NewsBrazilian justice gives Lula a boost by deflating the...

Brazilian justice gives Lula a boost by deflating the power of the National Congress


The president-elect of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has reasons to start the week relieved: on Monday, the Brazilian justice system just struck out one of its main concerns when it comes to governing from next January 1: doing so with the so-called “secret budget” that reigns in the National Congress, a very opaque mechanism that in practice serves to buy votes. Since the electoral campaign, Lula defended that this tool had to be modified: “It cannot continue as it is, I think that everyone understands that”, he said a few days ago.

The “secret budget” is how the so-called rapporteur amendments are popularly known and consists in the fact that part of the State funds are destined to meet the demands of senators and deputies, without their names being disclosed. This money is normally used to finance works (a hospital, a school, a highway…) in the region where each congressman has his electoral base, thus favoring his chances of being reelected. There are no clear criteria: the money does not go where the Government considers it to be the highest priority, but rather where the person responsible for the budget in Congress decides, giving room for all kinds of interest games.

A good part of the country’s budget is sequestered by parliamentarians without knowing where it will end up, which also leaves the government with little room for manoeuvre. In the years of Jair Bolsonaro, this mysterious budget reached 26.1 billion reais (almost 5 billion dollars, more than 4.6 billion euros) on average each year. The organization Transparency International came to describe it as “the largest institutionalized corruption scheme in history.”

Although the amendments are originally legal and have existed for a long time, their darker version, where neither the parliamentarian nor the destination of the resources is known, started in 2020 and was key in the relationship between the Bolsonaro government and Congress. favoring its governability. The president of the Chamber, Arthur Lira, an ally of the far-right leader, showered dozens of deputies with these resources, which facilitated the approval of projects of interest to the government.

All that network is over, at least for now. The Federal Supreme Court, questioned by leftist parties, but not by Lula’s PT, decided to declare the instrument unconstitutional, which means a huge boost of oxygen for Lula and a defeat for Lira. Bolsonaro’s former and all-powerful ally loses his main bargaining chip, he will no longer be able to blackmail Lula by demanding that he keep the “secret budget” in exchange for working for a majority that allows him to increase public spending, as the new president wants.

And that is where the second cape from the Supreme to the future Government of Lula arrives. The next president has been immersed for weeks in very tough negotiations with parliamentarians, so that they allow him to break the so-called spending ceiling and thus make one of his main campaign promises a reality: the increased payment of the Bolsa Família, the payment of 600 reais (113 dollars, 106 euros per month) to the poorest families. It is a lot of money for the public coffers (70,000 million reais per year, 11,200 million euros or 13,000 million dollars) and these days the team of the future Government seeks support to modify the Constitution to make it possible, but suddenly, Judge Gilmar Mendes I arrive with another piece of good news for Lula: the Bolsa Família can be accounted for outside the ceiling of expenses, outside the official budget.

The decision, surprising and criticized by those who consider it an interference of justice in political affairs, guarantees the future of social assistance. Now, Lula will be able to negotiate support in Congress with less pressure, without having to promise important ministries to the center or center-right parties, the so-called centrao, which only offer support in exchange for quotas of power.

The future Minister of Economy, Fernando Haddad, said this Monday that, although the judicial decision gives families peace of mind, they will continue to negotiate with Congress: “It is important for the country to bet on good politics and institutionality to give robustness to the economic policy that we will announce, that will calm the spirits and show that Brazil will be on the right course as of January 1”, he affirmed. The new Government starts on New Year’s Day but for now the climate is still one of waiting. Lula has just announced seven ministers of the more than 30 that are expected to accompany him in Brasilia. The decisions of the courts can help to undo the knot and facilitate the fit of the allies in the future government.

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