Susana Coroado: “It is hard to understand how Mário Centeno went to Banco de Portugal”

President of Transparency and Integrity considers that the political class still does not pay attention to conflicts of interest and cases of corruption. I would like to see the amendments to the Public Contracts Code vetoed and admit that the day will come when your association will become unnecessary. "To cease to exist would be our great victory", he says.

The new president of Transparency and Integrity, Susana Coroado, points out inconsistency to the Government in the doctrine of the unique mandates that justified the non-renewal of Vítor Caldeira in the presidency of the Court of Auditors. And he asks: “Does this apply to judges at the Constitutional Court? To public institutes, public companies, directorates-general? ”

The possibility that, according to the opinion of the Court of Auditors, the new rules of the Public Procurement Code "transform the national public procurement market into multiple and small markets of a regional and local nature" to occur in a year in which there are municipal elections is a fact relevant?

Extremely relevant. The fact that contracting authorities can create advance lists of local small and medium-sized companies increases the risk of corruption on both the supply and demand side. On the one hand, it creates incentives for companies to try to do everything to be on that list and this can be done in an extremely transparent and legal way - presenting a good job - or by offering direct bribes or favors to the contracting entity, which in election year can very well be a town hall. On the other hand, this also creates wrong incentives on the part of contracting authorities, precisely because they can compel companies to comply with certain requirements, which can also involve bribes and illegal political financing. Another of the measures highlighted by the Inspectorate-General of Finance is the fact that the contracting entities do not need to make public tenders, and can then make the direct adjustment without even consulting the market in the arts sector. At the height of the electoral campaign, this opens the door to cloaked political financing: a contracting entity may try to negotiate with the artist who in summer performs concerts under the cultural program of the municipality, but as there is no investigation of market prices it can be combined with the artist that the camera pays him more than normal and then he makes a little leg in the election campaign.

The non-renewal of Vítor Caldeira as President of the Court of Auditors, following the opinion that saw in the amendment to the Public Contracts Code an open door to exception regimes, can be seen as a warning to the successor and to those responsible for other entities that supervise the state?

It can. In Transparency and Integrity, we did not have a position regarding non-renewal, as the law allows for the renewal of mandates but does not oblige it to do so. As the Government makes the proposal, it can decide that it does not renew the mandate of anyone. Now the Government says it is in favor of single mandates and that it has been known for four years that this mandate would not be renewed. But apparently it was only the Government that knew it and even so it is not explained why on the day that Vítor Caldeira's term ended, there was no longer a name to take office. There was enough time for planning and not that power vacuum. There are doctrines that argue that single mandates increase the degree of independence of the person who takes office, but this happens when the person already knows, at the moment he takes office, that there will be no renewal. This can be ensured by law. Imagining that as soon as Vítor Caldeira took office the Government had made it known that this would be a single mandate, there was no guarantee that if the Government changed the new holder he would not be able to have a different understanding, being in favor of the renewals. If it is not in the law to determine that it is only a mandate, the holder will never be sure that there is a possibility of renewal or not, which will decrease his independence, as he will eventually make calculations to try to understand if he should favor this or the one with a view to approving the mandate. The way this process was conducted is clearly a signal from the Government that when it doesn't like someone, it may not approve. In fact, the Government has always defended a posteriori who is in favor of single mandates. Does this apply to judges at the Constitutional Court? To public institutes, public companies, directorates-general? It would be very interesting to clarify this issue.

Is the lack of attention to political corruption in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy your Achilles' heel?

It's fundamental. Just look at all the investigations in recent years to see that political corruption is a serious problem. From the moment we have a former prime minister, a former judge of the Relations, a former prosecutor - already effectively convicted -, when we have these people all involved in investigations related to corruption, this is worrying. A strategy cannot ignore the issue of political corruption and illicit financing, nor can it ignore money laundering. If money laundering is not corruption, it is closely linked, not least because if there is no serious fight against money laundering, potential criminals who may commit the crime of corruption will always have the feeling that even those who are convicted may later enjoy its fruits. . And if someone is lured into a corrupt act but cannot enjoy the profits of that crime, because even if he is not caught by corruption he will not have a way to launder capital without being caught, this reduces the incentive for corruption. It is not an aspect that is minimally addressed in the Strategy.

