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Portuguese ministers resign after severance pay controversy at state airline

Infrastructure minister Pedro Nunes Santos and his deputy Hugo Santos Mendes announced they were stepping down.

THE PORTUGUESE GOVERNMENT HAS lost two more ministers today, two days after another was forced to resign amid a growing controversy over a €500,000 severance package from state-owned airline TAP.

The opposition has asked for an urgent explanation from the government about the payment junior finance minister Alexandra Reis received from TAP when she left its board in February before the end of her contract.

The debt-ridden carrier is undergoing a restructuring that has led to redundancies and pay cuts for many employees.

Today, two days after Reis was forced out of office, infrastructure minister Pedro Nunes Santos and his deputy Hugo Santos Mendes announced they were stepping down.

Santos, whose department is responsible for TAP, said he was resigning because of “public perception” of the issue and was “taking political responsibility”.

After leaving TAP, Reis was appointed head of state-run air traffic control company NAV. Then in early December she became junior minister at the treasury.

Like TAP, NAV is controlled by the infrastructure ministry.

Reis insists she did nothing illegal and simply demanded the severance package to which she was entitled, something TAP has confirmed.

But the opposition wants centre-left Prime Minister Antonio Costa to appear in parliament next week to explain himself.

Paulo Rangel, vice president of the opposition centre-right Social Democratic Party complained the “epidemic of political crises” was causing “instability”.

The small right-wing Liberal Initiative plans to propose a motion of no-confidence in Costa’s Socialist Party government.

But it has only eight of the parliament’s 230 seats and environment minister Duarte Cordeiro has dismissed the threat.

“The government has the support of the absolute majority of MPs in the House and will carry on with its job,” he said.

Political analyst Paula do Espirito Santo said the government has been weakened by “TAPgate”.

“Its image has been damaged and that undermines its credibility,” she told AFP.

TAP, whose financial woes have only worsened with the Covid pandemic, was renationalised in 2020.

The European Union conditioned the move on a 3.2-billion-euro restructuring plan, which has been challenged by the TAP pilots’ union.

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