TAP … Another minister falls as State poised to make a €1.6Bn loss on airline

 In News, TAP

The curse of Portugal’s publicly owned airline TAP has returned to claim yet another victim – João Galamba, the Minister of Infrastructure who lasted just four months in the job.

The minister resigned under a cloud of controversy linked to an adjunct, Frederico Pinheiro who apparently had information on his computer which could have been potentially incriminating to the minister …. Or not, as no one really knows. But pressure there was as a result of the ongoing Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the management (or rather mismanagement) of TAP which is up for sale later this year.
In a statement on Tuesday, João Galamba said: “I have presented now my resignation request to the Prime Minister”.
Galamba said the decision had to do with the “current perception that had been created in public opinion that now requited the necessary institutional tranquility, values which I have always striven for in my behaviour and public action as a member of the government”, he said.
The minister also said: “We live at a time in which the noise is louder than the facts”. “I resign despite the fact that I have not, at any moment, acted in a way that has not conformed with the law, or against the public interest that I have always promoted and defended in my position as a member of the government, as has been detailed and publicly by the Prime Minister”, he said.
However, the Prime Minister, has rejected the resignation and said he retained personal and political confidence in his minister, although he admitted the incident at the ministry was “deplorable but exceptional”.
The resignation came after a wave of pressure from commentators and opposition politicians for the government to undertake a reshuffle and remove some ministers who were not up to the job, including João Galamba (Infrastructure), Education (João Costa), Economy (António Costa e Silva), Agriculture (Maria de Céu Antunes), Defence (Helena Carreiras), Justice (Catarina Sarmento), Housing (Marina Gonçalves).
A political commentary on April 30 focused on this new urgency, while satirical show “Isto é gozar com quem trabalha” sent up the whole farce of aides ‘hiding in ministerial lavatories’, and a sacked deputy making off on a bicycle in such a way as to show that no-one could be taken in by any explanation that Galamba was in control.
Correio da Manhã went further by saying “Galamba should never have been a minister, every day longer he remains in his post is a collective tragedy”.
“There is the feeling that the government of the Republic has been contaminated by a small band of immature, lying, unprepared upstarts who don’t hesitate in taking Portugal to the brink of the abyss just to save their own skins (…) This government lacks respect for the Portuguese people (…) With Galamba as a minister, the dignity of the State has hit rock bottom”, states the tabloid in an editorial.
The Government seemed to trawl to new depths of disgrace when João Galamba called in Portugal’s secret services SIS to retrieve his sacked deputy’s computer.
“If military, diplomatic, even financial secrets were at risk” this would be understandable, writes Armando Esteves-Pereira, in his column on the episode today. But the country’s secret services “cannot be use to protect and hide ministers’ mistakes. Galamba is not the Sun King who can declare “I am the State”. He has to explain which documents (on his sacked deputy’s computer) were confidential”, and not simply ‘personally incriminating’.
As Luís Marques Mendes stressed on his regular slot last night, the whole story runs like an episode from a country “of the Third world”. João Galamba has “absolutely no conditions to remain in government” — and the fact that he enlisted the help of the SIS shows abuse of power, and was illegal, in Marques Mendes’ opinion.
It is time for the prime minister to intervene instead of “permanently hiding behind ministers”, and “if António Costa doesn’t act, the president of the Republic has to intervene”, he said.
Marques Mendes said he is not talking about Marcelo dissolving parliament, more exerting influence. But plenty of other pundits have been talking about the dissolution of parliament, suggesting events have simply become too bizarre.
The European Commission estimates that TAP airline — the State entity that has caused countless casualties in government as well as its French CEO and its chairman — has a value of between €854 million and €1.5 billion.
In other words, when the government does finally move on reprivatising the airline (which it suggests it will do later this year) taxpayers stand to lose €2.3Bn in the worst case scenario; €1.6Bn in the best.

Reporting with the Portugal Resident

Photo: André Kosters, Lusa.