An offshoot of Transparency International has challenged the government to come clean with figures detailing how much the country actually spends on firefighting up and down the country.
Transparência e Integridade (Transparency and Integrity) suggests there is at least €200 million shelled out in various ways – not least to private companies celebrating multi-million contracts to provide air support.
But the true picture is shrouded in mystery. Data is “scarce”, “almost secret”, says the NGO, and after 10 truly abysmal days it is time for the government to open up, and show citizens where Portugal’s fragile funding is being lavished.
National tabloid Correio da Manhã has been carrying exclusives on the €48 million that goes to helicopter company Everjets since secretary of state Jorge Gomes revealed his “personal thought” in parliament last week that “the wildfire industry gives money to a lot of people”.
The angle has been pursued by other media to the point that there are now questions over who/what really lies behind the fires that blazed out of control for almost a week in many areas.
As Gomes pointed out, the horror that assailed Águeda last week “began at 4.05am with a front extending 5kms. How can this be achieved? What resources were used to kick-start a front of this dimension”, he questioned.
On social media, there is already a short clip circulating showing diagrams suggesting how a plane is much more likely to have caused the blazes that took hold last week than any “criminals working on the ground” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=_W0_kZ5oecU&app=desktop).
Thus Transparência e Integridade’s “public appeal to parliament, the government and the Accounts Court to divulge and discriminate all expenses relating to the combat of fires”.
The NGO stresses this is not simply a matter of public transparency but a means of “evaluating the merit of expenses made”.
This is just the tip now of an iceberg that threatens to cause major damage in the coming days – particularly as Transparência e Integridade adds that “risks of poor management of (Portugal’s) scarce resources are a reality”.
The controversy comes at a time when the extraordinary lifetime benefits paid out to public sector bigwigs and former politicians are also being paraded through the media – showing how even VIPs involved in police investigations for corruption are claiming millionaire pensions every month.
And as if this was not enough, prime minister Costa let slip yesterday (Monday) that money being what he termed “diverted” to combat wildfires was being taken from the budget of internal security. By this he meant the GNR and PSP police forces.
On a more positive note, however, there is now a way of helping the country’s exhausted firemen, or contributing to funds set up for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods in the fires.
From Friday this week, there will be a new option appearing in Multibanco (ATM) machines that allows people to donate directly “any quantity they like” to the firemen’s league, or Cáritas charitable organisation, reports Público.
“All you have to do is press the “Ser Solidário” (Be Supportive) option on “Transferências” (Transfers)” and the money can be sent directly into the accounts of both associations.
The initiative is being made available throughout the country’s 12,500 machines and, says Rede Multibanco, is “free, reliable and secure”.