Corruption – Brazil and Guyana – commentary

Corruption –  Brazil and Guyana

Stabroek News – November 4, 2012 – Editorial |

Brazil“The party is over,” chanted anti-corruption demonstrators outside the Supreme Court earlier last month. No, not in Guyana, but in Brazil, where the court had convicted leading politicians, among others, in the highest profile corruption case ever to come before the judiciary. A Reuters story carried in our Friday edition reported Justice Joaquim Barbosa, who was described as being unrelenting in his “dogged pursuit of guilty verdicts,” as calling the illegal payments for the purposes of vote-buying, “an assault on public coffers.” The mastermind, said Judge Barbosa, was none other than Jose Dirceu, once former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s most powerful cabinet member, the co-founder of his Workers Party and prior to 2005, his presumed successor.  

According to an earlier Reuters report, the others found guilty (some of whom have been sentenced already) included the Workers Party president as well as its treasurer; 10 legislators, plus bank executives and business intermediaries – about two dozen people in all. That the population of Brazil has been absolutely enthralled by the case, is not just because of the political prominence of those charged; it is also because the Supreme Court has never before convicted a politician of corruption, and in the news agency’s words, “the courts [in general] have traditionally been timid in punishing corruption.” This is in a context, of course, where Brazilians perceive their society as being corrupt, and where last year’s Transparency International’s ‘Global Corruption Barometer’ said 64 per cent of respondents in that country were of the view that the political parties, police and judges were the worst offenders.

It is a matter of some interest to us in Guyana to find out what has changed to make convictions at this level possible. According to Matthew Taylor, an expert on Brazil quoted by Reuters, “…there is both public support for anti-corruption efforts and the institutional wherewithal to effectively combat corruption.” Where public intolerance for corruption is concerned, that has been put down to a growing educated middle class, which will not accept corrupt politicians. And as for the “institutional wherewithal,” that is the Supreme Court in this instance. Its new activism in this regard – Justice Barbosa’s tenacity aside – is to a significant extent the consequence of the work of Eliana Calmon, a retired federal judge who devoted years to extirpating corruption and abuse from Brazil’s court system, Reuters reported.

One has to add that the reputation of President Dilma Rousseff, herself of the Workers Party, has emerged from all of this completely intact, and the head of state remains immensely popular. The reason is that she is also seen as refusing to overlook corruption after she fired six ministers in her first year in office following allegations of defalcation of one sort or another against them. An example of zero tolerance for white collar crime is being set, therefore, at the very apex of the system.

Here in Guyana, despite the fact that there is a shrinking middle class rather than a growing one, there is little patience with corruption among the population at large, so we already meet the criterion of public support for action. However, while official corruption is perceived by the people to be widespread, unlike the case of Brazil, there is no corresponding response from the highest levels of government, neither is there much evidence of an institutional capacity to confront the problem. A lack of willingness to even acknowledge corruption, or only doing so in a limited way, has been a serious misjudgement on the part of the governing party, and may have played some role in their loss of a parliamentary majority. As it is, they persist in explaining their loss in terms of the trickery and stratagems of the opposition, rather than in terms of their own failings after twenty years in office. They forget that even their own supporters are witnesses to roads which disintegrate after months or a year, not forgetting other public works projects which are beset with problems and hardly require enumeration here. There is nothing the government can say which will convince voters that this can all be put down to the incompetence of contractors alone – although that is bad enough – and that it does not also involve kickbacks, nepotism and the like somewhere along the line.

In his last pronouncement on the matter, President Ramotar said, in effect, that although there was some corruption it was not as widespread as was being claimed. Barring Mr Ralph Ramkarran, who has now left the PPP, no one else in the party has come out to unequivocally declare war on this scourge. Without adopting the uncompromising stance of President Rousseff, no one will believe that the government has any intention of seriously confronting the issue. It is true that perhaps with a view to deflecting criticism, it has been energetic in peripheral areas which don’t come too close to home, such as accusing AFC members and pursuing the GDF Credit Union, for example, (there is certainly no problem with that in itself), but other major concerns of the public remain unaddressed. After months the NCN investigation has produced no outcome, while there was the case of the useless police boat, where those guilty of fraud were allowed to repay the money, but were not charged. That was nothing short of a scandal, for which Minister Rohee has given no justification which would make sense to rational beings – but then there isn’t any he could give. All the other scams over the years that have come to public attention but which eventuated in no action are too well known for recitation here.

That there is no genuine intention to pursue without fear or favour all those officials who commit fraud is apparent from the government’s approach to institutional capacity for dealing with corruption. The problem can only be tackled if there is an autonomous institution of integrity charged with investigating whether government operations are above board, and then reporting to the public, through the agency of Parliament. In our case, the first line defence against official corruption at all levels is the Audit Office, but instead of ensuring that it is well staffed in terms of numbers and certification, and has the resources to carry out its task, the government in the teeth of criticism from all quarters has emasculated it. It lacks qualified staff, it lacks the resources, but most of all, the administration has made unsuitable appointments at the highest level. It has now confirmed in secretive fashion the Auditor General who was acting for seven years, in his post. His qualifications for the office have come under criticism in the past, and the situation is not mitigated by the presence of the wife of the Minister of Finance (who is possessed of the necessary qualifications) who is the next most senior officer in the Audit Office – an undeniable case of conflict of interest.

