By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With disbursements totaling over R$178 billion last year, pundits are calling the BNDES (Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento, or Brazilian National Development Bank) the most significant lender in the Western hemisphere. However, some economists have criticized the bank’s lending policies as being inconsistent with its own goals and priorities.
According to the BNDES website, “The Brazilian Development Bank is the main financing agent for development in Brazil. Since its foundation, in 1952, [it] has played a fundamental role in stimulating the expansion of industry and infrastructure in the country … [and it] is an important partner for investors to be able to understand and access opportunities offered by the Brazilian economy.”
The Bank offers a number of financial support mechanisms to Brazilian companies of all sizes as well as public administration entities, helping to facilitate investments across all sectors, including exports, technological innovation and the modernization of public administration. It states its strategic goals as, “Innovation, local development and socio-environmental development.”
However, one Brazilian economist who wishes to remain anonymous told The Rio Times, “I don’t think (the bank’s growth) is a good thing. BNDES resources are paid with taxpayers’ money. The bank elects some huge corporations to receive credit but their criteria are not clear and Brazilian public gross debt grows each time BNDES is capitalized … As a public bank, I think they should have disclosure about such big operations”.
Professor Sérgio Lazzarini of the Institute of Teaching and Research (INSPER) in São Paulo echoes these sentiments, “The government seems to have taken the ideological position of promoting ‘national champions’ which has resulted in actually pushing market concentration into a few big groups.”
Our anonymous source cites the example of the merger between Brazilian supermarket chain, Pão de Açucar, and French retail giant Carrefour, “Why is a public bank lending money instead of a private bank for a private operation that will certainly bring benefit to some private investors? For taxpayers, is it worth it? I don’t think so.”
Lazzarini continues, “Why do [these big companies] need capital from the government if they are already part of a big group and getting capital from abroad, and when the capital market is already developed?” claiming that there is little financial benefit for Brazil in such transactions.
The BNDES has also been implicated as a major conduit for the government’s reversal on its own privatization policies. Lazzarini’s postdoctoral research unveiled a network of government influence in the economy, chiefly via BNDES lending and pension programs. He showed that in 2009 the government was involved with 624 of Brazil’s biggest private companies.
It could be argued that this was the result of rescue measures following the global economic crisis of 2008. However, whilst other governments around the world are currently pulling back again, a survey conducted this year by Época magazine appears to demonstrate that the Brazilian government’s influence in the private sector is growing, identifying 675 companies in the government’s sphere of influence. Lazzarini comments, “This participation has the connotation of state co-ordination”.
He continues, “There have been allegations that some capitalists might have government connections and they can influence where the money goes or articulate some possible reorganizations…. But that is – of course – unproven”.