Despite corruption scandals, civil society and institutions are stronger in Brazil
31 de maio de 2017
  • English

Ricardo Sennes

Public policy formulation dynamics has undergone remarkable changes for the past two decades, driven both by civil society and government bodies. Cases in which decisions regarding regulatory acts or bills were taken behind closed doors and upon corruption are not common any longer. Surely the country is not free from those practices, but conditions are no longer favorable. Among the factors that led to this change is the strengthening of Integrity System, the middle classes’ growing activism and increasingly efficient federal public servants. This process is less apparent at state and municipal levels.

The framework for a National Integrity System started with the 1988 Constitution, whose main goal is to grant expanding social control over state actions. The advances most visible to the public are the strengthening of the Government Accountability Office, Comptroller General, Public Prosecutor’s Offices and the Federal Police’s growing investigative capacity. Those strides are part of a bigger play. A study by Ethos Institute in Brazil, in 2015, collected inputs regarding the assembling of the System since 2000. It indicates that there were advances in ten different fields: legislative branch, judicial branch, public budgeting, hiring of public servants, commissioning of contractors and services, electoral system, internal, external and social control, media, civil society and business environment. There were more transparency and auditing resources in all of those.

Two main processes are behind a strong Integrity System. From a constitutional point of view, government bodies’ actions are gaining respect and legitimacy, backed up by new laws such as the fiscal responsibility act and anti-corruption bills, which enable and boost oversight. The arrival of a new generation of qualified public servants who are less connected to old power structures is another decisive factor. This generational break can be best perceived in Federal Police, Public Prosecutors and the Justice System. On top of that, investments and intensive use of technology have delivered a welcome boost to these bodies’ investigating capacity.

Investigations like the “Car Wash” operation were made possible by the strengthening of the Brazilian Integrity System. In this sense, they are a clear sign of better public management practices and not the opposite as some analysts have said.

Though important, the control aspect is only a small part in this play. More important and more likely to give birth to constructive initiatives is the growing qualification of the human resources in public bodies. The creation of high management positions as a cross career path to leadership jobs in special areas and projects has brought remarkable results. It started in 1989, was abandoned during the Collor presidency, and then relaunched with more intensity by president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. A more valued career, accompanied by higher wages, has attracted more qualified and motivated employees, in a way that is deeply changing public management standards. The same has been happening at state level, though less noticeable, with 14 Brazilian states adopting the same kind of procedures.

Similar actions are slowly changing the legislative branch. Special career paths were designed to support professional technical consultancies – the so called legislative consultancies – which are attracting highly skilled employees. With salaries even better than their other public counterparts, these professionals are already making a difference for those sincerely interested in quality legislative policies, and they are increasingly becoming more of a part of decision processes at the Lower House and Senate.

Last but not least, the improvement in public policies decision-making has also been affected by pressures from a more activist civil society, represented by NGOs, advocacy groups, specialists’ networks and public policies research institutions. Those groups are very articulated with the media, know how to deal with bureaucracy and have close academic contacts, both in Brazil and abroad. According to a study by IBGE (TN: Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), there were 291 thousand nonprofit organizations in Brazil, most of them dedicated to professional and social issues. 54.1 thousand were looking into public policies in Health, Education, Research and Social Welfare.

More than protest in the streets, the political involvement of the middle-class is getting more professional, aiming to influence regulatory acts and formulation of public policy. The efficiency in using technology (such as social media and big data, etc.) is important in bonding with public policy formulators.

Corruption scandals are more a consequence of a changing dynamics to civil society and politics, and better control bodies than they represent an institutional failure of the country. Once more, Car Wash-like operations would not be possible during the 80’s political and institutional scenario. There are ongoing changes to the Brazilian civil society and state, but long term vision is necessary to appreciate it.

Ricardo Sennes is a managing partner at Prospectiva and a specialist in political and economic scenarios, the formulation and implementation of public policies, and the evaluation of their impacts on companies. He has experience in industrial policy, industrial promotion, and international integration. Sennes possesses a doctoral degree and a master’s degree in political science from the University of São Paulo (USP) and serves as the general coordinator of the university’s leading international affairs think tank (Gacint). He is currently a non-resident partner of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America program, a member of FIESP’s Council of Strategic Affairs, and a member of the council overseeing of the journal Foreign Affairs (Mexico and the United States).

 
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