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Ph.D. Thesis Uncovers Widespread Nepotism in Brazil’s Congress

March 15, 1989

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) _ For her Ph.D thesis in political science, Maria Aparecida de Oliveira did some research into nepotism in the Brazilian government. What she turned up became a front-page, nationwide scandal.

At a time when President Jose Sarney pledged to lay off 90,000 government functionaries, as part of a drastic plan to halt 1,000 percent-plus annual inflation, Ms. Oliveira said she discovered that nearly half the 560 members of Brazil’s two-house Congress have relatives, lots of them, in soft, high- paying federal jobs.

Senators and representatives, she said, employ wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces as ″advisers″ making the equivalent of $2,000 to $4,000 a month - in a country where the government-set minimum wage is equal to $64 a month.

The 37-year-old graduate student at the National University of Brasilia, who also works as a fact checker in Brasilia for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Jornal do Brasil, released her findings to the press before submitting her thesis to her professors.

Her revelations brought outcries for a cleanup. They also resulted in angry warnings from some Congressional staffers to Ms. Oliveira to keep her nose out of their affairs.

″This was not a cheap trick to sell newspapers or, as some people have charged, to provoke a military takeover of Congress,″ Ms. Oliveira said in an interview. ″I did it in the interest of Brazilian national sovereignty.″

Civilian government returned to Brazil in 1985 after 21 years of military rule, and new officials promised an idealistic ″New Republic.″

″Unfortunately our new democracy is confined to paper,″ Ms. Oliveira said. ″It has not reached people’s consciences.″

She said she gathered raw data for her study ″from the congressional payroll, with help from senators and representatives who do not practice nepotism.″

She concluded that nepotism in Congress exists across the political spectrum, from right to left.

In the House of Representatives, Ms. Oliveira said, 197 of the 485 members employ 279 relatives. Rep. Pedro Ceolin Sobrinho, of the conservative Liberal Front Party, is the leader with 10 family members on his staff.

Rep. Jose Mauricio Linhares Barreto, of the left-leaning Democratic Labor Party, put his 14-year-old son in an advisory post, at $1,176 a month, according to the study.

It also counted 32 of the 75 senators as being nepotistic, with the leader there being Sen. Humberto Lucena, a former Senate president, from President Sarney’s centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. He has four children, a brother, a son-in-law, a niece and a sister-in-law on his payroll.

″My conscience is clear,″ Lucena commented. ″We are talking about ‘confidential appointments,’ permitted by law. My relatives serving in these posts will work only as long as I am in office. They will not become permanent congressional staff members. I hired my son-in-law, now divorced from one of my daughters, as a technical adviser, not because of our relationship but because of his high competence. My brother Solon was hired by another senator, not by me.″

Another star of nepotism, according to the researcher, is the president’s daughter, Roseana Sarney, who joined the staff of Congress when her father was a senator and who now makes the equivalent of $4,000 a month, while living in in Rio de Janeiro, 750 miles from Brasilia.

Senators and representatives may legally hire ″advisers.″ Congress members also are given, at taxpayer expense, cars and drivers, apartments in Brasilia, free mail and telephone use, and free plane tickets to and from their home states,

″What’s immoral is the nepotism,″ said Ms. Oliveira, who has degrees in economics, agronomy and journalism.

Adilson Abreu Dallari, a judge and the author of the book ″The Civil Servant,″ said in an interview that administrative corruption has become ″part of Brazilian culture - everybody wants something.″ He said the roots of the problem go back nearly 500 years when Brazilian colonists received grants, favors and hereditary titles from kings of Portugal.

Villas-Boas Correa, a widely read political columnist, said the nepotism scandal ″degrades Congress and political parties and is an invitation for a military coup, justified on ground of morality.″ He added that, like Congress, state legislatures and city halls throughout this nation of 144 million ″are full of ‘ghosts,’ civil servants who do no work and show up only to pick up their paychecks.″

The first secretary of the Senate, Antonio Mendes Canalle, said that as a result of Ms. Oliveira’s findings, the Senate now will draw up a list to see who does what and works where.

But the speaker of the House, Rep. Antonio Paes de Andrade, who serves as acting president of Brazil when Sarney is out of the country, told the AP that staff hiring is the ″exclusive responsibility″ of each legislator.

Soon afterward, Paes de Andrade made news when, while Sarney was in Japan for Emperor Hirohito’s funeral in February, he loaded two presidential jets with friends, relatives, political cronies and journalists and flew them to a welcoming ceremony in his humble home town in Brazil’s impoverished Northeast.

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