“Where’s the money going?” Accounts Court slates councils’ fire prevention ‘plans’

“Where’s the money going?” Accounts Court slates councils’ fire prevention ‘plans’

There are municipal councils in the north and in the Algarve handing out millions of euros to private companies for ‘wildfire prevention actions’ without making any financial checks on what exactly happens with the money.

This is the bottom line of a study undertaken by the Accounts Court, into municipal plans for forestry defence, a document known by the initials PMDFCI (standing for ‘Planos Municipais de Defesa da Floresta’).

Reports explain, the study concludes that “in various municipalities of the country, the forestry departments (‘gabinetes técnicos florestais’) do not show capacity for accompanying the execution of the plans, and no proceedings have been implemented to guarantee adequate execution or monitorization”.

The court singles out Monchique council in the Algarve as an example, explaining that the borough’s PMDFCI envisaged an investment of 4.5 million euros and that “even though the municipality wasn’t able to identify how it spent the money, it has presented expenses of
1,743,531.42 euros”.

Monchique is only one of 32 councils analysed for their ability to control fire prevention expenses. Numerous others were also found to be unprepared to properly manage PMDFCI, particularly those in fire-ravaged areas liks Águeda, Mação, Pedrógão Grande and Sertã.

And as reports explain, this could only be ‘the tip of the iceberg’. In all, the country has 278 municipalities: the Accounts Court study refers to just a fraction of them – but conclusions suggest that the PMDFCI ‘in itself doesn’t guarantee greater forestry defence’.

The report also highlighted confusion between the requirements of different types of legislation. For example, there’s DFCI, standing for under the terms of one forestry defence against fires, and PMDFCI, standing for municipal plans for forestry defence (against fires).

The confusion compounds ‘structural fragilities’ explains the Accounts Court, going on to further muddy the waters by revealing that 59 councils don’t even have a PMDFCI (even though it is apparently ‘obligatory’).

Thus what is to be done? According to RTP news, the court is calling on the government to ‘advance with measures to increase the quality of PMDFCI, and alter the law to reinforce its efficacy’.

The court is further asking the Portuguese association of municipalities to make all councils aware of their obligations.

A source has told RTP reporters that the accounts court’s findings will be “analysed at the next meeting of the directive council”, due to go ahead on December 17 in Coimbra.

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