(Picture is a full-page editorial in today’s Folha de São Paulo – Brazil’s most widely circulated establishment newspaper) I started writing this piece on Bolsonaro’s first year in office in mid-September, just to make sure I wasn’t losing anything. It took forever to publish, but it was great to work with Michael, who added a lot to the piece and hustled to get it published. Kudos Michael.
The report’s main message is that compliance with Brazil’s freedom of information (FOI) law is consistent in terms of bureaucratic handling, while the President’s personal actions continue to demonstrate contempt towards basic norms of transparency. But there is much more to it.
Three Bolsonaro Administrations
There are three Bolsonaro administrations: the permanent bureaucracy, the cabinet, and Bolsonaro the President.
What we found is that historical levels of compliance with the freedom of information (FOI) law seem to have become second-nature for the bureaucracy, ’embedded’ – in political science speak. The reason is that the bureacracy is generally professional and consistent in terms of administrative procedures, of which FOI has become one. We make these claims based on data from FOI appeals, namely, how many appeals are rejected within agencies (first and second level appeals) and within the CGU (third-level appeals). The rates have remained relatively consistent from 2012 onwards.
The cabinet is totally fragmented among politicos, military personnel and technocrats, among other second-order permutations. The technocrats have appeared to support transparency, as is the case of Guedes, who forced the entire S-system – a system of government-funded professional support systems – to finally come under the obligations of the FOI law (decree 9781-2019). We know where the military personnel stand; it was Bolsonaro’s Vice-President and former General who surreptitiously issued decree 9690/2019, which attempted to vastly augment the number of officials authorized to classify public documents as secret. That decree was ignominously defeated in Congress thanks to voices raised among civil defenders (I helped here).
Then there is the President, who has predictably followed military dispositions and made opacity the rule of his personal routines: no logs/register of visits to the presidential palace, no access to expenditures incurred on trips, no transparency on presidential corporate credit card expenses (until a decision by the Supreme Court in late 2019). The President claims his administration is not corrupt, but if high-level contempt towards basic forms of transparency persist there is no telling if this claim is indeed true. We make the point that lobbying regulation, which would make visitor registers mandatory, have languished in Congress since 1988. With this sort of regulation passed, Bolsonaro would have a verifiable claim of being non-corrupt, and perhaps even transparent.