Portugal Transparência e Integridade, Associação Cívica (TIAC), the Portuguese representative of anti-corruption global network Transparency International, today called for all State spending on fire fighting to be transparent and for all amounts invested in the fight against forest fires to be identified in detail, as well as for the identification of all private entities benefiting from public investment.
In a statement, the association’s Board points to the limited information available on how hundreds of millions of euros of public money for fire fighting are spent every year. “Information about the destination of this money is scarce, almost secret, and the few data we have are worrying.”
The fires that ravaged Portugal in recent days have claimed lives, deprived many Portuguese of their homes and assets, destroyed much property, impoverished the country. In addition to the human and material losses to be mourned, these fires also risk the health, quality of life and the tranquility of the inhabitants in the affected areas. They have demanded enormous sacrifices from firefighters and the people that support them, and have consumed enormous resources from the armed forces, the Local Authorities and many other public and private entities.
Nothing in this scenario only due to weather conditions. There are political responsibilities and responsibilities from property owners, the central government and local authorities. Like other public policies, prevention and fire fighting requires human and financial resources which are scarce, as well as and a long-term strategy, long overdue, to preserve the resources that are so needed for the development of the country. Unlike other public policies, fire fighting takes place in a disaster context and public alarm, particularly during the summer period in which most Portuguese are on vacation. Due to the urgency of forest fires, the political response times are forcibly reduced, which sometimes leads decision-makers to “cut corners” without a proper monitoring of the authorities. The risks of mismanagement of these scarce resources are real. Recently, the Secretary of State for Internal Affairs, Jorge Gomes, publicly stated that this calamity allows the flourishing of “the firefighting industry [which] gives money to many people” (in Público, 11.VIII)
Each year, hundreds of millions of euros are spent from the public purse in fighting fires without the public having clear and transparent information on the fate and the beneficiaries of these funds. In the 2016 State Budget alone about 200 million euros are budgeted to fighting fires, a sum to which certainly many other public funds will be added, given to the size of the fires this summer.
Information about the fate of this money is scarce, almost secret, and the few data we have are worrying.
The Board of the Transparência e Integridade, Associação Cívica thus appeals to Parliament, the Government and the Court of Auditors to publish in a detailed manner all spending on fighting the fires.
For the sake of transparency in public life, it is urgent to disclose this information and assess the merits of the expenditures made.