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Corruption in Portugal

Our local newspaper is a wonderful source of stories for my blogs. So much incredible rubbish is printed across the pages that it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin.

First let me say that our local paper is simply a little local job which has no pretensions to be a heavyweight. As such it copies out press releases, which go into the paper pretty well as-is. And then it ads a few special interest pages about gardening and looking after dogs and donkeys.

That is one of the problems with Portugal. Our local paper does not seek to criticise, but the larger press enterprises should, but dont.

On the other hand, if you go across the border into Spain you will find the Spanish papers are always criticising the government, or at the very least entering into a lively discussion about what is going on. Even the small parochial English magazines and broadsheets kick up quite a fuss about the things they dont like.

Portugal has this culture of keeping everything quiet and secret. It doesn't do to rock the boat, and so outrageous things continue to happen here and nobody does anything about them.

The latest piece of idiocy has a government minister claiming there is very little or no corruption in Portugal. That is printed in our local paper as a straight-faced piece, and no comment made. Extraordinary! Anywhere else the wretched woman would be torn to shreds for making such an outrageous statement. But not in Portugal.

This is the country where government ministers and various rich people have been using kids from the orphanages as sex toys. This is the country where EU money poured in over the border with no restrictions, and government hangers-on, and all their friends were lapping it up and turning it into speed boats, and luxury mansions in Brazil. It wasn't until about ten years of no progress that one or two people started asking where all the new roads were, and why most policemen still couldn't read, and why half the country's infrastructure just didn't work.

Sixteen years after the money started pouring in three quarters of the roads in the Algarve were still dirt tracks, and the electricity worked perhaps six hours a day. Where had all the money gone?

The press was silent. When I first studied economics I was taught that the press was the first stepping stone in any democratic process. You dont take part in a democracy by voting once every however many years. You take an active part in the daily activities, and you can do that by making your views heard in the press, and encouraging the press to dig up scandal, and demand more openness from government, and so on. In other words, it is the people and the press who should be screaming for corruption to be hunted down.

It doesn't happen. It's not part of the public psyche. A woman accused of over fifty counts of fraud runs away to Brazil with the money. She then puts herself down for mayor in some village, and comes back to fight the election. They cant lock her up as she is free to promote herself for the purposes of the election. She wins. This is a hard line crook. She wins. The Portuguese presumably like a crook because they know they can get something done if they turn up in her office with enough money.

It used to be the case that if you wanted to pass your driving test you had to place €300 in an envelope under the passenger seat carpet. If the driving examiner found that money, you passed. If he didn't, you failed.

Heck, this isn't even small time stuff. Just think about it. Say one test an hour over an eight hour day with half the people paying the bribe. That's €6,000 a week in bunce.

It's a way of life here. However, let's return to the article in the paper.

The director of the Portugal's criminal investigation department said that politicians "are not corrupt", and "Portugal is not a corrupt country", obviously showing that she has been asleep all her life, or has been taking the bribes herself. She goes on to say that when people talk about corruption what they really mean is fiscal fraud and abuse of power.

Oh, that's all right then. Glad we got that straightened out.

Hold on, that's what my dictionary defines as corruption.

When asked what she's doing about the last prime minister of this corruption-riddled country (sorry, I mean country riddled with fiscal fraud and abuse of power) she asked what she could do. "It is true that he has this luxury lifestyle but what can we do? We would open an enquiry on suspicion of what?" she said.

Well madam, the first suspicion would be that he'd raided the country's coffers, or he had received some bribes if he is living way beyond his normal means, and it is your job to try and find out where he got the money. Of course, it's easier to do nothing. On the other hand, maybe she is accepting bribes as well. Very probably.

The head of the lawyers has been asked to explain his expenditure, which again is inconsistent with his salary. Nothing has been done because he said "he knew of nothing" dishonest that he's been doing.

I'm reminded of a complaint made locally. Someone stole someone else's bicycle. The first guy complained. The police came back and said they could do nothing. "Why not?" Apparently because the accused said he didn't do it, and that was the end of the matter, despite the fact that the thief then sold the bicycle.

Protection of the law in Portugal? Forget it. The ultimate means of protection here is a gun. The ultimate way round the law is some money in a brown envelope. And remember this is a rich country. We aren't talking about a few quid. We are talking thousands or tens of thousands of euros.

You want something done? You give the local mayor's daughter a brand new BMW.

For the record, you now know the technical terms for this sort of thing. It is definitely not corruption, the head of the CID says so, it is correctly called fiscal fraud.

Oh yes, and one other thing to remember, the head of the CID has put it on record that "we would open an enquiry on suspicion of what?" A translation of that would read. "We'd turn a blind eye."

The other way of doing things is to do something but not very well, or not to try very hard.

Apparently this woman has been prosecuting a case which requires some evidence from Germany. It's not her fault things are not progressing "We've been asking for the evidence by email for four years".

She doesn't say who she's asked, or in what language, or why if the evidence is important no-one went to Germany to get it.

The woman is typical of the Portuguese attitude. Dont rock the boat, especially if you can get a few perks from the business. And make sure those perks are big perks. After all, it's not corruption.

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