Portugal – it’s now or never
Strange though it may appear, not many media outlets in Portugal are yet postulating a real possibility – namely that instead of calling another general election (the last was 2009), President Silva has the power to nominate a Government of National Unity. The first option would no doubt bring another hung Parliament, with José Sócrates again leading the Socialist Party claiming that the Opposition was irresponsible in failing his emergency package at such a delicate time and exploiting the inexperience of Pedro Coelho, the leader of the largest opposition party, PSD.
The smaller parties with seats in Parliament (CDS-PP, CDU – Communists and Greens and Left Block) and others without representation, might manage to captivate more votes but the outcome would be once more the Portuguese banging their heads against the same two walls hoping that finally something might happen. If it hasn’t for 37 years…
The second would work better if President Silva had the emotional intelligence to appoint a Government and more importantly, a figure, around whom a national consensus could be formed. He would be more likely to choose a figure from the past and with firm connections with his party, PSD. Let us however follow the lead of the Portuguese media and place this option in the background.
As for what happens next, whatever the case, nothing is going to make any difference at all until Portugal faces up to its weak points and does something about them.
Unity, humility, responsibility, transparency – and end the lobbies
What the Portuguese need to do, and until now have been incapable of, is the capacity to sit together and draw up a national plan in the short- and medium-term at least, which goes above and beyond the cosmetic whims of petty party politics. What Portugal needs is to establish benchmarks after broad consultation with all players involved and then to follow up and make sure they are being followed.
What Portugal needs is to sweep aside those thousands of leeches who suck the country dry, gravitating around the positions of power and control – an army of invisible, opaque and grey barons who make a living at the expense of the rest of the country. These are the lobbies, these are the boys for whom the jobs are reserved.
What Portugal needs is to show more humility, and this comes with accepting responsibility. This in turn passes by the need for properly drawn up job descriptions so that not only do people know what they are supposed to do, but can be held accountable if they do not fulfil their obligations. This also means that if some poor kid presses a button and gets his brains fried in a public street, the system does not push the poor parents around from court to court, then file the case as void, because the time to act has elapsed – and would eliminate the “Portuguese ping-pong scenario” whereby one tries to legalise something and spends days, weeks or months being sent from department to department to department, each one saying “it isn’t here where you should be”.
Responsibility and job descriptions also mean a different work ethic, in which the innate productivity of the Portuguese (who prove themselves to be excellent workers abroad but unproductive at home) could flourish – greater responsibility, more freedom, as per fulfilling the job description within the timetable stipulated, leaving work at the proper time, like in other countries, and having something called “a life” away from the office. This implies having a family/home life and enjoying leisure time, in turn creating jobs, not hanging around at work until midnight because “it is expected” by some failure/control freak without a private life to go home to.
Transparency is the last quality lacking in Portugal. What is the real state of the public finances? Why does nobody explain them clearly to the people? Why does nobody adopt the stance of a teacher with a blackboard and piece of chalk and say clearly where they are and where they need to go? Transparency means knowing the curriculum of those in public office, those leading the institutions – who they are and what their competences are.
Traditionally, Portugal has proven incapable of facing up to these shortcomings – the reaction to criticism, especially from foreigners, is aggressive and protective and there is even a phrase in Portuguese, quem não está bem, quu se mude – if you don’t like it, clear off; basically this is an excuse to carry on making the same old mistakes and making the minimum effort.
The time for sweeping the dirt under the carpet is over. Time to listen and to act. The cardboard house is rotten. And the storm is coming. Portugal – it’s now or never.