In discussion late last night at President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Atibaia vacation propery, Brazil’s three living unimpeached presidents decided to pursue the international outsourcing of government in Brazil.
“It has to be admitted, Brazilians have simply proven themselves unfit to govern the country,” said former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC).
The plan, according to FHC, is to pursue a constitutional reform that would suspend Congress temporarily and concentrate legislative and executive power in the hands of a United Nations-backed multilateral Federal Council, similar to the Swiss model in structure.
“WE CAN’T AGREE ON ANYTHING”
Questioned as to the possibility of a unity government, the presidents replied that they simply cannot agree on anything. According to FHC, “we pretend to agree, out of cordiality, but we can’t move any productive agenda forward, apart from the Federal Council option.”
Former President Lula da Silva also points out that working with Brazil’s 30-plus-party Congress is “impossible.” “Put it this way, it’s easier to buy privately-oriented legislation, like tax exemptions for the chicken industry, than it is to get public-interest legislation through this damn Congress,” said President Lula da Silva. “Look, my party had to buy votes to get anything done.” A total of 84 legislators are currently under investigation in the Car Wash Scandal, which has also implicated 14 former presidents across Latin America.
Lula admits that, although he may run for president in 2018 if he’s not in jail, he is unfit to govern in these sorts of crisis conditions. “From 2002-2010 I just got lucky. Commodity markets were roaring, and I hardly had to do anything.” Lula continues, “I like to spend a lot of money, so I’m hoping commodity markets will back on their feet come 2018.”
Former President José Sarney, points out that “even in the middle of a crisis of legitimacy, Brazil’s Congress has approved policies that are clearly out of line with what Brazilians want.” Sarney cited as an example the May 25th 2017 vote to extinguish the 486,000 hectare Jamaxin protected area in Para’s Amazon. Sarney’s son, Minister of the Environment José Sarney Jr., has insisted that President Michel Temer veto the fast-track legislation. FHC also cites congressional backlash against popular initiatives to increase accountability, which have been signed by more than 1.4 million Brazilians.
PLANS FOR THE FEDERAL COUNCIL
Plans for the new Federal Council are the source of contention among the three former presidents. FHC wants to reduce the government’s stake in Petrobras, the world’s most indebted oil company, to less than 50%. “A political system this corrupt should not be in the business of running any company, much less one that has as many opportunities for theft as an oil company. We’ve robbed it blind.”
While Lula and FHC disagree on privatization, they do agree on the need for massive reform of accountability institutions. In particular, they support the establishment of a court of impeachment, similar to the model used in Finland. They also support the elimination of several institutions, including the corruption-plagued Administrative Council of Tax Appeals CARF, to be replaced by a proper tax court, and the abrogation of state auditing courts (tribunais de contas). The auditing courts, which impose significant financial burdens on states, tend to be politically compromised, with 2/3 of their members appointed by Governors for life terms, and are constantly investigated for corruption. Sarney admits, “In Maranhão, buying favorable audits from the audit courts is like stealing candy from a baby.”
Instead of audit courts, Lula insists on ensuring transparency through independent information commissions, “so we can all serve as auditors”. “I did not have much information when I was growing up,” admits Lula, “but it can be useful”. FHC insists on the need for independent information commissioners, which he argues are the 21st Century solution to accountability. “Ensuring full disclosure is the best insurance against the rent-seeking and corruption this country has long suffered.” According to experts, most public transparency systems in Brazil are failing.
Information commissioners are now common currency in more than 30 countries and manage all aspects of open data and information production, management, and disclosure. Brazil’s information commissions, which the Presidents hope will be adopted by all municipalities and states, will be modeled on Mexico’s National Access to Information Institute (INAI). A final proposal has to do with electoral reform. “We want to modify the structure of Brazil’s federal electoral districts, limiting them to 12 seats each,” says Sarney. “That way, we can reduce the number of parties organically, and we’ll have better accountability, with electors actually knowing who represents them.”
This is fateful day for Brazil, says Lula. As Dilma Rousseff once said, “everyone here today knows that each one of us chooses – life makes us choose – some occasions that we will never forget these occasions.” The profundity of this statement transcends comprehensibility.