While Brazil Seems in a Civil War Congress Only Cares for Pay Hike

Brazilian congress in sessionNo one feels any nostalgia for the last congressional session. Mensalões (monthly payments for votes) and sanguessugas (ambulance purchase kickbacks) overtook the news coverage, as if our Congress were a TV police show. The new congressional session is also off to a bad start.

While Brazil lives in a climate of civil war, while our children’s education lags in relation to the rest of the world, while the economy grows at a lower rate than that of the emerging countries, while the highways are still full of potholes and the airports, paralyzed, while the destruction of the forests advances, while the social inequality grows, the Congress, instead of putting these and other problems on the agenda, prefers to give priority to the increase of congressional salaries.

The press has divulged pronouncements and demands for salary adjustments and rights to perks on the part of the Supreme Court judges and the members of Congress. The two groups are engaged in a public dispute over which one receives more.

It is both shameful and sad to see the country confronting such problems while its highest leaders in the Judiciary and the Legislature argue over their own salaries.

In a country where the monthly minimum wage is 350 reais (US$ 167.31) the members of Congress want to make their monthly salaries equal to the 24,700 reais (US$ 11,800) received by the Federal Supreme Court judges, who still want raises for themselves. And the two salaries hide additional advantages, free of income tax, that do not appear on the pay stub.

Brazil will be a good country when members of Congress and the Supreme Court judges stop comparing their salaries with each other and move on to comparing them with the minimum wage. Today when one adds together the salary and the additional advantages, the remuneration of the higher levels of the public sector equal almost one hundred times the minimum wage.

The press is embracing this shameful debate instead of conducting a more profound debate: whether or not we – and I am one of them – members of Congress and judges deserve the salary that we receive.

Even graver than the comparison between the salaries is the comparison of the salaries with the work results. It is the people who pay, by means of their taxes, the salaries of the Legislature and the Judiciary, and it would be difficult to compare our services to the value of the salaries that we receive.

If, in the Congress, we were to be solving the problem of violence, of unemployment, of the very bad public education system, of the chaos in the health care system, of the environmental crisis, of the inefficiency of the political system, then we would be able to ask for a raise. But, considering the results of our work, the people think that we already earn a great deal.

Public opinion about the Judiciary System must not be that different. If it were helping to make Brazil more just, if it were applying the laws according to social and human rights, if it were helping to distribute justice, then the judges could justify their salaries.

We have, therefore, a Congress that ignores the people’s problems. We also have a Judiciary that administers the laws according to the power and the influence of the lawyers and the personal relationships between the interested parties. This is creating chaos, as was seen in last year’s electoral process when, shortly before the election, the rules were changed erratically.

At this time the product of our work neither serves the Brazilians of today nor helps to construct a better Brazil for the future. We are not making the contribution that is expected of us in the construction of the Republic.

Our giving priority to an absurd agenda involving the increase of our own salary is the best example of this.

We are off to a very bad start for the new year.

Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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