Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In Brazil, as most readers know, the crony system has been around for a long time. Just after his election in 2002, President Lula publicly defended the practice of creating a number of new cabinet ministries, and handing them out to political parties who would support his legislative program.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

Last week Lula was quoted by Uruguay’s former president as saying it was the only way to govern Brazil. But he was wrong — the “mensalão” and “petrolão” schemes also worked. This year, of course, at least theoretically, there are no more “mensalão” nor “petrolão” schemes to “persuade” ornery Brazilian congressmen to support the government.

Nevertheless, as the Curmudgeon pointed out in “Fisiologismo 101” back in March, there are lots of other prize political plums, most of which involve Board positions on government-owned companies and agencies that spend BIG money. These are called “second echelon” or even “third echelon” positions; the Boards that run these companies determine where they spend their funds.

In early March, Dilma’s Chief of Staff said she would begin distributing second echelon posts. Dilma dithered, and it’s a good thing she did, because in order to gain approval of one of the most important Levy Plan proposals, she had to promise second and third echelon positions to those parties that did not desert her in her hour of need.

The legislators have told her in no uncertain terms that without these money-spinners in friendly hands, Congress will simply not approve most of the remaining parts of the Levy Plan.

These plans will not be liked by many voters, but most legislators feel that if they can position themselves as successful manipulators of the spoils system in order to benefit their constituents, they can escape punishment at the polls.

This is the quintessential nature of “fisiologismo” — private benefit from public funds. Only time will tell whether it’s right politically; ethically and morally, it’s simply wrong.

The Curmudgeon will issue more Smidgens periodically, from his vespine viewpoint. Stay tuned, as they used to say on the radio.


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