By Lucy Jordan, Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – In May President Dilma Rousseff passed the Lei de Acesso à Informação (Access to Information Act) and on Friday, June 29th, the new Transparency Portal was reported to have published the wages of approximately 700,000 civil servants of the executive branch of Brazil’s government.
Using data from the 2010 census, O Globo reported that public sector wages in Brazil are higher than those in the private sector for 88 percent of jobs.
While President Rousseff earns R$19,818.49 after tax, workers in the Senate earn the most, with lawyers and consultants receiving the largest paychecks – starting at R$23,826.57 per month.
“That’s one of the reasons why a career in the public service is so coveted,” said Felipe Cardoso, a private sector labor lawyer. “It would be very difficult to change – the unions of public servants have a very strong influence in congress.”
The figures also disclosed large discrepancies between salaries in the public sector, with some junior workers earning considerably more than senior officials.
The data revealed that doctors and teachers receive the lowest salaries in the public sector. According to O Globo, the starting salary of a public sector lawyer working forty hours a week is R$14,970 per month, compared to R$3,200 for a public sector doctor.
Chrissa Pemberton, a licensed practical nurse from Virginia, U.S., living in Brasília, said she was surprised by the gulf between the salaries. “Doctors work really hard and have to go to school for a long time,” she said. “They should reap the benefits.”
The law is part of a raft of recent concessions to transparency: President Rousseff also set up a Comissão da Verdade (Truth Commission) to investigate the post-war and military regime eras, and in April, President Rousseff and United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton co-chaired a meeting of the Open Government Partnership in Brasília.
An aide in the National Congress, who did not want to be named, said that there was resistance to the salary disclosure in Congress, which as part of the legislative branch has not yet released the salaries of its employees. “Everyone I have spoken to is against it. They feel it will make them more vulnerable to being robbed.”
He added that discussing pay in Brazil is a cultural no-no. “It’s a sensitive cultural topic; we don’t talk about our salaries,” he said. “On the other hand, as a public servant … you are accountable.”
Sweden was the first country to adopt a freedom of information law, in 1766, and some 95 countries now have them. In the UK, former Prime Minister Tony Blair passed such a law in 2000. He has since said, however, that he regrets doing so, claiming that the law was not used by “the people” but by journalists, as a “weapon”.
Transparency expert and political scientist Greg Michener has applauded Brazil’s efforts to increase governmental accountability, noting that citizens filed approximately 10,400 requests in the first month of operation, and that almost seventy percent of those had been answered.
For labor lawyer Felipe Cardoso it is a good start in a country that has historically struggled with corruption. “Everybody has the right to know how much public servants earn because they are paid by taxes,” he said. “The law is very good for Brazil.”