Al Jazeera Blogs


Business

Prime minister, did you lie to me?

A few months ago, Jose Socrates, the Portuguese premier, told our presenter that a financial bailout for his country would not be necessary, so what happened?
Last modified: 7 Apr 2011 20:32
Photo by EPA

I feel cheated. Big time. And by the leader of a Western European nation no less!

A few months ago, Jose Socrates, the prime minister of Portugal, was in Doha and made an appearance on Al Jazeera's business programme Counting the Cost, which is fronted by yours truly.

Obviously I wanted to talk about Portugal's precarious debt situation, and all the talk from markets and analysts that the country's visit to the EU and IMF for a financial bailout was a foregone conclusion.

There's a link to that specific programme and interview here.

Watch it, if you've got 10-15 minutes spare, and tell me if you think Mr Socrates was being genuine when he told me "we don't need any kind of help but confidence". And when he assured me that a financial bailout wouldn't be necessary.

Because two weeks ago he was forced out as prime minister. Predictably so, I have to say, because garnering support for more austerity measures was always going to be politically difficult. 

But now, in what's amounting to a parting shot, he's ended up going to the EU and IMF for the very bailout which he told me he didn't need!

Now I'm trying to figure out, Mr Socrates... (if you're reading this)... did you lie to me, or did you just not know how bad the situation really was? 

Did you deceive, or were you delusional? Or were you just putting a brave face for the TV cameras?

See, now I'm confused as well as feeling cheated! Argh!!

Okay, I'll dispense with the personal dramatics now and get to the point.

Europe is still in bad economic shape. No one can deny that. So would a leader like Mr Socrates have been better served coming clean earlier? 

Perhaps he didn't have to fully admit during that interview back in January that Portugal would definitely need a bailout... but maybe he could have acknowledged the market's concerns, and conceded that he would in fact go to the EU and IMF if the situation warranted, and if it was in Portugal's best interests.

Wouldn't the market and analysts and investors have liked that better? 

Yes there'd have been some immediate bad press, but in the long run I wonder if it would have served people better? 
And by people, I mean politicians AND the public.

It is the eternal conundrum of business and economics. Say nothing, and risk the destructive power of rumour. Tell all, and risk people not liking the truth of the situation.

But if there's even a chance of that 'awful truth' emerging later on down the road, isn't it better throwing up a few signposts ahead of time, so it's not such a shock when it does happen?

I'm not a politician or an economist. I'm a journalist who observes and questions such people and their actions. 

I can't put myself in Mr Socrates' shoes - leading a country and having to make decisions which affect so many millions of people.

Frankly I think it takes an extraordinary type of person to even want to do that.

But while I'm pretty confident he did what he thought was best for Portugal at the time, and in going to the EU and IMF now is doing the very same... I also wonder if Mr Socrates himself were to watch that interview again, would he still think he said the right thing on that January afternoon in Doha?