Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The institutional structure of Brazil is complicated, even for Brazilians, so the Curmudgeon hereby offers a primer, to help its readers understand the latest scandal to afflict the State of Rio de Janeiro, and in particular its State Accounts Tribunal (TCE).
The first thing to understand about a TCE is that, notwithstanding the word “tribunal”, it isn’t really a court, and it’s not part of the Judicial branch. It is a council, so its members are titled “councillors”, not “judges”. The principal function of the TCE is to advise the state legislature if the state executive branch has been properly administering state law. In other words, the TCE reports to the Legislative Assembly.
The second (and most important) thing to understand about TCE’s is that all appointments are political: councillors are not expected to have any technical qualifications whatsoever. TCE appoints technically qualified auditors, typically lawyers or accountants, who are expected to do all the actual work but have no vote in TCE deliberations.
Executive and legislative politicians are bipolar about accountability. All politicians want their opponents to be accountable for their actions, but none want to be held acccountable themselves. Therefore, all TCE appointees are beholden to the political party or coalition in power at the time of their appointment.
They all know which side of the bread is buttered. If the butter is rancid, that’s not their problem, it’s always caused by their political opponents.
The State of Rio TCE is a particularly egregious version of this rotten state of affairs, because the same governing coalition has controlled both the governor’s office and the legislative assembly for over a dozen years. In other words, rancid butter couldn’t possibly have originated with the opposition. What to do?
What occurred, of course, is that the lowlife “no-accounts” who have long corrupted politicians, also corrupted the TCE councillors, so that no one will be held to account for their misdeeds. Using board game Monopoly parlance, Rio’s TCE had become the equivalent of a “get out of jail free” card for unscrupulous politicians.
But then, along came the Federal Police, emboldened by the Lava Jato (Carwash) disclosures: they offered immunity from prosecution to one of the Rio TCE councillors if he’d finger the others. The snitch (oops! “plea bargainer”) turned out to have five fingers, all of which had been in lots of illicit cookie jars, so the police are now hot on the trail of five other TCE Councillors, including its President. They also forcibly brought in for questioning the long-serving President of the Rio State Legislative Assembly, who controls appointments to TCE.
It remains to be seen whether the next terms these crooks will serve will be jail terms. That’s certainly what they deserve for having refused to do their duty, preferring instead to cover up the sack of the State of Rio by corrupt politicians, thereby turning Rio’s TCE into a State No-Accounts Tribunal.