Internal Affairs Minister, Constança Urbano de Sousa, is to order yet another report and investigation to determine “possible responsibilities” for the events during the fire at Pedrógão Grande in which 64 people lost their lives.
The conclusions of the audit of the SIRESP communications system, undertaken by the General Inspectorate of Internal Administration, were limited to highlighting the procedures that should have been followed in the operation of the communications system.
Now teh minister needs a scapegoat and with this in mind, a month and a half after the fire, Constança Urbano de Sousa has announced a new survey, this one will determine “possible liabilities.”
The ministry has done is analysis of the contracts for SIRESP and who is responsible when the system does not work. The minister will now order a new inquiry to see if anyone can be held responsible, however: “any shortcomings that may be pointed out in the conclusions of the audit do not indicate that there will be a disciplinary procedure”, says a ministry source.
The online edition of Expresso said on Wednesday that the ministry recommended that a disciplinary proceeding be filed against the Deputy Secretary-General of the Internal Administration, Francisco Gomes.
According to the Observer, the IGAI report makes direct reference to Gomes, but only to indicate that he was the coordinator of the SIRESP communications network used by the security and rescue forces, including the police, GNR, Civil Protection and fire fighters, among others.
Nobody seems to be responsible for SIRESP with the reports requested by the Prime Minister from various concerned entities all deflecting criticism.
Francisco Gomes said that when more fire fighters were requested, back-up mobile SIRESP units should also have been ordered up as the fixed SIRESP radio stations were bound to fail when consumed by the fire.
The manager of the SIRESP system reported that he received two communications reporting the failure of the communications system – one at 9.15 p.m. and another 14 minutes later: “at this time it was already impossible to have a mobile station at Pedrógão Grande in time to help mitigate the occurrences that resulted in deaths.”
At today’s press conference, Constança Urbano de Sousa admitted that there was a lack of coordination at the command post of the National Civil Protection Authority in Pedrógão Grande and that she wants to apply penalties to the company running the SIRESP system.
As for the ‘road of death’ where 40 people perished, “From 8:00 p.m. this road was used without any signs of danger. No information was received that pointed to a risk situation in driving along the route in question, ” the minister told reporters.
“For this reason the closure of this route was not ordered. It was always open to traffic until there was news of the tragic and unpredictable events. Access to EN236-1 was closed at 10.15 p.m. after the location of the fatalities,” she added.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that nine studies so far have been completed: from the IGAI (an audit by the General Secretariat of Internal Administration), the Telecommunication Institute (a study on the operation of SIRESP), Linklaters (legal opinion on the SIRESP contract), the report from the GNR (Internal Investigation Process), a Civil Protection Report (Pedrogão Grande Fire Report), and others including SIREPS SA.
After examining these reports, ministers have requested four clarifications: three from the GNR and one from the Civil Protection service.
On the SIRESP network, Constança Urbano de Sousa says that it was “not very resilient” due to the fibre optic cables, “mostly supported by poles, which makes them particularly vulnerable to forest fires.” The minister also pointed the finger at the “excessive number of conversations,” which saturated the communications system.
The Minister now has instructed the General Secretariat of Internal Administratio which manages the SIRESP contract, “to initiate the necessary procedures to enforce the application of penalties to SIRESP SA, due to failure of availability and performance in compliance with the contract.”
Whether she will take up the recommendation made in her departmental report and go ahead with a disciplinary process against Francisco Gomes, remains to be seen but it would be a good move as the SIRESP system has not been audited or evaluated since 2010, nor has the company running it, SIRESP SA, been accountable for system failures over the years.
The report says that not only did SIRESP SA not have to pay for its lamentable performance, preferring simply to bank the handsome fees each year, but it also failed to change SIRESP procedures when operational problems were pointed out.
Francisco Gomes was the president of the SIRESP user council which has existed since 2010. He failed to call meetings between March 2015 and July 2017, when meetings should have been held every three months, and there have been no half-yearly reports, a requirement noted in the regulations.
This lack of supervision by Gomes leaves him the first in line when the scapegoats are being rounded up.