Are concrete measures lacking?

Institutions and practices need to be strengthened. For example, the Government has approved a code of conduct, which speaks of political responsibility, but does not even mention what that is. We have examples, in other countries, in which there are different degrees of sanctions for members of the government depending on the seriousness of the act committed: for example, for a month they do not have a driver or cannot take credit card or representation expenses, going to the loss of mandate. In Portugal we don't have that. And we don't have an institution outside the government that can do the monitoring. We know whether or not there is a violation of the rules depending on whether there is a scandal in the media. In fact, the strategy itself defends codes of conduct for public institutions, but later it does not set an example. Shortly after the strategy was presented, the prime minister, in our opinion, violated the code of conduct.

With the participation in the elections of Benfica ...

If the prime minister, who is the guarantor of compliance with the code of conduct, does not respect it, that makes it irrelevant. One of the great failures of this strategy, but also of the transparency package approved last year in the Assembly of the Republic, is precisely that of the regulation of conflicts of interest.

Is it the Assembly of the Republic that must be imposed?

First of all, we need to change the paradigm. We are always in a position to identify a certain number of incompatibilities and we say that they are illegal. And everything that does not fit this mesh of the illegal and the prohibited can be done. Conflict of interest occurs when the private interests of a particular person may conflict with the public interest, and all public office holders, as well as all private office holders, and we all have private interests, whether personal, family, financial or professional, which may conflict with the public interest. Not all conflicts of interest are equally serious. Some are insurmountable - and hence there are incompatibilities - others are only apparent and the issue has been analyzed well, it can even be said that there is no problem, and others have to be managed. It is not a matter of preventing people from exercising a certain position, but of saying that in a certain matter they cannot intervene. We saw this in the process of appointing European commissioners. Elisa Ferreira submitted herself, like everyone else, to a hearing in the European Parliament and the legal services analyzed the potential conflicts of interest that could raise problems in her portfolio and several questions were raised: that of holding shares in companies registered in the register European Commission lobbyists and the fact that her husband is in charge of the Northern CCDR. Having the portfolio of European funds, it could be a conflict of interest. An investigation was carried out to understand how the problem could be solved and the conclusion was that Elisa Ferreira alienated the actions she held, since it was considered that this incompatibility could be resolved, and in relation to her husband, it was concluded that there were no conflicts of interest. interest because there are so many intermediate levels of control that it could hardly be influenced by the European Commissioner in the CCDR. Neither Elisa Ferreira's integrity or honesty was called into question nor was she prevented from taking office. These conflicts have been clarified and resolved. In Portugal this does not happen. If it is not illegal, there is an open door to everything.

The Portuguese observed how the Minister of Finance made a smooth transition to governor of Banco de Portugal, with no more obstacles than the attempts of some deputies to stop the process. Does this set a precedent for everything that comes next?

These things are or are not allowed depending on the political cycles and the interests that are present. I remember that also recently, with this Government, the possibility arose for a PS deputy to be appointed to a regulatory body and his name did not even reach the nomination process because there was so much criticism that it ended there. In this case, when Minister Mário Centeno worked directly with Banco de Portugal, and made decisions that will be evaluated by Banco de Portugal - we have already seen that Governor Mário Centeno praised Minister Mário Centeno's work. -, the political cycle was different and allowed. There is great inconsistency in these matters. This is very rare and only in two countries is there a similar situation. It is not clear how Mário Centeno was elected governor of Banco de Portugal. They always said "it is the best", but despite its curriculum, it can be the best, it has a serious conflict of interest problem that calls into question the way it will be able to exercise the position. And so it is no longer the best. Even if it were, how do we know? Were there any other candidates? Was there a transparent process? Was there a public tender or public hearings so that we could evaluate the view that he and other potential competitors have on the position and on banking and financial regulation so that we can compare? People are only the best compared to others.

Do you see in António Costa's governance a continuity or a trend towards greater opacity in these matters?

We see that it is increasingly difficult to obtain public information. The case for lifetime grants is very obvious. The names of political office holders who enjoyed lifetime grants have always been public and then ceased to be, without an explanation for that, apart from data protection, which is being used for everything and more. We also see, and I don't think this is necessarily a matter for Prime Minister António Costa, a whole political class that has absorbed the corruption discourse but that it does not comply with. And this is a serious problem.

