In the first century of the Christian era, historian and politician Tacitus warned: “corruptissima res publica, plurimae leges”, or in other words: “highly corrupt states have many laws”.
Brazil is infamous for its exorbitant level of bureaucracy, as well as its related corruption. To underline Tacitus’ words, a study of IBPT concluded that since the 1988 Constitution (less than 25 years ago) a total of 13,000,000,000 (13 billion) words have been written by the Union, the federal states and municipalities, published in the form of 4.4 million laws, provisional measures, constitutional amendments, decrees etc., in an attempt to govern the country.
And thus, according to Tacitus, Brazil is a rich and fertile soil for corruption. On top of that, we know that the corrupt are rarely punished. Being a rich and fertile soil, elections are for sale.
It is election time in Brazil. This Sunday, October 7, the Brazilian is electing his municipal authorities. Mayors and councillors. You never see them otherwise, but now the streets are awash of them. Lying through their noses, promising everything the people are asking for already for years and never get and will get. The moment they are elected, they disappear from the street, never to show up again, till the next Election Day.
And what about corruption? The daily newspaper O Globo and the weekly magazine Época collected some brilliant examples. Here we go.
The municipality Betim in Minas Gerais
In the past I have written about “catadores”, people who selectively collect recyclable waste in the streets of Brazil (read: Collecting Recyclable Waste) and sell it to create some income.
In Minas Gerais they reach an average of BRL 600 (USD 300) per month. It is clear that a present of BRL 280 (USD 140) is making a difference. And that’s the quantity which Carlaile Pedrosa (PSDB), the candidate for mayor in this municipality, is handing out to the catadores in exchange for their vote.
A video, obtained by Época, shows the candidate arriving by car in a poor neighbourhood of the city. One of his assistants meets with the catadores and draws a wad of cash from an envelope. The catadores look expectantly. “Just to get paid in cash now is nice. The last time it was with a check”, says one. “There will be another 140 or is it just this?” asks another and is immediately informed that he will receive the same amount after the election, if Carlaile is elected.
The images evoke the rich folklore of the era of the “colonels” (the large landowners), when their bare footed farm labour received a shoe for the right foot before the election, and then the left one after the election, but only in case the candidate had won.
Rio de Janeiro
Let’s have a look at Rio de Janeiro, the city that will host the World Cup final and the Olympics. The same practices as described above can be found here.
A report obtained by Época reveals how the militias – outlaw squads selling protection and other services in poor neighbourhoods – charge a “fee” to candidates who want to campaign in their “territories”. According to the investigation led by the Electoral Prosecutor in the State of Rio de Janeiro, the standard price charged for mayoral candidates is BRL 10,000 (USD 5,000), while the councillors have to pay BRL 4000 (USD 2,000). The militias are concentrated in the West Zone of Rio and lower Fluminense.
The investigation started after the hotline received 126 complaints of irregularities in the elections, 25 of them indicating involvement of candidates with militias and another 25 with drug traffickers. In regions dominated by these traffickers, the “fee” is even higher and could reach BRL 50,000 (USD 25,000).
Campaigning in the poorest communities
In the country’s poorest municipalities, the candidates for the post of the local Chief Executive planned to spend BRL 97.2 million (USD 48.5 million) in the election dispute of this year.
Together, these corners of poverty have fewer than 900,000 citizens registered to vote. In most cases, two or three candidates compete to become mayor. With these estimated expenditures, the spending per voter skyrocketed to BRL 110.84 (USD 55), ten times more than the forecast in Rio de Janeiro.
The value spent draws attention because the municipalities do not have TV shows, usually the biggest cost in a campaign, and most have an electorate less than eight thousand people.
The neighbourhood Malvinas, in Araioses (Maranhão), has no running water or sewage, neither a health clinic nor a school. There, 90% of the houses are mud huts with no electricity. In each of these houses live 5-15 persons. In this town, candidates for mayor estimated the spending of their campaign to be up to BRL 4.3 million (USD 2.1 million) to rival the votes of 31,000 voters.
Araioses is one of hundred Brazilian towns with the worst Human Development Index (HDI).
