May 7th 2009, 13:25
It usually takes something going terribly wrong for the Economist to write about Portugal. So, is this it?
Gloominess is a Fado question, Portuguese are addicted to Gloom & Doom, but the actual circumstances fully justify this mood. In Portugal it is possible to speak about a lost decade, one where the country should have been thriving and streamlining but where it actually got fat, inefficient, unjust and hard on its citizens.We spent 10 years discussing The Question: budget deficit and how to tame it. Should we reduce expense, or increase taxes? Never mind increasing productivity, social fairness, overall transparency and push forward reforms that have been described by every international body concerned with us.Ten years later we got the bill plus a world crisis. That’s for starters, and it’s going to get worse.Take Justice, for instance: The Economist run a story, years ago, about Indonesia, where Indonesian judicial system was described as one of the most corrupt on earth, the victory being awarded to the party paying more to the judge.I used to think that the Portuguese judicial system was the exact opposite. But, over the years it got so bad, so swollen with intricacies and privileges that I do not know any more. It reminds me more and more of the old Brazilian saying: «everything to our friends; to our foes justice, slow and expensive».It is underfunded, that’s a fact, but no more than the average European judicial system. Portugal spends around 1,8% of the budget on the Justice system; The number of judges and justice operators is in the average; salaries and wages at the judge’s level is on the upper end of the scale, more so when compared with the average national wages. So, why wouldn’t the system work?Not for lack of reform, we had a lot of that in the Justice Department. Probably for lack of accountability, as everything else in the country.This is a taboo where it is unsafe to touch, but unwillingness to do so will destroy the system, and the most visible effects are already being felt.