In the next presidential elections there are two candidates who base part of the speech on the issues of transparency and corruption, and although they are ideologically very distant Ana Gomes and André Ventura have already been labeled populists. Is it an inherent risk to those who report these situations?

We are also called populists. I don't like the term for a reason: it's already used as an insult. Everyone is populist when it matters. It may be Ana Gomes, it may be André Ventura, it may be the President of the Republic, as the theory has already circulated that there was not much populism in Portugal because it absorbed all populism in itself. And in the political debate it is a throwing weapon. Every time a position is taken, whoever it is, that is not in accordance with what the opponent agrees with, it is said that it is a populist position.

Even in the document of the National Strategy to Combat Corruption it is read that "they are systems of frustration and anti-democratic drive that motivate the perception of the fight against corruption" ...

The problem is social and political movements with authoritarian tendencies. This is extraordinarily worrying. But on the day that these forces come to power, it is not at that time that democracy will be in trouble. The coming to power will be a consequence and not a cause. Democracy will already be in trouble and bankrupt when authoritarian forces come to power. Whoever has the obligation to prevent this from happening is whoever is in power at the moment and has a duty to pay attention to the discomfort of the population, indignation and the feeling that there are favors, that no matter how much people work and study they cannot improve life and reach certain positions. Those who have small and medium-sized companies cannot win a certain competition because they do not have the right contacts. And as much as there are cases of corruption, political power is not contributing to trying to solve the problems. First, it is necessary to look at what is wrong at the moment and not live on ghosts - which exist, as we see what is happening in Europe and the polls in Portugal -, limiting the speech to this bogeyman and doing nothing afterwards.

Has Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa been a President of the Republic with little intervention or even complacency in matters of lack of transparency?

It depends on the cases. I would not like to make an assessment of the President of the Republic's mandate for one reason: the chairman of the board of the general assembly, Ana Gomes, is a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic. We will adopt the same procedure that we adopted with Paulo Morais: the moment she delivers the signatures to the Constitutional Court, and becomes an official candidate, she will suspend her term.

What does Transparency and Integrity expect from a President of the Republic?

As the guarantor of the regular functioning of the institutions, this is the first step you can take in the fight against corruption. For example, the Transparency Entity is not yet functioning. What does a President of the Republic have to say? What are you going to do about an institution that is not yet functioning out of sheer slowness and disinterest in political power? Another issue that would be interesting was the Presidency of the Republic to publish the meetings it holds with interest groups on its website. We defend the regulation of lobbying through law to enforce practices, but publishing meetings does not require any law. Any institution, including the Presidency of the Republic, may voluntarily, by internal administrative decision, publish this information without waiting for the Assembly of the Republic. It would also be interesting to understand the vision and hope that the President of the Republic will demand transparency from the Portuguese Government now that we are going to start the presidency of the European Council. The last four presidencies have published meetings of lobbying that they maintain and we do not know if the Portuguese Government intends to do the same. And then there is that more concrete stance that a President of the Republic can have, which is to veto certain laws. It would be interesting if a President of the Republic, I do not know if the current or the future, taking into account that the law that alters public procurement opens such a big door to the risks of corruption, had the first step of vetoing it.

Was it advice I would give you?

To the present, to the future, to whoever is in charge.

And if the Prime Minister asked you for advice, which one would you give?

Take political corruption seriously, show that there is political will to fight this problem without legal justifications for not doing so. Issues of the Code of Conduct, meetings of lobbying and conflicts of interest can be resolved by decision of the Government, which obviously has no power to legislate over the Assembly of the Republic but also does not need a law to manage its own functioning.

Do you believe that the day will come when your association will have no reason to exist?

My opinion is that corruption is an issue that is being managed, not least because there are different types of corruption depending on the areas and institutions. There is no miracle solution for every case. I think that on the day that public and private institutions are strong enough to be able to have mechanisms for the prevention, detection and repression of this type of behavior, this does not guarantee at all that corruption and related crime will not happen, but there will be mechanisms. When not to prevent, at least to detect and punish. When we feel that the institutions are already strong enough, we will cease to exist. We will no longer be accurate. To cease to exist would be our great victory.

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