If there are questions about the Audit Office – the very institution which has to monitor whether the government at all levels is in compliance with the laws where spending is concerned, among other things – there will be a lack of confidence in what it produces; as it is, what it has produced so far under the current Auditor General (when he was acting) has been the subject of professional criticism. The government, however, has been impervious to such expressions of unease and is seemingly unconcerned about appearances.

It is impossible to believe that the ruling party does not see at least something of what everybody else sees. Since there is no intention to pursue corruption at the official level with any vigour, the inevitable question arises, why not? One can only assume that the government is paralysed by the fear that the problem is too close, so it prefers to shut its eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist. And perhaps those officials and their associates who are guilty of fraudulent transactions see themselves in the same light as a Brazilian governor of whom it was said, “he steals but he gets things done.” However active an official might be in other areas, this will not redeem him or her; an ‘efficient’ corrupt official will undermine systems and in the end do serious damage. And as for cover-ups or turning a blind eye, that will ultimately corrode the party or agency guilty of it, transforming it from one which has legitimate objectives, to one where its members lose their integrity and the need for hiding transgressions becomes its paramount raison d’être.

Corruption seeps down through a society, and contaminates all areas of existence. If it continues unchecked for long enough it will completely undermine any rule-governed community, cause the population to become cynical about government, and weaken the legitimate control of the state. Not least, it makes development impossible. The government is at a crossroads; to be taken seriously and to fulfil its mandate to the people, it must decide to challenge corruption head on, make the institutions which deal with it viable, and allow them to follow their investigations wherever they may lead. As President Rousseff knows, there is no short-cut to eliminating corruption, and pain is unavoidable.

The governing party is particularly enamoured of all things Chinese. One would hope, therefore, that it would heed the words of Confucius, who is now back in vogue in China. He wrote, “He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.“ We certainly could do with a bit more virtue in the upper echelons of our political world.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 12/10/2012 at 4:46 am

    “Corruption seeps down through a society, and contaminates all areas of existence.”

    I know that firsthand after living and working in Brazil for 16 years where corruption was a way of life. There was no escape. Fighting the system was futile. I am heartened that Brazilians have finally begun to fight back.

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania  On 12/10/2012 at 5:07 am

    Corruption is the way of life for the powerful ones who wish to acquire wealth by dubious means, instead of helping their poor folks. They are in turn forced, coaxed by the global superpowers to do so because they can also extract their pound of flesh. Hence this business of corruption is like prostution, oldest as well vibrant despite perrennial rhetorics against these both cancers in society. The weak and meek has no say and these corrupt few taks advantage of these general weaknesses. Democracy is their best tool to insinuate and befool.

    Today if one look at, the media are the most vibrant corrupt post in the society, seen very well after Niira Radia and Rupert Murdock cases. Politicians spend the peoples’ tax money on their survival strategies instead of development. Sorry state of affairs.

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 12/10/2012 at 6:24 am

    The Pillars of Society must stand up to the Corruption Machine in every country no matter how difficult it may become.The engine of Corruption must be totally disrupted in our very lifetime or else we will all be impoverished. The Politics of Corruption will allow those to take from the Public purse without remorse or shame. The Political umbrella of Corruption is very hugh and the temptation is great.The mind of the Corrupt is also devastating to his fellow men and the word Povertyis the creation of the Democratic State where Corruption has become the order of the Day. If The Supreme Courts will not act then who can Save from endemic and epidemic Corruption?

  • Dr. O. P. Sudrania  On 12/10/2012 at 6:37 am

    First scrap the “International Human Rights” orgy. The only humans left are those few who claim corruption as bad while enjoy the fruits in their backyard. Ca we do it? I doubt it.

  • de castro  On 12/13/2012 at 11:18 am

    hyprocracy cannot rule forever….in todays world it is easily identified

    once the problem is identified the solutions will come…
    get the diagnosis wrong and you administer the wrong medicine….

    forever the optimist !

    CORRUPTION will become “history” … with BRAZIL taking the initiative…
    history was written by the victors
    history will be written by the vanquished….

    when corruption is endemic in societies it becomes “clever” to “cheat”

    in politricks a blind eye is turned
    in sport it is enforced….drug testing et al

    Politicians will have to “answer” to their electorate on the issue or they will be voted out….democracy via ballot box works !

    With a powerful press corruption wont survive !
    it will become “unfashionable” sooner than later …. trends come and go
    but corruption will not return …am sure as night follows day.

    No politician can ignore corruption in their society ….they will be judged by what they do about it !

    GUYANAS leaders be warned …. do nothing and you will be de-selected…
    do thwe right thing and you will be re-elected.
    as the saying goes the “ball is in your court”…
    actions speak louder than words.
    do something !

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