Portugal approves new vetting system after string of hiring scandals

FILE PHOTO: EU leaders meet in Brussels

By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's government said on Thursday future officials would from now on have to answer a questionnaire before they are appointed to prove they are fit for office after a string of hiring scandals rocked the ruling Socialists.

The new vetting system, a set of 34 questions, would allow the government to verify the candidates' background and that there were no conflicts of interest before they were appointed, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva told a news conference.

Vieira da Silva said they would also have to sign a declaration of honour.

"This mechanism is prior to nomination and seeks to anticipate a problem," she said. "It is not an investigation... it is a set of questions that allows the person to take responsibility."

The Socialists, led by Prime Minister Antonio Costa, won an outright parliamentary majority in an election a year ago.

But the government has had a bumpy ride since then, with 11 ministers and secretaries of state leaving their roles, some over allegations of past misconduct or questionable practices.

It was reported earlier this month that secretary of state for agriculture Carla Pereira, who quit around 26 hours into the job, allegedly had her bank accounts seized due to a corruption investigation into her husband, a former mayor.

In late December, infrastructure minister Pedro Nuno Santos quit following a public backlash over hefty severance pay received by a new treasury secretary from state-owned airline TAP, which fell under the minister's remit.

In November, Costa's right-hand man, Miguel Alves, stepped down after being formally accused by public prosecutors of malfeasance during his time as a mayor in 2015-16.

The new questionnaire has already been criticised by opposition parties, with Left Bloc lawmaker Pedro Filipe Soares describing it as "ridiculous".

He added: "The prime minister is telling us that he will ask questions to the people he invites to the government? He didn't do that before?"

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by David Latona and Alex Richardson)