Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The battle has been raging, or so they say, over the amount of the “minimum” salary, meaning that government established number of currency units that is required for a family of 4 to live on. Last year it was R$510 but just before Lula left office he decreed it would be R$545 this year, an increase of about 7 percent.
José Serra and other Paulistas said it should be R$600, one of the national labor leaders said it should be R$560, and then everybody in Congress started picking numbers out of a hat.
Dilma put her foot down and said it would be R$545, because, well, because that’s what Lula wanted and that’s what the country can afford, even though in her heart of hearts she’d like to give people more.
So Dilma went to Congress to get them to pass a law that would let her set the minimum at R$545. Her own party (PT) was told to close ranks, her biggest allied party (PMDB) was told to close ranks, the party whips were lashing out furiously and, in the lower house, at least, the law was passed, with all of the PT and PMDB and lots of the other coalition parties going along.
What’s wrong with this scenario? Just one little thing: namely that it’s a quid pro quo situation. PMDB has felt short-changed recently in the awarding of cushy government jobs that generate huge moolah payments to favored cronies. PT has been getting the majority of these, even though PMDB got more votes than PT did.
The PMDB mavens are most unhappy about this, because PMDB has always stood for one thing and one thing only—we’re the party in power, we control the power, and we get first dibs on the loot that arises out of the spoils system. The leaders haven’t been able to deliver on their promises of plush sinecure jobs for their loyal minions who somehow didn’t get elected or re-elected, and the minions are moping.
So the PMDB leadership in Congress went round to its members and said, “vote for R$545” because if we all do, when it passes, we will send President Dilma a message saying “we have scratched your back” and will wait, impatiently, for our reward for loyalty. The day after the vote, PMDB leaders submitted a list of no fewer than 19 second-echelon federal positions that the party covets.
Many of these positions are vice-presidencies of numerous state-owned companies such as Caixa Econômica Federal, all of which generate fabulous amounts of cash which can be distributed through vice presidents to their current political favorites. The fact that the vice presidents may have no industry experience is irrelevant, because their job is not to run the company, but rather to ensure that company funds are channeled to the most deserving people—meaning those who most support PMDB.
In other words, the fixing of the amount of the minimum salary has exactly nothing to do with what people need to earn to survive. While PMDB is not the only political party which engages in this, it’s much better at manipulating the system than most other parties. To the victor belong the spoils.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)