Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The state of Portugal. Recent news: Prime Minister thinks strike of Judges absurd and unjust

I will try to have a recurring article here concerning the "State of Portugal". As the state is not well at all, and there are hundreds of issues to take on I will have to choose. Although, I am preparing a list for future presentation of 100 points, where I would take action, were I head of government.

First though, let me say that Portugal is very dear to me. It is the country where I have chosen to live and bring up my children. It is a beautiful, varied country with the best climate of Europe. Lisbon is actually the capital in Europe with the highest mean temperature because of the mild winters. The people of Portugal have always treated me very well indeed. I like the people and their temperament. Much more reserved and serious than the Spanish but also more pragmatic and hardworking. Family and friends still have great value here.

The main reason why I get upset considering the state of Portugal is because I care. And on behalf of my children, who are half Portuguese, somebody has to speak up. Thus I am entitled, even as a guest living here, to criticize.

Now then, what is wrong in Portugal? I don't know where to begin. It would be much faster to tell about what is going well. Brief in fact. But instead I will take an issue a time.

Today a little about the political crisis.

Our last prime minister(PM) was sacked not even a year ago by the president, after he was given only 6 months to prove his worth. Sacking is basically the president’s only real power.

The PM before that ran away from his job. He was offered a better one (ha!) as the European commissioner - compromise candidate number 17 or so. Good riddance I say. A man that can leave a job in spite of promises and in the middle of a economic crisis - is worth nothing. Now of course the European Union has a problem, but it is a bit further away from our daily lives.

The PM before that one - just gave up... With no clear reason as far as I can see.

Finally our current PM is the lucky head of a majority socialist government. He entered with promises of no corruption, no favoritisms and a program to solve Portugal's problems.

So far the "major" policy changes are:
  • Tax up 2% for good earners
  • VAT up 2% to 21%
  • Raised retirement age to 65 for public employees
  • Lowered the 80 or so days of Juridical Holiday with a month
  • Started moving all public employees to the same or similar social security retirement funds as the rest of the population
  • Started to abolish many special health insurance programs for the public employees and moving them to one program only
  • Abolishing automatic career advancement for public employees
This so the Portuguese state can lower its deficit.

Of course the only upset people are the public employees and especially the judges. Even considering the public sector employees having better salaries than in the private sector (yes no mistake on my behalf) and not ever having to fear losing their jobs no matter what their performance.

Except for raising the taxes I can't say I disagree with the changes in the public sector, which is too big, too ineffective and too expensive.

Whether the judges strike or not - even for months - does not worry me one bit. We will not feel the difference anyway. The juridical system is kaput. Cases take forever and there is no justice. Millions of cases are pending and any lawyer worth a minimum knows how to delay a case until it is closed automatically when a certain period of years have passed. Thus only poor people and some real criminal cases have to face the music.

But what about promises about favoritism? Well, statistically speaking it is the government ever that has placed the largest number of friends in public and semi-public jobs. It is a scandal. To get a management job needing certain professional qualifications in the public or semi-public sector - you need not apply if you qualify. It will be to your disadvantage.

And what about urgent reforms? We are talking education, health care, justice, life quality, fighting corruption, extinguishing forest fires, creating a future business structure for the now failed one and so on and so on. Portugal at the time of entry in the European Union was behind on all fronts. It became a full member in 1994 as far as I recall. A while ago I read an article where point for point it was demonstrated how Portugal had fallen even further behind. We need to catch up - not fall further behind. Education wise we are the bottom of Europe. The bottom!

As long as political success is when public schools start more or less 2 weeks within the planned date, because 90% or so of teachers then have been assigned, this country has no future. How can we teach our children to be punctual? How can we teach our children to be not corrupt? Not even mentioning honest.

One day we will find a small notice in the newspaper: The police is out looking for the PM. He was last seen three days ago walking around the docks in a depressed state. So what? It will just be the fourth PM in a row...

Conclusion: The political class as a whole in Portugal is a failure. Politics of now are the means to acquire power and wealth - not to work for ideals. We await another generation. Maybe a benevolent dictator would be better...


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