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Brazil: Fly me to the moon with public money

Once more, a scandal direct from Brazil's capital Brasília has taken the blogosphere by storm – competing side by side last week with the quarrel between judges of the Supreme Court. The issue now is the misuse of publicly subsidized air tickets by parliamentarians, all paid for with public money. Vulcão Ativo [pt] summarizes this news of what has become known as the “ticket binge” in a few lines:

Agora apareceu mais um benefício camuflado entre as tantas despesas dos parlamentares de Brasília, são as passagens aéreas gratuitas para o deputado, para a mulher do deputado, para o filho do deputado, para a sogra do deputado e até para a amante do deputado e o melhor de tudo é que não interessa se é promoção com preço mais barato, tudo de primeira classe. (…)

O deputado ainda acumula passagens e quando vai para o exterior de férias, leva toda a parentada com passagens pagas pelo governo.

There is a new benefit hidden among the many expenses of members of the Parliament in Brasília, free air tickets for the deputies, the deputies’ wives, the deputies’ kids, for the deputies’ mothers in law and for the deputies’ lovers and best of all is that nobody cares about the promotions offering cheap rates, it is all about first class tickets. (…)
Deputies have even amassed ticket allowance and when they leave the country on holidays, they take all their relatives with them, with tickets paid for by the government.

Some talk about an even bigger fraud ring. A commission of inquiry has been created to investigate the alleged fraud. Two judges of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) Gilmar Mendes and Eros Grau have been linked to the case. Travel records show tickets issued for Gilmar Mendes and his wife, with money from the office of Deputy Paulo Roberto (Brazilian Labor Party, State of Rio Grande do Sul). The ‘trips’ were to Fortaleza (Northeast Brazil) and New York (USA) in July 2008. Gilmar shows his receipt for R$9,246.34 (USD 4,158 approximately), paid in five installments by credit card.

As for Eros Grau, the ticket was issued on the bill of Deputy Fernando de Fabinho (Democrats, State of Bahia). The flight from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro on March 31, 2008 happened because the judge had been invited to a ceremony at the University of Rio de Janeiro and the institution paid for his travel expenses.

Deputies Paulo Roberto and Fernando de Fabinho have denied any personal connection with judges Mendes and Eros and said they did not authorize any tickets to be issued on their behalf. This raises the suspicion that unused parliamentary air ticket allowance is sold illegally to travel agents, who resell it to customers. Luiz Antonio Magalhães [pt] considers everyone guilty, one way or another:

Este blog realmente duvida que exista um único parlamentar que não tenha participado da farra, até porque todos achavam a prática legal (nos dois sentidos da palavra). É evidente que a regra para uso das passagens precisa ser mudada, até deputado do Distrito Federal tem direito aos bilhetes, embora a base eleitoral seja ali mesmo, em Brasília. O ideal seria cortar o mal pela raiz e acabar com a mamata. Os gabinetes já têm verba suficiente para bancar as viagens dos parlamentares aos seus estados de origem, portanto eles que se virem com o que já têm e fim de papo.

This blog really doubts there is a single parliamentarian that has not participated in the binge, because everyone thought it was a legal (and fun) practice. Clearly, the rules for the use of the tickets must be changed as even parliamentarians representing the Federal District are entitled to the tickets, although their electoral base is right there in Brasilia. In the ideal world we would cut the evil root and branch, putting an end to this shady business. The offices have enough money to pay for their members to travel to their home states, so they should manage with what they have and that is it.

Deputy Dagoberto Nogueira Filho (Democratic Labour Party from the State of Mato Grosso do Sul), in his ‘first time in office’, is top of the fly-for-free list. He has made 40 trips with his relatives. Ironically, the new deputy is a member of the Ethics Council of the House. Lucio Machado Borges [pt] says that there is even a rank that shows who has gone abroad most often at the taxpayers’ expense

O campeão é o deputado Dagoberto Nogueira Filho (PDT-MS). Apesar de novato, o deputado é o recordista com despesas de ‘locomoção, hospedagem e alimentação', pagas com a chamada ‘verba indenizatória'. Entre janeiro de 2007 e outubro de 2008, ele usou sua cota aérea para 40 viagens internacionais.
Dagoberto encabeça lista de deputados que fizeram mais de 20 viagens internacionais usando a cota de passagens, que na realidade é destinada para voos do parlamentar para seu estado de origem. O pedetista, mesmo integrando o Conselho de Ética, acha que não cometeu nenhuma ilegalidade. Ele realizou media de 1,8 viagem ao mês ao exterior. Em 22 de suas viagens foi acompanhado da mulher, Maria Verônica, e da filha Mariana.

The champion is Mr Dagoberto Nogueira Filho (PDT-MS). Although a rookie, he holds the record of ‘transportation, lodging and food’ costs, all paid for with the so called ‘compensation fund'. Between January 2007 and October 2008, he used his share to pay for 40 trips abroad.
Dagoberto heads the list of Members of Parliament who have paid for more than 20 international trips using the quota of air tickets, which in reality is designed to fly Members of Parliament to their home state. The congressman, although a member of the Council of Ethics, thinks he has not done anything illegal. He has taken an average of 1.8 months of travel abroad. On 22 of his trips, he was accompanied by his wife, Maria Veronica, and daughter Mariana.

