Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – São Paulo’s Commercial Association (Associação Comercial Paulista) announced that the sum of taxes paid by Brazilians since the beginning of 2011 reached one trillion reais 35 days earlier than last year. So where is it all going?
Welcome to the land of the highest taxes and corruption rates in the entire world.
This past Friday, Rio de Janeiro’s Commercial Association (Associação Comercial do Rio de Janeiro) organized a “Taxes Fair” in downtown Rio. The same event happened Saturday in 150 cities throughout the country.
According to organizers, the main purpose is to expose the heavy weight of taxes hidden in everything consumed by Brazilians, so that conscientious citizens can demand better products and services.
When we buy a car: nearly forty percent goes to taxes. When we buy a cell phone: another forty percent. When purchasing the essential rice and beans: seventeen percent. The coveted soccer ball: forty-seven percent.
Imported car sales – usually offering better quality and deals – are booming and the national industry isn’t able to compete. So what does our government do? Raises taxes on imported cars thirty percentage points to “protect and strengthen the national economy.”
Obvious consequence: national carmakers will boost their prices to “compete” with exporters without necessarily improving product quality. As tradition dictates, consumers will pay the high bill while driving what former president Fernando Collor described as “real wagons.”
Brazil’s Health sector – infected by the ultra-resistant corruption virus and deficient of efficient management – is responsible for one third of all mis-allocated federal funds. Well above R$2 billion have been “lost” in the past nine years. As a result, sick Brazilians face a shortage of everything from hospitals to hand soap for treating physicians.
So instead of fixing the leaks first, our government is pushing for the reviving of the old CPMF, a tax exclusively for the healthcare system. After all, there are “not enough funds” to guarantee this basic human right…
And while such little problems persist, an aging politician feels no shame in using taxpayers’ money for motel parties, his personal housekeeper and his wife’s driver. Quite unsurprisingly, his Ministry of Tourism received the highest number of corruption accusations in the country – up to sixty percent of funds granted by the federal government were “lost.”
More than fifty percent of the money allocated for tourism by the now ex-minister since the beginning of 2011 was sent to the Northeastern state of Maranhão, the land of the senate’s almighty Godfather Sarney (who, surprise, appointed the former minister). If all contracts hold, Maranhão will benefit from R$66.6 million while Rio de Janeiro – the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics’ city where tourism is expected to double every year – will have received around R$4 million.
And what can we expect? Regarding the former minister (also being investigated for his alleged involvement in criminal activities) President Rousseff assured to be taking all “necessary measures.”
Well, the answer is quite an obvious one. Said ex-minister used money that was not his to pay for private services. That constitutes stealing. If one steals, then he is considered a thief. And if one is a thief, then he deserves a criminal trial. The new big question is: will he be getting one or will his affair fall into oblivion?
A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies living in Rio and working in the Schools of Tomorrow Program. samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com
* Correction made on Thursday, September 22, 2011 regarding taxes on home sales.