Human costs of "good business climate" (Live from Porto!)

João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at SPAMmail.telepac.pt
Sun Mar 11 06:35:26 MST 2001




Gorojovsky wrote:

> Yes, there has been a terrible accident some 20 miles away from here. A hundred
> year old bridge on the Douro broke down when a passenger autocar was traversing
> it, at 9 PM yesterday. At least 70 people are supposedly dead. It has not been
> possible to retrieve the corpses as yet. This was the result of the confluence
> of three crimes:
> 1) criminal negligence in the maintenance of this structure by the Government
> and the applicable public agencies;

Since Nestor has posted this message, maybe I should elaborate and qualify this
first crime, for the story is even more exemplary in terms of contemporary
politico-ideological trends. And most appropriate stuff for the Crashlist.

Up to a two years ago, the building and maintenance of all portuguese national
roads was the responsibility of one big public agency - the Junta Autónoma das
Estradas (JAE) - created by the fascist regime.

With Portugal's adherence to the EEC (later EU), a big windfall of money - by
portuguese standards - has been coming yearly from Brussels, as structural funds
for development to poor countries. With characteristic myopia and provincialism,
the portuguese governments have decided to spend the brunt of this money of fast
roads and high-ways. For 15 years now, what has basically been happening in this
country is road building by the government and shopping center building by private
capital.

The public contracts for road building were adjudicated by JAE. There were big
bucks on it. In fact, JAE became a platform for public corruption on a giant scale.
Political parties (mainly the PS and PSD) were financed through money allowances
under the table for public contracts, which also gave ample occasion for
embezzlement by public officials. The situation became so alarming that even the
chairman of the bosses' confederation, Pedro Ferraz da Costa, started to complain
publicly that profit margins of corporations were being squeezed thin by...
extraordinary expenses.

Though political life here in Portugal is notoriously more opaque than in other
european countries (an operation "clean hands" is out of the question here), the
"socialist" government decided to act, in order to avoid the scandal. And what it
did was dismembering JAE, downsizing, outsourcing and privatizing many of its
functions.

The result is that, for 35.000 portuguese bridges, you now have 19 technicians
responsible for their vigilance and maintenance.


João Paulo Monteiro







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