PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Toward the end of the 1990s, a group of residents from Ribeirão Bonito, in the interior of São Paulo, came together to contribute to the city’s development.
In 1999, they founded the nonprofit Friends of Ribeirão Bonito (Amarribo), which by 2002 had become one of the symbols of the fight against corruption in Brazil.
Serving as an example of an engaged civil society, Amarribo helped to raise the awareness of residents and local authorities, leading to investigations and removals of local council members and mayors involved in irregularities, as well as the arrest of many of those involved.
“Amarribo was born out of a deep indignation among local residents against the corruption in Ribeirão Bonito, which was out of control and deeply upsetting,” says Josmar Verillo, co-founder and vice chairman of Amarribo.
Amarribo has helped to train more than 200 organizations, conducted about 200 seminars throughout Brazil and distributed 150,000 copies of the book Fighting Corruption in the Municipalities of Brazil, produced in partnership with the Instituto Ethos and Transparência Brasil.
Amarribo serves as the Brazilian arm of Transparency International, which was founded in 1993 in Berlin, Germany, to raise global awareness against corruption.
While its work is being recognized throughout the world, Amarribo is also one of the organizers of the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), which will be held in Brasília on Nov. 7-10, 2012.
“The decision by Transparency International is a culmination of the work we’ve been doing and it will help us replicate the results,” Verillo says.
Initiatives similar to Amarribo are being replicated nationwide.
Part of this national mobilization against corruption should be credited to the stance taken by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, says Alberto Carlos de Almeida, director of Instituto Análise.
“From the moment the leader of a country makes a strong commitment to curbing corruption, people are encouraged and begin to believe that they can make a decisive contribution,” Almeida says.
Rousseff avoids speaking publicly about efforts to “clean house,” but there has been a major effort to eradicate corruption at the highest levels of the federal government.
Between June and September, five government ministers have left their posts: Antonio Palocci (Office of the President), Nelson Jobim (Defense), Wagner Rossi (Agriculture), Alfredo Nascimento (Transportation) and Pedro Novais (Tourism).
With the exception of Jobim, who left after criticizing other ministers, all of them were fired or stepped down after complaints regarding irregularities at their ministries were reported by media.
The most recent case involves the Minister of Sports, Orlando Silva, who is accused of setting up a scheme to divert funds from the office he has held since the administration of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
As a result, Rousseff said Silva will no longer be the interlocutor between FIFA and the Brazilian Congress for the approval of the General Law of the 2014 World Cup, according to reports published in the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.
In a statement released on Oct. 19, the Office of the President said the role of interlocutor will remain under the Ministry of Sports, but Rousseff did not announce who would be the interlocutor.
The fight against corruption is one of the most important issues facing the democratic system in Brazil, says Leonardo Avritzer, associate professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
Avritzer says anti-corruption investigations are being carried out by institutions such as the Federal Police, as well as systems of public oversight, such as the Federal Court of Auditors (TCU) and the Office of the Comptroller (CGU).
“This shows that this issue is beginning to be addressed by the Federal Government,” Avrtizer says.
Ficha Limpa: A symbol of an engaged society
Another example of the involvement of civil society in the fight against corruption was the grassroots effort that resulted in the so-called Ficha Limpa (Clean Record) Law, says judge Márlon Reis, a member of the Movement to Combat Electoral Corruption (MCCE).
Extensive national coordination resulted in about 1.3 million signatures being sent to Congress in favor of an amendment to Complementary Law 64, from 1990, known as the Law of Ineligibility.
Approved and passed into law in June 2010, Complementary Law 135/2010 – also known as the Ficha Limpa Law – states any politician convicted of a crime by a group of judges and who has exhausted all appeals will be ineligible to run for office for eight years – as opposed to the three-year limit under the law’s predecessor.
Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) is still evaluating the constitutionality of the law, which is expected to be in effect for the 2012 municipal elections.
“It’s exciting to see grassroots social initiatives aimed at controlling public accounts at the municipal level,” Reis says.
Society wants governmental transparency
Hundreds of Brazilian took to the streets of several cities on Oct. 12 to participate in the National Anti-Corruption March to protest against governmental irregularities.
More protests are being organized for the coming weeks.
“Popular participation is important, but in order for these causes to become a part of the political agenda, they need to be connected to discussions about concrete reforms,” Avritzer says. “Reducing impunity and applying pressure for political reforms are some of them.”
Losses due to corruption reduce investment potential
The average annual cost of corruption in Brazil is R$51 million (US$29 million), according to the report “Corruption: Economic Costs and Proposals for Combat” by the São Paulo Federation of Industries (FIESP).
“Corruption hinders investments and prevents Brazil from becoming more competitive,” says José Ricardo Roriz Coelho, director of the Department of Competitiveness and Technology at FIESP.
Funds that are diverted illegally annually are equivalent to the cost of enrolling 16.4 million students in elementary school, according to the FIESP study.
Excessive bureaucracy is one possible cause of the problem, Coelho says.
“Making processes complex gives space for irregularities to occur,” Coelho says. “That lack of clarity allows corruption to seep into government offices, in every department.”
In addition, instead of a systematic approach, the fight against corruption in Brazil has been sporadic and primarily motivated by reports in the media, Coelho adds.
“We need to demand that the government do a better job of administering public funds,” he says. “Doing the absolute best with public funds is something that should be ingrained in this issue.”
Stricter punishment for politicians involved in administrative misconduct is another issue being pressed by organized movements and institutions united against corruption.
“Having the Federal Police put a corrupt person in jail for one or two days satisfies public opinion, but it’s almost nothing when compared to the damage that’s been caused,” UFMG’s Avritzer says. “There needs to be real punishment of corruption that involves the loss of accumulated wealth and a recovery of the diverted resources by the state.”
Anti-Corruption Organizations in Brazil