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2023-11-11 at 22h26

"Let us not confuse individual accountability with the act of governing"

Prime Minister António Costa spoke on Saturday from São Bento (photo: Diana Quintela)

"Let us not confuse in any way individual accountability, no matter whose, which only Justice can investigate and punish, if this is the case, with what the act of governing must entail", claimed the Prime Minister António Costa on Saturday evening.

In a speech delivered from the Official Residence, António Costa explained he is addressing the country "so that Portugal does not lay to waste strategic opportunities for its development, especially so that future Governments do not lose out on political instruments that are essential for attracting investment, enhancing our natural resources, and the full use of the country’s infrastructures".

"Seizing envelopes with cash from the office of someone I chose to work with me, more than hurting me because of my trust being betrayed, it embarrasses me before the Portuguese people, and it’s to the Portuguese people I owe an apology", the Prime Minister declared.

The Prime Minister wished to stress three main ideas.

1. "Today and always, corporate investment is desired, welcome, and will be well received"

The Prime Minister stressed that it’s the Governments’ duty to attract corporate investment, namely foreign investment. "I am proud that in these last eight years, foreign direct investment was 56 billion euros, an investment that contributed to more than 640 thousand new jobs, 495 thousand of which qualified", he noted. 

"The effort to attract investment, namely granting financial incentives or applying special rules to projects classified as being of natural interest must be carried out in full transparency", he added. To ensure this transparency, "this is regulated by law, it depends on exigent technical assessments by collegial bodies, it is subject to supervision and it can never come about through mere arbitrary or discretionary decision by a member of Government", claimed the Prime Minister, speaking then directly to those who have invested in Portugal: "I want to say here that today and always, corporate investment is desired, welcome, and will be well received". 

2. "Simplification fosters transparency, bureaucracy fosters opacity"

"Simplifying procedures fosters transparency", claimed António Costa, also signalling the importance for companies to reduce bureaucracy and eliminate red tape costs in investment.

He stated that it was in this sense that in 2021, the Government kicked off a licensing "Simplex" programme, "which had several public discussions, with great participation", he recalled, which led to simplifying environmental licensing, in force since the start of 2023, and approving the simplification of licensing housing construction and industrial licensing, the bill for which is pending appraisal and the desired approval by the President of the Republic.

 3. "Any Government must ensure the best harmonization of the different public interests at play"

"The public interest in attracting investment almost always requires accommodating other public interests that are as relevant or even more so, such a protecting the environment, regional development, population well-being, or ensuring healthy competition among companies, which requires negotiation, articulation, dialogue", the Prime Minister claimed.

The Government, as the top level of public administration, "must ensure the due articulation between the different bodies and seek to ensure that the end result is the greatest satisfaction of the public interest as a whole, that is, the best harmonization of the different public interests at play".

In this sense, licensing lithium mining in Montalegre or Boticas underwent an environmental impact assessment and the licensees were bound to comply with the conditions imposed in these assessments, whether with regard to choosing a site for the refinery that would ensure protecting the Iberian wolf, ensuring water supply requirements, or building a new connection to the motorway.

"This demand of making the various public interest dimensions compatible with one another is particularly critical and discerning in Sines", where "the ambition set in 1971 to turn Sines into a concentrated industrial hub, together with our largest deep water port, as well as a natural park set up in 1995 goes hand in hand with the environmental protection that has been successively boosted by decisions taken in 1997, 2019, and 2020, by classifying this as a Special Conservation Zone"

The Prime Minister guaranteed: "all the projects under development in Sines, namely the Data Centre, whic is the largest foreign investment in Portugal since Autoeuropa was set up, have been forced to respect the Special Conservation Zone, as well as all the environmental values identified within the industrial zone proper".

António Costa also explained that "the intensity of the pre-announced projects under way requires the National Electricity Grid to make hefty investments in boosting the electricity grid", which is why the Government launched a bid for tenders "that will allow us to safely plan the investments necessary in the grid, which also led to the redistribution of the rights of grid use, which were already granted to private parties but not yet being used, in order to increase the grid availability for the investments announced."

Trust in Justice

"It is on the justice authorities to investigate and punish, if this is the case, the behaviour of any individual or company that is unlawful or criminal", he stated. "I respect and trust Justice and all the central administration bodies. Any member of Government, beginning with myself, will cooperate with the justice authorities as they require, whenever they feel it is necessary and useful".

"What I wanted to explain here today, because it is my duty to clarify the Government’s policies to foster the country’s development, is what the Portuguese people have the right to know: my understanding that attracting investment, enhancing our natural resources and making the most of the infrastructure we have, cut red tape, protect environmental values foster regional development and the well-being of the populations are political priorities followed by this Government that require determination, obviously always strictly abiding by the law", he declared. 

António Costa concluded as follows: "I will say, as I have always said and wish to repeat, justice deals with justice and politics deals with politics, which also means that the future Portuguese Governments, regardless of who is Prime Minister or who the members of Government are, the freedom of political action must be guaranteed to pursue a legitimate strategy, starting with the one that will be voted on by the Portuguese on 10 March next year".

Prime minister