PtG Article 10.05.2013

Brazilian corruption fighters face resistance

There are so massive national interests at stake when Brazil hosts the World Cup and the Olympic Games that the government has to play an active role against the corruption that follows. But consideration of the sports movement and the autonomy of the Brazilian states set certain limitations.

After the outgoing and popular president Lula handed over the leadership of the country to the more unobtrusive, but also more principled Dilma Rousseff, there has been a remarkable change in the attitude towards Brazil’s widespread corruption which is also felt in relation to the upcoming mega-events, the World Cup and the Olympic Games. 

But there are limits to the pressure that the Government can put on the sports sector without ruining the partnership needed to secure two successful events. Success is not a given thing in a country that has not handled organisational challenges this big since it decided half a century ago to construct the capital Brasilia on the bare and unpopulated plateau far away from all other cities. 

States break the laws

The government faces a similar challenge with regards to the 12 states that are hosting the World Cup. Brazilian states are partially self-governing and in connection with the World Cup, they have begun extensive construction of stadiums, airports, hotels and motorways which are beleaguered by delays, accidents, corruption and a lack of business plans. 

“Several of the states simply do not observe the Brazilian laws on public insight into contracts and budgets” says Paulo Itacarambí, vice-chairman for the project Jogos Limpos – Clean Games – which is a network for a number of different institutions and organisations with an interest in transparent public administration. 

Jogos Limpos has made an analysis of the administration of the 12 states, and only two of them reach a mediocre result. Six states score so low that they in reality do not live up to the laws and four states simply refused to participate in the analysis. 

Among these four, three host cities – Brasilia (Distrito Federal), Cuiabá and Natal – also scored extremely low in the analysis conducted by Play the Game and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies on the expected use of the 12 Brazilian stadiums after the World Cup. In the analysis, the total number of visitors in a year at the three stadiums was expected to correspond to the number of visitors it takes to fill the stadium once – thus a very poor utilization of these state-of-the-art stadiums. 

But maybe the convergence between the two analyses is not completely coincidental, suggests Itacarambi:

“Those who do well are normally not reluctant to talk about it. Others might fear being exposed”.

The states’ lack of transparency is nothing new. It simply supports the Brazilian people’s historically well-founded distrust of the cooperation between politicians and the business community. What is new is that the states are now met with opposition from the highest level. 

“We know that greater transparency means better possibilities for control and guaranties that our public funds are directed towards the most necessary projects – something that is important for a country like ours, in which inequalities have amassed, not for decades but for centuries” said president Dilma at the opening of Transparency International’s 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference in November.  

She highlighted that Brazil recently passed one of the world’s most extensive laws on public insight in governance and that all the state’s expenses and vouchers must be presented on a special internet portal. 

Brazil’s National Audit Office – Controladeria Geral da União (CGU) – is managing the portal, which also have a special section on the Olympics and the WC and which actively encourages citizens to report abuses. 'No thanks' to grants and controlThe country has saved hundreds of millions of dollars because of the CGU’s preventive budget controls of the WC and Olympic projects, but if the states refrain from accepting grants or loans from the government they can keep the CGU at arm’s length. This is the case for a number of controversial stadium projects and the CGU’s secretary for corruption prevention, Mario Vinicius Claussen Spinelli, does not reject the idea that some states deliberately turn down government grants – and the control that comes with it.

“The biggest risk of bribery is found in the major construction projects. The law allows expenditures to be increased with 25 per cent without changing the contract and this is an area which we pay particular attention to” says Spinelli. 

As the world’s sixth largest economy and a country with an impressive economic growth, Brazil can no doubt afford to spend and waste money on major construction projects. But while the government wants to show itself in the most favourable light towards the outside world, it is at the same time fighting to avoid that runaway costs and superfluous constructions increase the divide between people in the top and bottom of society.Public support in spite of scandals“The Olympics and the World Cup will be a test of strength between the Brazilian government and the very powerful sports organisations” argues a Nestor in Brazilian sports science, Lamar¬tine DaCosta, professor at the Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro.  

“The media often chose the side of the sport because they have a common interest in the sponsors. But we from the universities, which produce knowledge and analyses, also have our strengths” says DaCosta.

Despite of all the problems and corruption he finds that the Olympics and WC are positive challenges for Brazil:

“They are welcomed because they teach us to do great things together and this is what the public wants. It runs all through the history of the Brazilian people that we love big and crazy projects that mirrors the enormous possibilities of this country” argues DaCosta. 

He believes that the Rio Olympics can be as great a success as the South American Games in 1922, which gathered 150.000 spectators – then, 15 per cent of the population. Even the scandal-ridden Pan-American Games in 2007 makes the 2016 Olympics look promising, argues DaCosta. 

“Don’t be mistaken. I hated the Pan-American Games. There were corruption everywhere, the Havelange Stadium cost six times more than the original budget, the organisation of the volunteers went wrong. Everything went wrong! But my students and I analysed what the public thought, and to my big surprise the Games were a massive success”.

As intellectuals we have an obligation to be critical and point out the problems, but it is difficult to be totally against something which people love. Here, sport is a passion, so expect a major event”.