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Covering It All

Covering It All

Brazil is in the midst of a law-writing fever. Traffic, pensions,
environment, civil service, everything has been touched by new legislation. Only one
question hasn’t been answered yet: who will enforce all these laws?
By Thaïs de Mendonça

The Brazilian Congress has never worked so much. In only three weeks, congressmen
approved four important bills, which will change considerably the way Brazilians live. The
bills touch upon several areas, including the civil service, the social security system,
the environment and the use of streets and roads by pedestrians and cars.

Usually, Congress is on vacation before Carnaval (which this year was celebrated in the
third week of February). But this year, senators and deputies decided to start their work
earlier in order to vote on a series of urgently needed laws. Such was the case with the
new environmental legislation, which is being introduced six years after being first
discussed during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development ( UNCED) ,
the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso signed
the document on February 12, and stirred some controversy among ecologists.

Although the bill provides strict penalties for environmental crimes, some say the law
is too weak. The law sets down heavy fines for those guilty of illegal logging and killing
animals, except for eating. Despite the campaign to keep the bill intact, President
Cardoso vetoed some clauses, including one dealing with noise pollution produced by
churches. Congressmen representing the evangelical churches contended that they could not
avoid noise during religious services.

The support of the evangelicals has been one of the keys to Cardoso’s recent success in
getting Congress to approve civil service and social security system reforms. Now
governors can fire nonproductive employees and social security will only permit workers
who are over age 60 to retire. In the previous system, Brazilians could retire after 25
years in the workforce—sometimes as early as age 45—and this has created a mass
of pensions that the government cannot pay.

Toothless Law

As for the Traffic Law, experts agree that it was time to end lawlessness in that area.
The legal framework has always been weak in protecting pedestrians and making sure that
drivers were safe. Now there are fines up to $170 for various traffic offenses, such as
not allowing a pedestrian his or her right of way or showing off while driving in order to
scare people.

Brazilians had different reactions to the changes. Polls say that 64% agree with the
new Traffic Law, but in the State of Rio de Janeiro, for example, 68% think the rules will
increase corruption. From the universe of those who say yes, 32% believe traffic will be
better in the cities, 31% foresee a reduction in the number of accidents and 27% trust the
penalties will work as an education tool for transgressing drivers

The changes in the General Employment System were particularly tough to make, due to a
long-standing animosity between the government, the labor unions and the PT (Partido dos
Trabalhadores—Workers’ Party). However, the volume of much of this antagonism has
come down since unemployment statistics started to rise in Sao Paulo, threatening millions
of regular jobs in the auto and steel industries. That made possible the establishment and
regulation of temporary jobs, which had previously been prohibited in Brazil.

The new copyright law is quite thorough. It protects authors of software, as well as
writers, painters, and artists. Even soccer players and their teams got new rights to
their own lives and images. The so-called Lei Pelé (Pelé Law)—introduced by
Minister of Sports Édson Arantes do Nascimento, better-known as soccer great
Pelé—intends to regulate both the functioning of clubs and players’ rights. From now
on, players for the first time will have access to the social security system.

During the signing of the new environmental law, President Cardoso admitted a problem
with legislating in Brazil by saying: "Some laws stick and some laws don’t."
That’s what happens. When new legislation is introduced, the public’s first reaction is
fear. Next, Brazilians wait to see if their fellow citizens obey and whether the law is
being enforced. One of the problems with the new law is the lack of enforcement. For
example, consider the Amazon region, which takes up half of the country. Who will
guarantee that the new environmental laws will be observed across the rainforest’s huge
and tree-covered territory?

Enforcement might be a little bit easier in the case of traffic laws, since the
military are in charge of controlling the roads. But the problem still exists in the
highways where there are not enough police officers. This is a tall order, since there are
over 90,000 km (56,000 miles) of roads all over the country to watch.

"Given the immense responsibility we have towards humanity, we are obliged to put
into practice everything this law sets down," promised Cardoso to the
environmentalists. Environment Minister Gustavo Krause believes that there is not one type
of crime against the environment that the new law doesn’t cover.

Recently, Brazil has begun to study the use of water resources and a big program
financed by the World Bank is on the pipeline to aid the poor and constantly
drought-plagued Northeast region.

Who’s Afraid of the
Big Bad Wolf? 

The new traffic laws are already getting rave reviews. Even though people were unhappy
with the tough new measures that the legislation introduced, they were enough afraid of
the stiff penalties that they have dramatically improved their driving habits—to a
certain extent. The new law was put to the proof during the Carnaval holiday, which can
last from four days to a whole week.

Authorities said that there was a 50% reduction in motor vehicle accidents occurring
while vacationers were on their way to beaches and other holiday destinations, when
compared to the same period last year. But on their way back, the same families were
responsible for a reduction of only 30%. How can we explain such a phenomenon? It is very
simple. As soon as drivers noticed that there were no police officers on the roads, they
went back to the same old traffic violations. Most of the fatal accidents were due to
speeding, alcohol and imprudence.

A very popular Brazilian song says, "there is no sin below the equator." Many
Brazilians seem to agree. While the new traffic regulations are welcome in the national
capital, Brasília, in Rio de Janeiro the laws make many people laugh. "Can you
imagine anyone stopping at a red-light in the middle of the night, waiting to be
assaulted?" asks a Carioca (Rio resident). Another Carioca replies:
"A policeman earns $432 a month. If you offer him 10% in cash of a $865 fine, would
he refuse?"

The Senate approved recently another new law to prevent money laundering from drugs and
corruption. But the small corruption in everyday life seems much more difficult to stop.

The Laws in Brief

President Cardoso predicted that the signing of new Social Security laws will save at
least $5 billion in the civil service payroll this year. But Brazilians still have many
unanswered questions on the new Environmental, Traffic, Oil and Gas, Communications, and
Public Administration Bills.

Social Security System—Now workers have a minimum retirement age (60 for
men, 55 for women). In the past they could stop working 25 years after their first job.

Oil and Gas—After the breakdown of the Petrobrás—the state company in
charge of oil and gas—monopoly, the Brazilian government hopes that other companies
will be interested in exploring gas and oil in Brazil. A new national agency was created
to substitute Petrobrás.

Communications—The government expects to get up to $33 billion with the
sale of big state communications companies. The government also hopes that consumer
service (which can be dismal in some areas of the country, such as Rio and Sao Paulo) will
improve in the process.

Civil Service—In the past, all workers had job stability and could receive
unlimited pensions. Now civil workers can be dismissed for poor performance and cannot
receive more than $12,700 a month.

Traffic Law—Speed limits were fixed at 110 km/h (68.2 mph) on highways, 60
km/h (37.2 mph) on city streets, and 40 km/h (24.8 mph) in rural areas. Drivers’ licenses
are temporary for the first year. There are several tough new fines. For example, parking
on the sidewalk carries a fine of up to $180.

Environmental Bill—Fines can go up to $50 million and there are jail terms
for more serious violations. Crimes covered by the legislation range from illegal logging
and killing wild animals to industrial pollution and scribbling graffiti on walls.

Thaïs de Mendonça writes for the Brazilian newspaper Hoje em Dia.
She has published two books on Brazilian issues. You can get in touch with her by sending
a message to: Plenum Consultoria, SQN 211, bloco J/407, 70.863-100 – Brasília, DF –
Brazil or thaismendonca@persocom.com.br
 

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