Today’s guest post is from Marcelo Malheiros Cerqueira, a Brazilian federal prosecutor and a member of the GAECO/MPF (Special Action Group for Combating Organized Crime) in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Since 2019, Brazil´s anticorruption efforts have been disrupted and derailed. Institutions in charge of fighting corruption are being constantly weakened or attacked. Tools that have been central to Brazilian prosecutors’ anticorruption investigations, such as plea bargains and leniency agreements, are being dismantled by new legislation, and the Congress has not moved forward on proposals that would enhance the fight against corruption (see here and here). The judiciary, mainly by its Supreme Court, has have nullified convictions, or sometimes entire investigations, in major corruption cases, and in so doing has weakened the anticorruption system (see some examples here, here and also here). And despite the fact that anticorruption was a central theme of the 2018 presidential campaign, the government has been questioned for lending its support to pushback against the anticorruption agenda and politicizing formerly non-partisan bodies like the Federal Police.
While the backlash against Brazil’s anticorruption efforts is a three-branch problem, Brazilian voters have an opportunity to address at least one aspect of the problem next year, when they go to the polls to select Brazil’s next president.
This brings us to the question: What should the next Brazilian president do, whoever he or she may be? To put this question another way, when voters and civil society organizations are assessing the future presidential candidates’ anticorruption platforms, what sorts of policies and proposals should they look for? While the issue is obviously quite complicated, here are four initial proposals, from the simplest to the most difficult to implement:
- First, the president needs to demonstrate a commitment to integrity as a core values of the administration—and must do so not simply through rhetoric, but by taking practical action such as refusing to appoint individuals implicated in corruption cases to senior government positions and pushing for the adoption of integrity measures at lower levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy. Doing so will not only help ensure integrity in the Federal government, but will also set a positive example for state governors and mayors, and help foster a culture of integrity more broadly in the society.
- Second, the president should respect and empower the institutions of the anticorruption system, avoiding any risk of their political capture. This requires that the appointment of directors for bodies such as the Financial Activity Control Council (COAF), the Federal Police, and the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU) be guided by non-partisan technical criteria, instead of making appointments on the basis of political alignment or personal relationships. Likewise, the next president should restore the longstanding tradition of choosing the Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR) from the list of three candidates previously voted by the members of the Federal Prosecution Office. This model is ideal for guaranteeing the autonomy of the PGR, which, in turn, is essential for the criminal investigation and prosecution of higher-ranking political agents (including the president) for possible acts of corruption.
- Third, the president must commit to working to enact legislative and constitutional reforms that decrease impunity for acts of corruption, such as the proposed constitutional amendments to allow incarceration of defendants after the first affirmation of a conviction in an appeal´s court (rather than allowing convicted defendants to remain at liberty until all possible appeals are exhausted) and end to the “privileged forum” rule that says high-level public officials can only be tried in higher courts. On the other hand, the president must also oppose—and if necessary veto—any attempt by the Congress to inhibit the action of anticorruption bodies or to weaken existing anticorruption tools (as unfortunately occurred recently with respect to amendments to Brazil’s Administrative Misconduct Act).
- Fourth, the most difficult anticorruption challenge facing Brazil’s next president will be reforming the Brazilian electoral system, which is a root cause of the grand corruption that recent investigations have exposed. Any attempt to change the electoral system will face strong opposition by influential politicians, whose power relies in rules that ensure expensive campaigns and unequal distribution of the public electoral fund. Thus, the president must spearhead the attempt to reform the political system—but should probably only do so when he or she has sufficient high public approval, probably after the implementation of the other three proposals mentioned above.
This short list obviously does not encompass all the possible measures that can be taken by the next president against corruption. It would be helpful to know what GAB readers think about these suggestions, as well as what other proposals they might suggest.
One last word. Political leaders can do a lot to help the anticorruption agenda. But that does not mean that societies depend exclusively on them. Good education, transparency, popular control, high standards of morality and many other factors are crucial to the success of the fight against corruption. Therefore, although the central question posed here brings the opportunity to debate the role of the president, civil society also needs to take care of its role.