The scale of Bolsonaro’s so-called Secret Budget (Orcamento Secreto) bribery scheme is enormous, dwarfing previous corruption scandals that have hit Brazilian governments in recent decades. Senator Simone Tebet warns that “we may be facing the world’s biggest corruption scheme” and what began as a scheme to protect Bolsonaro from impeachment, is now central to a full scale attempt buy congress, and the 2022 presidential election. This is while his campaign continues to use the legacy propaganda of US-orchestrated operation Lava Jato, and its US-trained protagonists Sergio Moro and Deltan Dallagnol, to smear his opponent Lula as corrupt.
By Tiago Pereira for Rede Brasil Atual
The so-called Secret Budget is leaving a trail of destruction in sensitive areas of the Brazilian state, such as health and education, which are already weakened due to a gradual loss of resources as a consequence of the spending cap. Resources that would be for the public sector, for instance, were trasnferred to serve the appetite for amendments (pork payments, effectively bribes) of president Jair Bolsonaro’s base in Congress. In the most recent case, the Bolsonaro government blocked more than 2.4 billion reais (about 460.2 million dollars) in financial resources that would go to the Minister of Education. The money goes to parliamentarians allied with Bolsonaro to spend as they wish, in yet another maneuver of the Secret Budget.
The maneuver is the result of a weak government, which needed Congress to not investigate its crimes of responsibility that could lead to an impeachment. Thus, the Executive power started to subordinate a big part of the Union Budget to the president of the Chamber of Deputies Arthur Lira (Progressive Party, Alagoas state). Lira coordinates the scheme and did not consider 140 impeachment processes against Brazil’s current president. Through this shady deal that hurts republican principles, Lira received 492 million reais this year alone in amendments to use in his electoral stronghold.
Ignoring technical criteria, these resources are applied according to the interests of parliamentarians who received the so-called “rapporteur’s amendments”. It is possible to know how much each parliamentarian received. However, there is no transparency, and it is not possible to know for sure how the money was spent.
“The world’s biggest corruption scheme”
According to senator Simone Tebet (Brazilian Democratic Movement, Mato Grosso state), “we may be facing the world’s biggest corruption scheme”. In a recent interview with Flow Podcast, the then-presidential candidate – who declared support for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the second round – explained how the scheme works.
She mentioned the case of the town of Pedreira, in Maranhão state, revealed by the Brazilian magazine piauí. This town has 39,000 residents. In order to justify the amendments received via Secret Budget, the city hall reported that it performed more than 540,000 tooth extractions.
“It means to extract 14 teeth of each resident, including newborns, who do not have any tooth”.
The same article shows another countryside town in Maranhão state that performed more HIV/Aids tests than the city of São Paulo, with more than 12 million residents.
“Therefore, I may be speaking about a false invoice where it is said ‘I made this and that, pay me’. I’m not talking about [people] taking 10% [of the payment, that is, over-invoicing]. I’m talking about a false invoice from head to toe. Maybe the money went from Brasília to the town and then ended up in someone’s pocket. It doesn’t make sense that a small town in Maranhão state received the largest resources from this budget”, Simone criticized.
To get an idea of the influence of budget amendments in Brazil, 69% of the electorate in Maranhão state voted for Lula. They elected former governor Flávio Dino (Brazilian Socialist Party) with 62% of the votes and, also, the candidate he was supporting, Carlos Brandão (Brazilian Socialist Party), with 51%. On the other hand, of all the 18 federal deputies elected in that state, 12 come from political parties that support Bolsonaro in the second turn. The four most-voted federal deputies are from Bolsonaro’s own Liberal Party (2) and Brazil Union (2).
The Secret Budget explains part of the reasons why Brazilians voted for Lula, but gave to Bolsonaro the largest caucus in the Chamber of Deputies.
Besides the corruption suspicions and deviation from purpose in the use of resources, the Secret Budget is one of the factors that contributed to the growth in the number of deputies from the so-called “Centrão”, formed by parties such as the Liberal Party, Progressive Party, and Republicans. The Liberal Party, for instance, got 33 seats in the 2018 elections. With the period of 30 days in which elected politicians can change from one political party to another, known in Brazil as “janela partidária”, Bolsonaro’s party jumped to 76 elected federal deputies before this year’s elections. On October 2, the Liberal Party elected 99 federal deputies to the next legislature.
Bolsonaro’s 51 million votes in the first round do not explain, alone, the growth of his party’s caucus. If so, the Workers’ Party, which elected 68 federal deputies, should have had more than 100 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. That’s because former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva got more than 57 million votes, 6 million more than Bolsonaro. Thus, one of the causes of the difference in the number of seats between the two parties is the Secret Budget, which served to strengthen candidacies from the president’s allies, and not from the opposition.
A survey by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo shows that only one candidate of the 13 who received 100 million reais each from the Secret Budget this year was not reelected. Another ten had more expressive votes now than in the last elections. Arthur Lira, for instance, who received 492 million reais in amendments. He jumped from 143,858 votes in 2018 to almost 220,000 votes in this year’s elections, a 52.55% increase in total votes.
“How do you feel finding out that Arthur Lira got half a billion Reais in amendments from the Secret Budget?”, social scientist Leonardo Rossato asked. “There is no debate of ideas that can compete with this,” he stressed. Thus, the Secret Budget destroys any principle of equity between the actors contesting the elections.
The debate over whether to revoke or maintain the Secret Budget is expected to be one of the main battles in Congress next year. In the event of Bolsonaro’s victory, little will change, with parliamentarians advancing on ever-larger slices of Union funds. On the other hand, former President Lula promises to end the scheme, returning for the federal government the prerogative of deciding on the allocation of federal resources. He bets on talking with congressional leaders to put an end to the rapporteur’s amendments.
Another possibility is to bury the Secret Budget through the Federal Supreme Court. Minister Rosa Weber, who assumed the presidency of the Court last month, is the rapporteur of a process that questions the legality of the amendments. The issue will probably be put to vote after the second round of elections.
However, leaders of the Centrão, such as Arthur Lira, say that if the Supreme Court or the next president ends the Secret Budget, the group’s parliamentarians and its allies would approve in the Chamber of Deputies a Proposal for Amendment to the Constitution (known in Brazil as PEC) making the scheme official. Lira also threats to put the PEC to vote immediately after the second turn of the elections.
* Translated by Ana Paula Rocha.