The government consultant and author of the economic recovery plan has warned of “major challenges” facing the nation in the near future but has also highlighted positive improvements.
“We will have a great health challenge. The scope of health challenges has been greatly extended. We havea big question: What is safety today when the safety of the human species itself is at stake? This implies a brutal reconfiguration of the National Health Service. We need to change the metrics and ask the question 'Is investing in health today an expense or an asset?'" said António Costa e Silva at the conference "How are we going to live after the pandemic?".
The engineer, who authored the economic recovery plan of António Costa's socialist executive, also highlighted the issue of unemployment as "one of the most important things" Portugal will face in post-Covid-19, but warned: "the problem of unemployment is downstream".
"This crisis has made it visible that there are basic structural constraints in our development," said Costa e Silva, giving as examples decapitalised companies, inhibiting public debt, the shortness of the internal market, the low level of investment and the low level of productivity, as well as the high level of taxation in Portugal. "We have to revisit all of these issues and change them," Costa e Silva said.
António Costa e Silva commented that much has been said about what is negative, but there are "fundamental aspects that the [pandemic] crisis has exposed that are positive", having listed the digitisation of companies as an "opportunity to increase productivity" and create gains in scale and efficiency gains, as well as the acceleration of the technological revolution. "But to make the significant transition, we must not forget the tip of the iceberg: we have an environmental and climate crisis that is dramatic for the planet. Emissions have decreased during the pandemic, but I fear that we will return to exponential consumption of resources," he said.
The conference "How are we going to live after the pandemic?" was introduced by the former Minister of Economy and former chairman of the Northern Regional Coordination and Development Commission, Luís Braga da Cruz, who spoke of the country's levels of governance, considering that Portugal "does not explore well the principle of subsidarity that defines the European model".
"It is each level to do well what it knows how to do well and not transfer it to the higher level. In Portugal, we take the turns we did, we opted for the centralist model. The centralist model generates a lot of dysfunction. It is expensive and it is difficult to solve problems in the centralist model because everything is more complex", defended Braga da Cruz. The former ruler gave examples related to the pandemic of Covid-19, pointing to them as "good", but later concluded that the Regional Health Administrations "for as much autonomy as they have, they have no political responsibility to respond".
"When the Hospital of São João was given autonomy to organise itself in the fight against the pandemic it was a success. It's a successful case study. I believe that the municipal level also gave adequate response (...). At the region level, which is strategic, we are dependent on the centre and the centre does not have the capacity to do everything well (...). It's a deficit that any evolved country has already resolved and we still haven’t," he said.
Meeting Braga da Cruz's analysis, Costa e Silva said that "the country has to reflect deeply onits governance model" and that Portugal "will not be able to get out of the gap without regional development contracts".
"I don't think the country is prepared for regionalisation, but it has to decentralise," he said.