The Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino, stood up and lied to parliament yesterday, March 14th, stating to amazed MPs that "Portugal has no oil exploration contracts."
The minister of the Sea either thinks that people will fall for her erroneous assurance that the drilling licence granted to Galp-ENI is a work of fiction or has failed to grasp part of her remit and imagines she is telling the truth: either way, anti-oil association ASMAA has called for her resignation.
Vitorino tried to blame previous governments for the current state of affairs over the concession agreements covering many of Portugal’s offshore zones, specifically the outdated law no.109/94 which has two distinct phases: Research with an initial period and then, Development and Production which permits the extraction of oil and gas from the concession zone.
The current law covers both phases, so with a single contract, the concessionaire can carry out exploration, research, development and production with a deposit being paid between stages one and two along with a production plan. These are the concession agreements that the government has signed, so any idea that these contracts are 'just to see what resources are out there' as the government would have us believe, are false ideas designed to mollify the public.
The production plan, after being nodded through by another forgettable civil servant or suspiciously compliant politician, allows production, "The commercial production of an oil field can be started from the date of approval of the respective development and production plan."
Anti-oil association, ASMAA, commented that “all the contracts that are in force, allow the exploitation of oil - all of them, without exception. The contract is the unique title that confers the right to prospect, research, develop and extract of oil.”
Vitorino’s pitch to US investors in Washington last September made it clear that Portugal’s government is fully behind developing its offshore regions as oil producing, downplaying local uproar in the Algarve and Alentejo regions as being easily overcome and promoted by ignorant people.
So keen is the government to develop Portugal as an oil producing country, with all the inherent risks to coastal tourism zones, that the concession contracts and a subsequent licence signed with Galp-ENI, have been on the cosiest terms imaginable, short of the taxpayer offering to fund exploration.
ASMAA concluded, “the Minister of the Sea has lied to parliamentary MP's and to the Portuguese people that international groups are investing millions for nothing, just to satisfy the ‘curiosity’ of successive governments, to know what resources are under our seas.”
It is clear that the government’s stance now is indefensible, with a minister lying to parliament, lying to the public and possibly lying to herself that she is doing a great job in keeping the little people at bay while she gets on with her star-struck job of playing with the big boys in the oil industry.
ASMAA and other anti-oil associations and pressure groups, have concluded that the Minister for the Sea should resign right away.
Whether the pro-oil prime minister will support Vitorino, remains to be seen, but any future statements from this most evasive of politicians will carefully be analysed by MPs and a media keen to root out those to whom truth remains a stranger.
The PM peppers his public statements with the word 'transparency' yet this saga has been notable for its deceit, double standards, preference for the opinion of oil companies rather than those of the public, and the sham of a public consultation period held after the government already had decided to sign the Galp-ENI drilling licence.
All-in-all, not transparent at all...