According to the 2010 Census 32% of the population in Araioses, the sixth worst HDI in the country, live with a monthly per capita income of BRL 70 (USD 35), and almost half of the households don’t have water supply. Without being able to compare, the town prides itself on producing good crabs.
As Araioses, the municipalities Governador Newton Bello and Presidente Kubitschek, both also in Maranhão, comprise the list of poorest towns that see the big-spending campaigns. Once playing a prominent role in the state commerce, they are now deprived of everything. The impression one gets is that time has stopped there.
Just four hours from São Luis, the capital of Maranhão, lays the town Governador Newton Bello with the 11th worst HDI in the country. Unpaved streets, mud houses and thatched roofs help to give an air of the countryside in ancient times. There, the candidates for mayor will spend BRL 3.6 million (USD 1.8 million). A considerable amount if one takes into account the quantity of registered voters: 7837, that’s BRL 459.35 (USD 230) per voter.
In this town, four out of ten residents above 15 years are illiterate. And in impoverished neighbourhoods, like São José, the situation has not changed in four years, with dirt streets and houses with no sewage.
In the town Presidente Kubitschek, the 28th worst HDI in Brazil, employment only exists in municipal activities. Without this, the people suffer in extremely poor areas, where the water network only covers 41% of households. Still, the candidates for mayor will spend up to BRL 368.64 (USD 185) per voter.
There are 8,800 registered to vote, and spending BRL 3.25 million (USD 1.65) “seems” a bit out of proportions, considering the total GDP of the town in 2009 – the latest official statistics – was BRL 38.4 million (USD 19.2 million).
In the town of Traipú, at 188 kilometres of Maceió, the capital of Alagoas, the three mayoral candidates planned to spend together BRL 2.4 million (USD 1,2 million), a considerable sum for a town with only 15,000 voters.
Despite being on the bank of the river São Francisco, the town was devastated by drought, not to mention corruption. In five years, according to the Federal Police, BRL 15 million (USD 7.5 million) was diverted from the town coffers. In Traipú, seven out of ten people can’t read nor write. When the TV doesn’t pick up due to a lack of signal, the people flock to attend a festival of court decisions that saw the small town lose three mayors in less than a year. Elected in 2008, Marcos Santos (PTB) was removed and arrested five times by different operations of the Federal Police.
In the town Uruçuí in southern Piauí, the prediction is that the four candidates for mayor have spent nearly BRL 6 million (USD 3 million) in pursuit of a vote of the 15,000 registered voters. In this town, where only 48.9% of the streets are paved, half of the population older than 10 years live on BRL 100 (USD 50) per month.
The current mayor of Uruçuí, Valdir Soares da Costa (Labour Party), planned to spend for his re-election BRL 1.5 million (USD 0.75 million). That is at a same level set for the campaign of Firmin Son (PSDB) in the capital of Piauí, Teresina, but at least there is TV- advertising to be paid for.
Or make a better comparison. In Uruçuí (PI), the availability of crèches is a prominent theme in the election. Together, the mayoral candidates are estimated to spend BRL 5.9 million (USD 3 million), enough to build eight crèches. According to the National Fund for Education, the average investment for the construction of a small unit of around 500 square meters is BRL 670,000 (USD 335,000). As for public health, with 13% of the money provided to the campaigns in this town it would be possible to give full coverage by the PSF (Programa Saúde da Família = Family Health Program) to the 20,000 inhabitants.
What to do?
Almost all of these small poor towns have no sewage service. The Brazilian situation is horrendous. Only half of the population now has access to this service, according to Instituto Trata Brasil.
The Institute states, that the average cost of deploying a complete sewer system is BRL 1,200 (USD 600) per capita. This means that the investment for a town of about 10,000 to ensure 100% of its residents access to sanitation is around BRL 12 million (USD 6 million).
In the above mentioned town Governor Bello Newton (MA), being the 11th worst HDI in the country, the four mayoral candidates presented together campaign budgets of BRL 3.6 million (USD 1.8 million), enough to ensure 25% of its nearly 12,000 inhabitants more appropriate sanitary conditions.
And after the election? Nothing changes and we will see (anew) a wave of arrests of (local) politicians by the Federal Police in their battle against corruption. A never ending battle in Brazil, as corruption rarely is punished with jail time.