On being questioned, every deputy but one said they see no problems in using their air ticket allowance to fly members of their family and even acquaintances, as they were not told this was illegal beforehand. Fernando Rizzolo [pt] comments:

Não é possível que num País pobre como o Brasil, não exista entre os membros da Câmara, um consenso e uma visão de valor que esbarre num conceito de ética e, até porque não dizer, de culpabilidade social, em saber que tal atitude com o dinheiro público – mesmo que não haja irregularidade legal – fere os princípios básicos que balizam a moralidade exigida nos homens públicos.

Precisamos reeditar os conceitos da ética e da moral nas coisas públicas, para que aqueles que jamais decolaram quer do ponto de vista aéreo ou social, não se sintam humilhados, decepcionados e traídos pela democracia, nas imensas filas dos ônibus, na espera dos hospitais, ou simplesmente nas bancas de jornais.

It is not possible that in a poor country like Brazil, there is no consensus and vision of values among the parliamentarians that would not clash with the concept of ethics, and why not say, with social guilt, to know that this kind of attitude towards public money – even if there are no legal irregularities – offends the basic principles that indicate the morals required of the public people.We need to reinstil the concepts of ethics and morality into public affairs, so that those who have never taken off, either by flying [on public money] or climbing the class structure, will not feel humiliated, disappointed and betrayed by democracy when they are in the huge queues for the buses, waiting in hospitals, or simply at the news agent.
blogggggg– I have never taken a plane!
– But you pay for the tickets!
From Charges do Bruno, published with permission.

The Chamber of Deputies’ President, Michel Temer, admits having used the official quota of tickets for his family trips. He argues there are no objective, clear rules regulating the subject. Silvano Corrêa [pt] contests their excuse of the absence of clear rules defining the use of the air ticket credits:

Realmente, é de deixar qualquer um abismado por tamanha falta de bom senso e esperteza. Ou seja, as limitações não estariam claramente especificadas, por isso nossos nobres (sic) parlamentares se achavam no direito de meter a mão e distribuir vantagens (criadas por eles mesmos) a familiares e amigos?! É muita cara de pau. Será que agora vamos ver um pouco mais de vergonha e critério nas decisões de nossos parlamentares? Se até o presidente da Casa achava certo favorecer os seus, qual a chance de isso vir a acontecer? Devemos ficar de olho. Transparência já e que continuemos gritando, via imprensa, para que os pesados impostos pagos sejam bem gastos… Mas em nosso favor, e não em benefício deles e de suas corriolas!

Indeed, it is something to leave everyone astonished by such lack of common sense and cleverness. That is to say, if the limitations are not clearly specified, so are our noble (sic) Parliament members entitled to put their hands in the pot and distribute benefits (created by themselves) to their family and friends? They are very cocky. Will we now see a little shame and discretion in the decisions of our Parliament? If even the House's president felt it was correct to favour his people, what are the odds on this happening? We must keep an eye out. We want transparency now and so carry on yelling, via the media, so that the heavy taxes we pay are well spent… But in our favor, not for their own and their bindweed's benefit!

According to some deputies and senators, contrary to Temer's claim, there are actually clear rules: the tickets belong to them, for them to use the way the see it fit. Deputy Sílvio Costa, from Pernambuco, was among those most disgusted at the accusations of misuse, saying that when he became a deputy, he was told he “could use the tickets even to go to the moon”. Blogger Isaias Edson Sidney [pt] is so disgruntled that he has written an open letter to the deputy:

O senhor, ilustre deputado, declarou que (que se abram as aspas) quer dizer que agora eu venho a Brasília e minha mulher fica lá? Não é uma decisão correta. Foi uma decisão acuada da Mesa (que se fechem as aspas). Então, senhor Sílvio, o senhor quer que nós, contribuintes brasileiros, paguemos a estada de sua senhora em Brasília… porque o senhor não pode ficar alguns dias por semana sem ela… Que gracinha! Que amor de marido o senhor é, não? Não pode ficar nem um dia sem a patroa… desde que nós paguemos a conta, não é?

You, honorable gentleman, said (opening quotation marks) do you now mean that I come to Brasilia and my wife remains there? This is not right. It was a decision by a board under pressure (closing quotation marks). So Mr Sílvio, you want us, Brazilian taxpayers, to pay for your lady's stay in Brasilia… because you can not spend a few days a week without her… Cute! What a lovely husband you are, aren't you? You can not be a day without your wife… as long as we foot the bill, right?

With or without clear rules, bloggers think that many people lacked decorum. Pedro Dória [pt] was surprised to see the name of Fernando Gabeira, a champion of ethics who has had the blogosphere's support in elections, on the list of Parliament Members who passed on tickets to family members. He examines the deputies's apology where he confesses that he fell for the “Brazilian Patrimonialism Illusion”:

“A ilusão de que o público é privado. É o deputado que se vê no direito de emitir uma passagem aérea para mulher e filhos passarem a semana em Nova York. É o carro oficial com motorista usado para assuntos não oficiais. Mas, observe aí em sua cidade: é o carro estacionado em cima da calçada. É o dono da cobertura que fez um puxadinho. É o botequim que avançou sobre o caminho do pedestre.

