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THE NECESSARY TASK FOR MICHEL TEMER: FIGHTING CORRUPTION
The interim President has made many mistakes – but trying to weaken institutions that assure accountability is among his worst
By Carlos Melo and Sandro Cabral on Jun 20, 2016
Michel Temer’s interim government has proven problematic in one of Brazil’s most crucial areas: fighting corruption. Here are a few points to highlight what we mean:
He has named numerous individuals to his cabinet that are either facing corruption charges or have acted in the defense of people facing corruption charges – politically or professionally;
The extinction of the Comptroller-General’s Office (an entity destined to monitor the public administration) and the nomination for the new “Ministry of Transparency” of people connected to the group currently in power.
Considering the circumstances under which Michel Temer has risen to power, these missteps have increased public distrust in the new government.
The facts revealed by the press, the revelations coming out of plea bargains made by defendants of Operation Car Wash, and the advances of federal prosecutors and judges all demonstrate that President Temer has made repeated mistakes – both ethical and political. This time around, we will focus our analysis on the Comptroller-General’s Office (CGU) and the mechanisms of control.
Although it would be premature to state that Brazilian institutions have been consolidated, the process of creating and reinforcing control entities like the CGU is undeniably an advance to the Brazilian society. With all of its regional branches, the CGU became an important way to create checks and balances within Brazil. Ensuring that the institution is formed by highly qualified and vigilant technocrats helps create conditions for public administration to control and ensure the transparency of governmental acts, something that has not been seen for most of our history.
Alongside the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Accounts Court (a sort of audit tribunal of the federal budget), and a more active judicial system, the CGU finds its origins in the deepest period of monitoring, control and punishment for public agents in the country. If a society is well informed, then it can properly evaluate the action of its leaders.
Nobel-prize winner Douglass North has indicated that informal institutions, made out of conduct codes and cultural factors, also matter. They cannot be dismissed. In its brief existence, CGU has behaved like an entity of the State. Without it, initiatives like the Transparency Portal (a website on which it’s possible to monitor how the government manages the budget), the Law of Access to Information, or even Operation Car Wash wouldn’t have been possible.
Of course, those institutions don’t replace a well-functioning political system. But they are still necessary. The adverse reaction of civil servants at the CGU following its transformation into the Ministry of Transparency was a healthy response.
The political establishment may try to weaken the structures of accountability by suffocating it, or coopting those individuals working on it. But it won’t be an easy task. Initiatives to change those structures will meet resistance from the independent culture that has been forged over the years.
Also, well-informed sectors of the society tend to react against actions that intend to make it more difficult to punish corrupt politicians. The necessary task for Temer is to perfect those control institutions, not diminish them.
Sandro Cabral holds a PhD in public administration and is a professor at São Paulo’s Insper Business School.
CARLOS MELO is a sociologist and political scientist. He is a professor at São Paulo’s Insper Business School.