Thursday, May 28, 2009

Political Partisanship and the Congressional Inquiry into Petrobras

Last week, Brazil's Senate launched a Congressional inquiry into charges of corruption in Petrobras, the state-owned energy company. Based on the reporting in Brazil and now the Times, though, I suspect there isn't much to these charges, and that it's pure partisan politics and political theater at its worst. To wit:

The vote was sealed by senators who oppose President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva’s Workers Party, setting up an inquiry that is likely to drag on for months.
The investigation [...] could also be damaging to Dilma Rousseff, Mr. da Silva’s chief of staff and his handpicked candidate to succeed him in next year’s presidential elections, since she is also the chairwoman of the Petrobras board of directors. Ms. Rousseff’s ability to make a competitive run for president has already been questioned by some politicians and analysts because she is undergoing treatment for lymphoma, even though doctors say her chances of a full recovery are very high.
There are two reasons I am fairly confident that this is just partisan politics and theater at its worst. First, this is pretty much how politics works in Brazil (and is often one of the main critiques of the presidential parliamentary system in Brazil from political scientists both in Brazil and the U.S.). I've commented before on the PSDBs and Democratas (ex-PFL)'s sheer hatred of Lula and opposition to any of his policies, even when he seeks to continue policies former PSDB president Fernando Henrique Cardoso put in place with overwhelming support from his party. What is more, the Congressional Inquiry is going to bog down Lula's administration as it relates to Petrobras for quite awhile at a time when the president is trying to increase the revenue the state brings in from oil production. Under Lula's plan, this money would be used "to set up funds for social programs like health and education." And that's the second reason I doubt the legitimacy of this inquiry. The PSDB and Democratas have been against Lula's social programs (such as Bolsa Familia) since he took office in 2002, in no small part because it simultaneously tries to somewhat level a social playing field that they don't want levelled, and it builds further support among the poor for the PT and related parties, cutting into the PSDB's and Democrata's support.

In short, I have little doubt as of right now that this inquiry is not based on any substantive corruption charges in Petrobras, but rather is an effort on the part of the politically conservative opposition to prematurely influence the 2010 presidential elections and to stall the furthering of social programs these politicians hate for ideological and political reasons. This is not to say that the behavior of every employee at Petrobras has been saintly, or that every decision has been made without taking into account personal interests; indeed, Petrobras has "already fired two people and punished three others for their involvement in irregularities" in contract bidding. However, it will take a lot more evidence than has been provided thus far to prove that there is some major problem at Petrobras, and that this isn't what it seems to be now: the worst kind of partisanship politics in Brazil.