By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – According to the Brazilian constitution, public servants may not earn above R$28,059.29 monthly – the wage of a Supreme Court Justice. Yet since the Lei de Acesso à Informação (Freedom of Information Law) was passed last May, it has emerged that many public servants earn salaries that far exceed that ceiling.
The latest salaries to be released are those of the 58 military attaches posted overseas in Brazilian embassies, 55 of whom earned more than R$28,059.29 in January, significantly more.
The Ministry of Defense released the figures Friday (March 15th) after weeks of requests by O Globo, using the country’s ten-month-old Freedom of Information Law.
The highest salary paid in January was R$85,300 to a navy captain, including basic pay of R$18,768 and additional benefits of R$66,300. Five other navy officers received more than R$49,900.
Earlier this month the salaries of Brazil’s ambassadors were released: in January, they earned between R$31,800 and R$58,900, according to data published by O Globo.
However it is not just Brazil’s foreign service public servants that have been exposed as being paid so-called “super-salaries” grossly beyond the legal limit. In one case, reported in Estadão do São Paulo and cited in The New York Times, a São Paulo judge earned US$361,500 (R$716,800) in one month.
According to David Fleischer, University of Brasília political science emeritus professor, many public servants receive inflated salaries because of a tradition of making temporary bonus pay permanent. For example, heading a committee might earn you a monthly bonus of R$8,000, which will become a permanent part of your salary – even after you have left the committee.
“There are staff in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate that make way above the limit, and it’s often because they’ve been there for a long time and have had a lot of perks incorporated into their salary,” Fleischer told The Rio Times.
Not all public sector salaries are high. Doctors and teachers receive the lowest salaries in the public sector. The starting salary of a public sector doctor working forty hours a week is just R$3,200 per month, compared to R$14,970 for a public sector lawyer.
The fact that the super-salaries are emerging at all however, is a sign of progress for most. One of President Rousseff’s lasting legacies may likely be her efforts to move towards a more transparent government.
Rousseff saw six ministers outed over corruption allegations in her first year as president, and, as well as the freedom of information law, she has passed an anti-money laundering law and a law to prevent candidates with criminal records from being elected.
Gil Castello Branco, director of government watchdog Contas Abertas, says that vitally, the release of the salaries allows Brazilians to realize what extraordinary inequities still exist between the elite and the poor. “But the transparency needs to increase even more, because there are areas of government that really resist giving information,” he told The Rio Times.
Greg Michener, a political scientist specializing in transparency at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) says that the release of the salaries is a positive step towards more transparent governance, but that it is only the beginning. “It’s great [that the law is being used] and certainly sensational, and rightly so, as the salaries are totally disproportionate to the median wage,” he told The Rio Times.
“[Yet] it is distracting attention away from day to day uses of transparency and freedom of information … People should be using them on a daily basis to address social rights and environmental rights,” Michener said.