Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the collateral effects of the Lava Jato investigation and the Petrolão scandal is that it has introduced arcane technical terms into our quotidian lives. Consider “delação premiada” and “ilação”, terms upon which the Curmudgeon expounded last September.
The latest entrant into the attention-grabbing headline is “achacação”. The most common synonym in Portuguese is “extorsão” meaning “extorsion”. However, the best English definition for “achacação”, in the Curmudgeon’s opinion, is “shakedown”.
The person responsible for the term’s sudden popularity is Cid Gomes, until St Patrick’s Day the federal Minister of Education. On March 18, “Cid”, never known for discretion, stood up before Congress and confirmed something he had said almost a month earlier: “In this Congress, there are some 400, or 300, ‘achacadores’ (shakedown artists).”
This remark reminded many of Lula’s 1993 asseveration that there were 300 “picaretas” (slang for self-serving crooks) in Congress. Many observers now believe that Lula, as President, astutely enlisted all 300 as supporters, including former bitter opponents Paulo Maluf, José Sarney and Fernando Collor, none of whom is famous for probity.
The headlines haven’t said so, but the “shakedown” Cid was referring to has nothing to do with either the “mensalão” or the “petrolão”; rather, it concerns the federal budget and the annual appropriations bill. More specifically, it concerns the practice by which individual members of Congress attach riders to that bill, designed to benefit their electoral redoubts.
Budget appropriations created by riders have long been subject to Presidential discretion. Presidents decide to fund (or not fund) riders as a “carrot or stick” strategy to reward (or punish) Congressmen. Cid correctly pointed out that, the weaker the President, the more “shakedown artists” could expect to be rewarded.
Ironically, all this had become ancient history on March 17th, when the Senate promulgated Constitutional Amendment 86/2015, which removes presidential discretion from funding riders. The movers and “shakers” will now have their funds regardless of what the President wants.
The Curmudgeon will emit more Smidgens opportunely. Stay tuned.