One of the most urgent challenges in Brazil is the participation of citizens,
not only in the electoral process, but also in overseeing the administration
of public offices.
For a good election campaign,
nothing beats counting on candidates willing to unveil their proposals and
voters interested in discerning them before casting their ballots.
Were it how it happened
in reality, wevoters and candidateswould all be free from schemes
used to win over votes. That is why there is no better medicine against corruption
in elections than conscious voters and candidates who bet not on the power
of money, but on the persuasive force of their administrative plan.
The upcoming race for
office, which must abide by electoral legislative guidelines, urges us to
focus our attention on aspects relative to the implementation of this legislation,
in order to avoid that certain initiatives by candidates be viewed as attempts
to corrupt the voting process, which now is severely punished by law.
So, the references I make,
in a relatively nonspecific fashion, are part of a set of findings that are
common knowledge to all and also brought to the Bishop's attention, as the
saying has for so long suggested: "Take your complaint to the bishop!"
The empty talk begins
with the promises. Proof of this is the fact that in folk myth the candidate
is the man of promises. Promising is not illegal. As a matter of fact, promise
and compromise have the same semantic origin.
The problem rests in promises
that compromise! And above all, promises that consist of personal advantages
to voters, such as offering posts in local administrations.
Some municipal offices
in our region have become unmanageable due to this sort of pledge, with administrations
inflated by a number of staff members far beyond necessary.
There are other tactics
that may seem inoffensive, but when associated within the framework of elections,
are nonetheless corrupting ingredients. Among them:
The undertone of politicking loses all disguises as candidates approach the
campaign trail with a display of extraordinary generosity towards sponsoring
cookouts, birthday parties, or other pretenses for luncheons and dinners.
It's disheartening to observe the creation of a market where votes are auctioned
off in return for food and drinks.
Paying for graduations.
With it comes the aggravating factor of domesticating the political conscience
of students, whose education shouldpreciselybe applied to fight
off such practices.
Fuel money. It's
a routine so ingrained, that it makes potential clients out of many voters
for any candidate who introduces him or herself.
Subsidizing water and
utilities bills. It's sad to witness the scope of extreme poverty of the
population, the people's lack of resources to handle these bills. However,
to make of this helplessness a tool for harnessing votes is to distort true
politics, which in turn loses strength to combat the causes of abject poverty,
by feeding off such misery that renders votes. It is a similar situation with
overdue mortgage or other installment payments.
Providing baskets of
staples. What is worse is that these baskets are not destined to ending
the hunger of the people; instead, they are used to ending the hunger of candidatesfor
votes. The criteria for basket distribution are established according to the
potential for votes from those receiving the goods. The more voters in a family,
the greater the motivation to hand out baskets!
But all these devices
are not as effective and direct as the most famous one of all: hiring campaign
workers. In truth, paying for "campaign workers" turns out to
be a camouflage for the purchase votes. It does happen, as it indeed has occurred
in a recent election, when a candidate hired more than 1,500 workers in the
final three days of the race. And it became evident that his victory was a
result of that. The success of such stratagem relies on the element of last
Some candidates for city
councilor compute the necessary number of votes to be elected. They equate
the result to an equal number of workers hired.
This is where the all-mighty
cash plays a role in the election process.
But this is where it warps
politics the most. To reduce the democratic process to mere business deals
is to defeat its essential goal of securing welfare and promoting social justice.
Since the resources for
such tactics cannot be made public, they require the existence of off-the-books
accounting, in order to fly under the radar of the electoral justice system
This is another situation
that aggravates the process of corruption, directly contradicting the principle
of transparency, the primary requisite to harbor integrity within public administrations.
Ideally, no one should
make use of such schemes, and campaigning should center exclusively on studying
and debating the political solutions to be found.
Therefore, it would be
nice to dispose of all other promises and keep only what everyone is committed
to, steering clear of such ploys, warning all voters that this time the race
for office will be different!
