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BRAZIL
Political ethics in check
José Pedro Martins
7/14/2005
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Corruption charges put Lula’s government in jeopardy.

Corruption and bribery allegations became rampant in Brazil’s political landscape in early June when a Brazilian newspaper published a devastating interview with Rep. Roberto Jefferson, head of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB).

Jefferson gave the daily Folha de Sao Paulo a detailed report of the monthly payments that Delúbio Soares, then-treasurer of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party, allegedly handed out to lawmakers of the Popular Party (PP) and the Liberal Party (PL) in exchange for their legislative backing in Congress. On a monthly basis, they were allegedly paid 30,000 reales (US$12,000). Soares stepped down from his post July 5 to face an investigation into his involvement.

Jefferson’s statements were published amid other corruption allegations that his own government-allied party had influenced the state-run postal and telegraph service as well as the Reinsurance Institute of Brazil. The PTB along with the PP and the LP form the support base of the Worker’s Party in Congress.

Jefferson’s charges dropped like a bomb on national politics because they involved a political party — and the president, indirectly — that has always tried to differentiate itself on the political scene by defending "political ethics", "administrative honesty" and "transparency in public business".

The Worker’s Party’s "ethics" was suddenly threatened, though Lula’s popularity did not falter, according to the majority of opinion polls taken after the corruption allegations broke, some of which registered an approval rating as high as 60 percent.

The major issue at hand is whether Lula knew about the monthly payments. Regardless of the answer, the Worker’s Party’s situation is complex.

Damaged credibility

"If the president knew, there will be an impeachment case, resulting in his dismissal," said José Pedro Lins, one of the consultants who has worked extensively on social and corporate responsibility in Brazil.

"If he did not know, it would be characterized as administrative incompetence," he said. "In either case, the government’s credibility is damaged."

The future of Lula’s Workers’ Party is uncertain. One of the immediate consequences of the charges was the resignation of his administration’s Number Two, José Dirceu, Lula’s chief of staff. A former guerilla who lived in exile in Cuba, Dirceu was the man of the grand political articulations in the government. His name, however, was involved in the scandal Jefferson reported, and he resigned at the end of June, being replaced by another ex-guerilla, Dilma Roussef, who was until then, serving as minister of energy and mining.

Another byproduct of the allegations was the implementation of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission (CPI), which will investigate the charges related to the postal service. Lula’s government and his support base in Congress stood against the CPI, arguing that it was a political play, created, ultimately to "destabilize the government."

An uncertain future

In fact, the future of Lula’s administration is dependent on whether any truth to these accusations exists.

In his farewell address, Dirceu, who returned to his seat as a representative, said that he and the Workers’ Party have an ethical legacy to maintain, and this will be plainly seen at the end of the investigations. The crisis has led to the resignations of Worker’s Party Secretary General Silvio Pererira and Worker’s Party President José Genoino.

Lula, for his part, said that his government will support all investigative efforts, and that those involved would be punished, even if they were members of his own party. Soares, the former Workers’ Party treasurer and center of the accusations, claimed that "a rightist movement" is trying to unseat the president. This would be the real reason behind the avalanche of accusations involving the government, when the country is beginning to discuss the 2006 presidential elections.

What needs to be guaranteed in the first place is to come to the bottom of the allegations, said priest José Antonio Trasferetti, president of the Brazilian Society of Moral Theology. "We do not need to prejudge the facts; it is necessary to make an investigation about the allegations, and, if they are confirmed those responsible must be punished," he said.

Trasferetti observes that under the current circumstances, the question of corruption needs to be addressed broadly by Brazilian society. "In our culture, there exists some characteristics that need to be discussed, like the question of jeitinho (craftiness), the attitude of those who want to take advantage of everything," he said.

For Trasferetti, considering the possible involvement of the Workers’ Party, which has been traditionally characterized as a defender of political ethics, one of the biggest risks associated with the allegations is that political activity has been tarnished.

But the future of Lula’s government does not only depend on the CPI of the postal service or on the new allegations of the monthly payments. A central point will be whether Lula fulfills the election campaign promises that he made in 2002, which, more than anything, pertained to social issues.

"The Brazilian people voted for Lula for the changes he promised, and these changes have not materialized," said Luiz Gonzaga Godoi Trigo, professor of the Pontifical Catholic University in Campinas.

On the list of unexecuted changes is a drop in interest rates to facilitate investment and the generation of income and employment, tax reduction, the implementation of an integrated national tourism policy (a venture with great potential for Brazil, and one that the country has not yet explored) and the environmental protection of areas such as the Amazon rain forest.


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