‘A ilusão patrimonialista brasileira.’ Grande frase. O que remete ao professor Bolívar Lamounier: No Brasil, somos todos corruptos.

Não que lhe sirva de desculpa, deputado. O senhor foi eleito, sua responsabilidade na condição de representante público é maior. Seu abuso do que é público custa mais à nação do que o abuso do cidadão comum. Custa não apenas em dinheiro: custa em exemplo, custa em esperanças, o preço que pagamos é em futuro.”

“The illusion that the public is private. It is the parliamentarian who thinks he is entitled to issue an airline ticket for his wife and children to spend the week in New York. It is the official car with driver used for unofficial business. Observe the same in your city: it is the car parked over the sidewalk. It is the owner of the top floor flat who builds an extra area on top. It is the bar that has advanced on the pedestrians path.

“The Brazilian Patrimonialism illusion”. Great headline. That refers us to professor Bolivar Lamounier: in Brazil, we are all corrupt.

Not that it serves as an excuse, Sir. You were elected, your responsibility is greater as a people's representative. Your abuse of the public [money] is much greater to the nation than the ordinary people's abuse. It costs not only money: it costs in examples, in costs in hopes, the price we pay is in future.

bloggggggg

– Deputy, I can not see your accounts.
– It is because we are too transparent!
From Charges do Bruno, published with permission.

Ironically, one of the alternatives studied by parliamentarians is to give themselves a pay rise to offset a possible reduction in the ticket quota. To resolve this issue a meeting was convened, during a bank holiday, where a proposal to increase wages from R$ 16.500,00 to R$24.500,00 (approximately from USD
7,455 to USD 11,065) was made, equating their salaries to those of the ministers of the STF and thus eliminate compensation funds. For Ricardo Camargo [pt], “the problem will have no solution, it will be masked”:

Esse debate se emoldura na proposta de aumento de salários, equiparando-os aos dos Ministros do STF, acabar com verbas indenizatórias, e instituir um cartão – lembram da última farra dos cartões corporativos? – de gastos para uso da verba indenizatória e das cotas de passagens aéreas.

É o samba-do-crioulo-doido! A farra não vai acabar. Vai ganhar nova roupagem, mais eficiente na questão “esconder as maracutaias” reduzindo a exposição dos parlamentares.

Está decidido: somos todos idiotas. Eles tomaram conta de tudo. Resta-nos pagar impostos pra isso tudo…
E ainda dizem que temos ‘direito’ ao voto!

This debate is framed in the proposed increase of salaries, equating them to the judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court's pay, to end the compensation fund, and issue a card – remember the last spree of [government] corporate cards? – to cover expenses of the compensation fund and ticket quotas.

It is a huge mess! The fun will not stop. It will only get new clothing, more efficient in ‘hiding the dirty tricks’ while ‘reducing the parliamentarians’ expenses.

It is clear: we are all idiots. They have taken care of everything. Let us pay taxes for it all …
And yet they say that we have the ‘right’ to vote!

The only future solution in the long run is people stop voting on these politicians, and José Mesquita [pt] publishes the list of parliamentarians who have misused the air-tickets quota and ask the readers not to forget them:

Anotem e divulguem o nome dos caras que estão metendo a mão, desavergonhadamente, no seu, no meu, no nosso sofrido dinheirinho.

Please make a note and pass it on, these are the name of the guys who are, shamelessly, usurping yours, mine, our hard earned money.

And after the scandal has swept through the chamber of deputies and the senate, Jorge Serrão [pt] believes that the President of Brazil will be the next to have to provide explanations:

Já vaza nos corredores do Congresso que a Presidência manda emitir de 40 a 65 passagens por mês para o deslocamento dos filhos de Lula pelo Brasil. Senadores ironizam que a turma do Planalto parece ter instituído uma ponte aérea subsidiada com Santa Catarina – onde moram a filha de Lula e o genro dele. Há registros de viagens emitidas para a Inglaterra, França, Grécia e Itália (país onde a primeira-dama Marisa Letícia e os filhos de Lula também têm nacionalidade reconhecida).

It has already leaked in the corridors of the Congress that the Presidency orders 40 to 65 tickets per month to fly President Lula's children across Brazil. Senators mock that the Presidency appears to have established a subsidized air bridge [between Brasília and] Santa Catarina – where Lula's daughter and his son-in-law live. There are records of trips made to England, France, Greece and Italy (a country where the first lady Marisa Letícia and Lula's children also have nationality).

Although many parliamentarians speak strongly about changes to the actual system, a meeting of the main leaders of the Chamber of Deputies has been called for tomorrow, Tuesday April 28, to discuss an eventual restriction on the air ticket quota usage. Congresso em Foco [pt] website has also been following the developments closely.

This article was written with the help and research of Ricardo Camargo from Blog do P.

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