Only two decades after the impeachment process that led President Fernando Collor to resign from office, a new, controversial effort is underway to oust President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil has been shaken by several protests, both in favor and against the removal of Ms. Rousseff from office. Suffering from the worst economic recession since the 1930s, it is clear that the Brazilian population is dissatisfied with her actions as president, but the question of whether or not she should be removed from the office has divided public opinion. Questions have arisen about whether or not she has committed the “pedaladas fiscais” and if this is punishable by impeachment. For that, her actions must be analyzed under the scope of the Brazilian constitutional law.
During the second semester of 2013 and her reelection year of 2014, Dilma made Banco do Brasil and Caixa Econômica assume all economic debts from Bolsa Família, retirement programs, and microeconomic funding so that she could spend the government money that was supposed to be destined to these programs on FIES and low-interest loans to big companies, known as “bolsa empresário”. Because of this, she was able to promise Brazilians many more programs and forms of social aid than the government could actually offer, thus guaranteeing her reelection. The act of delaying payments to government institutions in order to allocate the treasury funds to other areas is vulgarly called “pedaladas fiscais”, meaning she is pedaling into debt and delaying one payment after another. These amounted to such large quantities that the official treasury did not repay the institutions even in 2015, and Dilma continued “pedaling” due to administrative mismanagement. With this, Caixa Econômica filed a report requesting back at least R$274 millions that had not been repaid to the institution and the impeachment request based on administrative dishonesty was filed.
After the many economic crises the country has suffered, the Brazilian Constitution is strict about economic mismanagement. Article 85 subclause V and VI decree that disrespecting administrative probity and the budget law are responsibility crimes and are considered direct threats to the constitution and the country. Furthermore, Article 97 says that the chief of the Executive Power, the president, is accountable for all crimes of fiscal responsibility and administrative dishonesty. This means that if the chief of the Executive Power commits economic malpractice and infringes the budget law, they are fully held accountable for these actions. Commonly known as the impeachment law, law number 1,069/50 is the framework of impeachable offenses, and its fourth article echoes the Constitution’s stance in regards to disobeying administrative policies and exceeding the budget without explicit authorization from the Congress. The text also clearly states in its second article that the crimes as outlined by the law subject the officer to be removed from office and be unable to participate in any public function for five years. More specifically, there is also the Law of Fiscal Responsibility, created about sixteen years ago to prevent the budgetary actions that caused hyperinflation in the 1980s, that specify more standards of what are considered responsibility crimes, relating to Article 97 of the Constitution. Article 36 of this law states that “credit operations between a state financial institution and the officer of the Federation that controls it to benefit the borrower are forbidden”. Dilma obligated the state banks to pay for the costs of programs which the government itself had to refund the banks; thus, it was a misallocation of credit to the institutions, a clear breach in this law.
Furthermore, Article 38 of the Law of Fiscal Responsibility states that the operation of anticipatory credit is legitimate if used to attend the insufficiency of the treasury and cannot be used in the last year of the officer’s mandate, which is exactly what Dilma did. Not only did she purposefully refrain from paying the banks during her reelection year, she could have successfully repaid the institutions if she hadn’t destined the money to deceiving the Brazilian population about the economic situation of the country. According to Oscar Vilhena Vieira, professor of constitutional law at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, “They are not penal crimes, so you cannot be put in prison because of them, but you can lose your mandate.”
One argument used by Dilma’s defense is that many other politicians, including the presidents before her, have delayed payments to Caixa and Banco do Brasil. Although it is true that payments have not always been precisely on time, four times delayed during FHC’s time office and three during Lula’s, the small amounts of R$433.2 million and R$500 million respectively were paid shortly afterwards by each president. Caixa did not have to file a request for at least R$274 millions missing from its coffers for over a year, and neither did the administration have to decree bank secrecy. Furthermore, Dilma had the greatest deficit with Caixa, “pedaling” 19 times and owing about R$33 billion to the institution. She used these budgetary tricks in order to pretend the deficit didn’t exist and boost her chances of being reelected. Through this economic framework, she borrowed $11 billion from state banks without showing the population and the Congress she was doing so. The consequence of these actions should be removal from office. A country cannot have a president that removed money from partially privately owned banks to pay its own debts and pretend the country’s economy is doing fine.The first table shows the amounts delayed to banks by governments prior to Dilma’s, and the second one illustrates the amounts that were delayed to the banks during Dilma’s government (for larger versions of these charts, see the gallery below):
Dilma, trying to defend herself, desperately affirms that based on this law, then every other president before her also would have to be impeached. However, since she purposefully refused to pay back state banks in order to spend the money to deceive the population in regards the country’s economic situation to get reelected.It is clear that the nature of her actions is indeed administrative dishonesty. She wanted the banks to bear the costs of the social programs so that the government treasury could offer loans at small rates to big businesses that were supporting her campaign. In addition, the fact that prior governments did shortly delay small amounts to the banks does not mean she cannot be punished for her mistakes considering that she benefitted greatly from the economic malpractice and deceived millions of Brazilians. She needs to be removed from office after the crime she committed.
The legitimacy of the impeachment process is currently following the constitution, and the Supreme Federal Court is overseeing all operations. José Murilo de Carvalho, a prominent historian, states that it is inaccurate to refer to the impeachment process as a coup because the process is following the law and has been overseen by the supreme court, thus it is constitutional. Every single step has accurately reflected the law: the House accepting an impeachment request, the formation of the commission to analyze the request, the ⅔ majority in the House of Representatives, and the forwarding of the request to the Senate. Furthermore, the deputies and senators voting upon the process are direct representatives of the Brazilian people because they were elected by the population.
Removing Dilma from power is not a guarantee that corruption will stop or that the economy will jumpstart with greater job opportunities. The impeachment process is simply following the Brazilian constitution in removing from office a president who has committed a crime punishable by impeachment. The charges themselves were a consequence of the indignation of the population with the economic crimes committed by Ms. Rousseff, and the file was carefully researched and based on the Constitution.
As Carlos Pereira, a political scientist at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, stated, “The government betrayed the people, and for this they must be punished.” Ms. Rousseff committed a crime punishable by removal from office according to Brazilian law and the Constitution. The impeachment proceedings are being closely monitored by the Supreme Federal Court and the entire process is being voted upon by democratically elected representatives of the people. Although impeachment is not a solution or barrier to corruption, the law requires Dilma to be removed from office because she has repeatedly and deliberately failed to comply with the Constitution’s requirements for state expenditures. The Law of Fiscal Responsibility was passed for a reason: the Executive Power must not spend more than it can nor engage in credit operations with state banks in order to avoid the crisis and hyperinflation we are currently experiencing. If she continues, administrative dishonesty, inflation, poverty, and low standards of living will continue . The Constitution requires her to be impeached, and this is the heavy burden that the Senate must bear in its next vote to decide whether or not to accept the request from the House of Representatives.