asked TAP management for “information about the legal framework of the agreement” reached with Reis on her departure from the company, “including on the compensation paid”.

On Tuesday evening, they got it – and the country thus learnt that Ms Reis had initially asked for almost €1.5 million in compensation “under her agreement to cease functions” but that the two sides had ended up agreeing on the lesser sum of €500,000.

“As compensation for the termination of all the aforementioned contractual functions, and despite the initial claim of Alexandra Reis, amounting to 1,479,250 euros, it was possible to reduce and agree an overall gross aggregate amount of 500,000 euros to be paid” read the document submitted by TAP.

The crux of this dismal episode in an airline that has been beset by bad press is how everyday taxpayers, whose money is being used to buoy-up TAP – the tune of €300 per citizen – feel about the way TAP is being run ‘behind the scenes’.

Remember, this golden handshake was never intended to be made public – and TAP remains in deep conflict with its workers whose salaries and conditions have been hugely compromised for the good of a ‘restructuring package’.

Assurances therefore that Ms Reis has walked away – in shoes that the tabloid press has remarked cost €600 – with three times LESS than she asked for doesn’t change the fact that she felt entitled to be compensated for leaving an extremely well-paid job in public administration, to go on to another well-paid job in public administration and then be invited into government (where she will also have been earning handsomely).

Another ‘inconvenient point’ in the furore is why Ms Reis left her job at TAP at all.

TAP told the Securities and Markets Commission back in February that it was to “embrace new challenges”. Now we hear it was because she was effectively ‘sacked’. 

Thus, the whole story has a whiff of ‘concealment’ – of the public at large having been kept in the dark as large sums of money are removed from a company which they, the public, are forced to maintain.

As Correio da Manhã’s director general Armando Esteves Pereira suggests today: “We seem to be citizens, taxpayers of this republic, martyrs of a regime under the yoke of a kleptocratic elite.”

And that is what doesn’t sit well today – and which may continue to shake at the foundations of this government whose prime minister claims to have had “no background knowledge whatsoever” of the issue before it hit the headlines.

Underlining the ‘different strokes for different folks’ situation at TAP, a resolution renewing TAP’s declaration of economic distress – essential for implementing the restructuring plan – was published today in State gazette Diário da República.

As Lusa explains: “By declaring companies in difficult economic situations, the government allows the reduction of working conditions and the non-application or suspension, total or partial, of the clauses of company agreements or of the applicable collective regulation instruments”.

In other words, TAP workers struggle on reduced salaries, but top brass are able walk away with half a million euros…

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com