Campaigning is conducted
with an eye on local public office. Therefore, it is only fitting to state
here, even if in a very succinct manner, what has been brought to the bishop's
ears regarding possible misallocation of funds within municipal administrations.
I begin with a recommendation
from a former mayor, after experiencing up close what takes place in city
management: "Tell voters not to elect a thief, because in city management,
whoever wants to rob can do so."
This sort of rationale
is sad, nonetheless realistic, wherein not only mayors are to blame, but also
the many people who believe that these public officials are dishonest and
willing to embark in foul play, full of trickeries, within the surroundings
of city management.
In order to substantiate
such generic allegations, we can cite a few examples of situations characterized
by an environment of corruption: beginning with the workings between the Executive
and Legislative branches.
The mayor must resist
City Council's intentions to act as an agent for personal favors, a practice
that exhausts municipal resources that should be allocated for other purposes.
Putting an end to the
exchange of favors between the Executive and Legislative is a must. I was
awe struck when a former mayor told me that in one town in our region there
was a city council employee making 9,000 reais (approximately US$ 3,000) a
Another amazing fact is
the abundance of high level posts, positions in committees. It's important
to offer some figures here as well. In a certain town, the number of such
jobs reaches 120!
The environment within
city management allows for a wide array of corruption mechanisms. Despite
being arduous, it is worth mentioning them, as a way of showing that the people
are not unaware.
Schemes range from commissions
earned in acquisitions made by the Administration to predetermined open biddings,
misuse of fuel, and profiting from transportation methods. Even school lunch
presents an opportunity for misappropriations and attaining personal favors.
And in an effort to masquerade
the detours in the use of public funds, the trick is to show the books where
all figures appear to check, as the State Accounting Office demands.
To exhibit such precision
in the records, a diverse assortment of artifices is employed: false receipts,
invoices from ghost companies, cloned notes. It seems that the know-how in
corruption has become highly adept!
This is today's scenario
not just for candidates but all citizens. Unfortunately, the economic crisis
leads public officials in a confusing path, where nothing gets solved. Overstaffed
municipal administrations is one.
Town hall should not be
a source of jobs. It would be nice to have city management finding ways for
the private sector to provide work for the population.
I made sure to double-check
some of the data, for comparison purposes. I learned that the number of employees
in the town of Tupandi, in the state or Rio Grande do Sul, was 110, 60 of
them grade school teachers, because the city provides for grade school education.
Thus, only 50 actually work in the administration!
The city has a budget
of 7.5 million reais (US$ 2.5 million) and a population of 3,500 residents.
70 percent of the city's revenue comes from agriculture; the production of
20 million chickens comes second, followed by pork and milk production.
What was the economic
policy of the city? It provided support to farmers' initiatives, by offering
free ground-leveling services and roof tiles and protection screens for those
wanting to start a poultry farm or raise hogs.
What has City Management
learned? The investment by the administration comes back by way of taxes,
and people stop looking for work away from home when they discover that their
family business yields a bigger paycheck than an outside salary-base job.
Again, it would be nice
to devote all our time to the exchange of ideas on regional development, in
which town halls play an indispensable role; as well as the best way to rely
on the effective work by the Councils, already provided in the statutes.
And finally, to bring
it to public debate, in a permanent way, the issues of our cities, through
local press, which unfortunately, must we say, at times stalks city hall,
not to be of service to public debate, but to make demands and gain special
treatment, blackmailing public administrators with the power to twist facts.
Upon such set of circumstances,
let us reflect on the election campaign about to begin in the coming days.
Dom Luiz Demétrio Valentini is the Catholic Bishop of Jales, in the
state of São Paulo. From 1991 to 1999 he was in charge of CNBB's
(National Conference of Brazilian Bishops) Social Pastorals as well as President
of the Brazilian Caritas. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is
a freelance translator, with a degree in business and almost 20 years of
experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and
political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. His email: