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Saturday, 22 October 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Second Home Expenses Row Exported

[Update at end of post]

A Parliamentary expense row has just kicked off. It involves a minister with two homes, and an interpretation of the rules on which is his principal residence. And it is not, on this occasion, in the UK. The man in the spotlight this time is Miguel Macedo, minister for Home Affairs in the Government of Pedro Passos Coelho in Portugal, who has two homes.

A ceremonial archway in Lisbon ...

This arrangement, of course, is not unheard of in the UK. But the rules for the Lisbon Parliament are rather stricter: an allowance of €1400 a month is payable only for those living over 100km from the capital, something that would not please the likes of Eric Pickles (37 miles, the distance he quoted on the now infamous Question Time appearance, is approximately 59km).

... and another in Braga. Know the difference

Senhor Macedo represents Braga, which is well over 300km north of Lisbon. He has a house there. But he also owns another property in the Lisbon suburb of Alg├ęs, and that’s no more than 10km to the west. It’s close enough to be on the city’s tram network. So, the argument goes, he doesn’t need the allowance and should not be receiving it, especially given the current climate of austerity.

As in the UK, the legitimacy of Macedo’s arrangement has come down to interpretation of the rules: a ruling by the Attorney General’s office back in 1990 held that the office holder’s “permanent residence” – the one on which the distance is calculated – is not the same as an address in the capital, where their business interest lasts only as long as they are elected to serve.

So Macedo gets his €1400 a month, a significant amount in a country where a job paying the minimum wage yields less than €500. I’m informed that there is still a subsidised bar in the Parliament building. That’s two items which may not survive in the current economic climate (subsidies at bars in the Palace of Westminster have recently been cut back).

[UPDATE October 23: Miguel Macedo has, as my contact in Lisbon so aptly put it, begun to feel the heat, and tomorrow will formally announce that he is waiving his €1400 a month allowance. One item that has, indeed, not survived the current economic climate]

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