Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Collor Strives to Trim Federal Fat BRAZIL GOVERNMENT REFORM

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Collor Strives to Trim Federal Fat BRAZIL GOVERNMENT REFORM

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Fernando Collor de Mello has promised to turn the Brazilian government deficit into a surplus this year, by cutting an estimated $5.5 billion of the $13 billion federal budget.

Removing bureaucratic fat is meant to make a big contribution to stop wasteful spending and lower inflation.

President Collor has given administrative reform secretary Joao Santana mission that includes rebuilding government, retraining personnel, and selling off federally-owned cars and housing.

It is a mission that has been taken on by several previous presidents. But politicians and bureaucrats have always proven stronger than the president's will. And the old-time power game of jobs, votes, and fiefdoms, has continued.

This time, Mr. Collor, Brazil's first directly elected president in 29 years, has the will and popular mandate to change, to overcome entrenched interests. But in this attempt, analysts say, there is much more at stake.

"If (Collor) can create an efficient government in terms of service, he will be consolidating democracy. If not, society will end up associating the idea of democracy with inefficiency, and turn to nostalgia for authoritarian government," says Joao Geraldo Piquet Carneiro, a political risk consultant who worked on a previous cost-cutting program.

Trying to locate Brazil's chief government cost-cutter is like following the tracks of a manchete-wielding jungle traveler.

The address of Secretary Santana is "C block," a building on the well-known Esplanade of Ministries. But it is hard to pinpoint, since the locals know the building as the Ministry of Culture, recently put out of business as part of large cutbacks.

Once inside C block, there is the business of a visitor ID. The acronym on it - Seplan - comes from another defunct department, the Planning Secretariat, folded into Economy Ministry.

Yet another vestige of the bureaucratic past is barely visible over Secretary Santana's doorway: the mark on the wood of letters that once spelled out "Minister's Office."

Mr. Santana says that he does indeed feel as if he is working in some kind of jungle. "It's hard to reallocate employees when you don't know where they are or how many there are," he says.

Today Santana is expected to complete the first stage of his mission by publishing a list of public servants who will be laid off or offered more productive jobs. In May, the government announced it would slash the federal work force of 1.6 million people, by 20 to 25 percent. But many analysts doubt whether today's list will really total this much, because the Constitution protects so many federal workers' jobs.

While facing such obstacles, Santana must also deal with government-owned apartments that can't be sold because the architect forgot to draw a bathroom in the plans, a government company that invested in burial plots, and a port authority that has been set up with a payroll for would-be workers - when reality is that the port is merely a single pier. …

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