Once again the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s, only six-month old, is under strain following on her strong character reactions, thus casting doubts about the passing of her legislative agenda, which is already considerably delayed.
Over the weekend President Rousseff ordered Transport Minister Alfredo Nascimento to suspend several of his top aides following on the news magazine Veja claims the officials were charging a 5% kickback fee on projects coming through the ministry.
A statement issued by Rousseff’s office said she “has confidence” in Nascimento and that he was responsible for investigating the problems at the ministry. The president was scheduled to meet the minister this week to talk about the matter.
The allegations and Rousseff’s role in the suspensions could trigger more friction within the 10 parties that she relies on to pass legislation. Nascimento’s Party of the Republic is small, but Rousseff’s relations with bigger parties such as the PMDB have frayed due to disputes over budget cuts and appointments to plum government jobs.
The sour mood in Brasília, highlighted by the resignation of Rousseff’s chief of staff last month (Antonio Palocci) amid a separate scandal, has paralyzed key reforms such as an overhaul of the tax code, efforts to prepare Brazil to host the 2014 World Cup, the controversial forestry bill and disputes over the release of documents related to Brazil’s recent dictatorial past.
Making things more complicated Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, a respected former magistrate and who held the same post with the administration former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva lamented before a roomful of legislators last week that he has to tolerate an ever-greater number of “idiots.”
Jobim, a PMDB leader, made the comments at an 80th birthday celebration for former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a figurehead of the main opposition party. Jobim served as Cardoso’s justice minister in the 1990s.
Jobim also lauded Cardoso for “never raising his voice toward anyone” and “never creating tension among his advisers”, which many observers interpreted as a direct criticism of Rousseff, who has a reputation for dressing down subordinates in a loud and public fashion.
After a long meeting with Rousseff on Friday, Jobim said his comments were misinterpreted, and that the “idiots” were journalists who disparaged Cardoso’s legacy.
Jobim who also opposes declassifying documents from the time of the military dictatorship is apparently wishing to retire from government but has opted to remain in the job in part because his resignation could provoke an even greater crisis between Rousseff and the PMDB, the largest party in the ruling coalition.
Four of the top officials in Brazil’s Transportation Ministry have been temporarily suspended from their posts after the Veja magazine report on fraud they allegedly committed in several bidding contests on public works.
The measure seeks to guarantee impartiality in the investigation ordered by the ministry to determine the truth behind the denunciations made by the publication in the issue that began circulating on the weekend, the ministry said.
Representatives of the pro-government center-right Republic Party, or PR, to which Minister Alfredo Nascimento belongs, established a network with ministry officials to favor firms submitting bids on public works that were much higher than normal, Veja claims.
The favored businessmen apparently paid bribes to PR leaders for the contracts worth millions.
“In the face of the relevance of the account published by the magazine and the absence of evidence, Nascimento decided to open an internal investigation to quickly and thoroughly determine the alleged responsibility of top ministry officials in the deeds mentioned by the magazine,” the Transportation Ministry said in a statement.
The minister determined that, in addition to the internal investigation by the ministry’s monitoring entities, the complaints will also be investigated by the Comptroller’s Office.
“To guarantee the full development of the investigation and the effective verification of the facts ascribed to the directors of the entity, the public servants cited by the report will be removed from their posts as a preventive measure … until the conclusion of the investigations,” the ministry said.
The four top officials accused of being part of the corruption network are the ministry’s chief of staff, Mauro Barbosa da Silva; the ministry’s Cabinet adviser, Luis Tito Bonvini; the general director of the National Transportation Infrastructure Department, or DNIT, Luis Antonio Pagot; and the chief of the state-owned Valec, Jose Francisco das Neves.
Nascimento personally communicated his decision to President Dilma Rousseff, the ministry said. Press reports, however, said that it was Rousseff herself who placed a telephone call to the minister to order him to temporarily remove the accused officials from their posts.