Combating corruption in Brazil depends on agility in ritual procedure, says Brazilian General Comptroller Jorge Hage in interview with UNODC

February 09th 2011 - reappointed by Dilma Rousseff, the minister in chief of the General Comptroller of the Union Jorge Hage, says Brazil has made significant progress in the fight against corruption, but warns that there is still much to be done in the country. In an interview with UNODC, Hage defended the approval of structural reforms and greater agility in the ritual procedure as ways to combat corruption in Brazil. "The corrupt, or white-collar criminals, will be arrested only after a comprehensive reform of the Brazilian procedural laws, and judicial understanding of the Supreme Court" said Hage.

What is the balance of your management during Lula's government?
The balance is extremely positive. This government has acted on all fronts in the prevention and combat against corruption, using the entire menu recommended by the international organizations and their conventions dealing with the matter. To quote some examples, because it is not possible to exhaust, in this space, all the initiatives, we created the Transparency Portal, one of the most complete of its kind in the world, awarded many times, including by the UN, and copied by several countries; we created the Live Eye Watch program in Public Money, which has fueled the social control of public accounts; the expulsion of public servers, until December 2010, were nearly three thousand employees, most of them for performance acts related to corruption; we proposed to the Congress critical measures to improve the legal framework in this area. The bodies responsible for monitoring, investigation and control over the use of public resources have been acting in coordinated fashion, especially the General's Comptroller Office, the federal police and prosecutors, with joint operations in the decomposition of old organized schemes to divert public resources throughout the country.

In Dilma's Government, what are the priorities of the GTU at this time?
Dilma, who has always followed the UGC work, has already told us that her intention is not just following up what has been done, but drill down further the fight against corruption and take new initiatives. In her inaugural speech, she literally said that "corruption will be fought permanently, and the organs of control and research will have my full backing to act with firmness and independence". At the first ministerial meeting, it was said that for her, efficiency and ethical conduct are two sides of the same coin, therefore, there isn't really an effective management if not strictly on ethical grounds.

What does the Federal Government have in mind to advance the management of cities and states?
This is a way more delicate issue, because in Brazil, the administrative autonomy of states and municipalities, expressed in the Constitution prevents the Union to monitor the implementation of their own resources of federal entities. With the Monitoring Program for Sweepstakes, created by the UGC in 2003, we have deepened the supervision on the use of federal funds transferred to states and municipalities. We created the Municipal Management Strengthening Program, with which we have already trained more than a thousand small and medium-sized municipalities, where the problems found during CGU's inspections were not intentional, but signs of unprepared administration. We have also supported technically states and municipalities in implementing their respective portals of transparency. And we intend to go much further with these entities, since we don't want that only the federal government prevents and combat corrupt practices.

The General's Office Controller has created the register of companies in default. What is the result of this registration?
The National Registry of Suspended or in Default Companies (CEIS) was created in December 2009 and, with just one year, it now has nearly four thousand companies that were punished after being looted in the commission of irregularities in their dealings with the public power. CEIS creation resulted of the understanding that corruption almost always has two sides - the corruptor and the corrupted, and it was not enough to punish only the public servant - the corrupted- we must also punish the company corrupting. The idea of registration is to bring together in one place for consult firms punished for various federal government agencies, state and municipal as well as the executive, legislative and judicial branches in order to avoid that, through ignorance, public agencies continue hiring companies declared inapt for another body. The registry, which already shows the relationships of companies sanctioned by numerous federal agencies and from many states and municipalities, has been serving this purpose and will expand further its usefulness in other measures that states and municipalities will join by sending their relations of punished firms.

It was created by the end of last year the 'Register Plus' (for defaulting). Where is this database standing? What is your opinion about the creation of this database?
This is another important initiative of the Brazilian government, because, given a recent international trend, it aims to attract private enterprise to the effort of fighting corruption and promoting ethics in the relations between the public and private sectors. The initiative is still very recent, from December 2010, and we're still in the assembly of the mechanisms of registration, as the evaluation committee, the form of requirements analysis, etc.

What do you think are the main mechanisms of control of corruption that have been going well in Brazil?
I understand that the initiatives that were taken are the ones that conducive the progress we have achieved in the fight against corruption in Brazil. This is because the measures are complementary, combining prevention, internal control, promoting social control and repression - with effective punishment, at least those that are legally applicable in management.  

Brazil has advanced a lot on fighting corruption, but it is still present. In your opinion, what are the main challenges Brazil is still facing in corruption control?
Corruption exists in different levels in all countries. And the fighting against it has to be incessantly and unabated. Here in Brazil, despite much that has been done in recent years, much remains to be done. I understand that the main obstacle to the punishment of the corrupt due to our procedural laws that allow a multitude of features, making it impossible in practice, the arrest of those involved. This, coupled with our understanding of the higher courts, according to which one can not put the defendant in jail before the verdict becomes final, ie, by exhausting all possibilities of appeal, eventually spreading impunity. We still lack a political reform, campaign finance and parties, the parliamentary amendments, among others. And certain things just evolve with society's pressure. The example of the Law of Clean Sheet can and should multiply, it is very important for Brazil to continue advancing in this area. Remember, the government submitted proposals in this important area to Congress, where pending analysis, such as the law on access to public information, regulating the conflict of interest between public and private in the federal administration, and criminalizing illicit enrichment.

This year there was a significant renovation of the National Congress. What is the role of parliamentarians elected in relation to the confrontation of Corruption?
There is an extensive list of legislative proposals in the Congress, of paramount importance to the fight against corruption. Some of them have already been mentioned in previous answers. To start, I believe that parliamentarians, both new and those who managed to have renovated their respective mandates, contribute greatly to the analysis of these proposals could speed up in order to turn them into laws as soon as possible.

Comparing Brazil with other countries, in which level do you think the country is in combating the corruption?
I'll answer commenting an excerpt from a worldwide survey released by Transparency International last December and it shows Brazil in the group of countries less punished by the plague of bribery: only 4% of respondents have been subjected to this in Brazil, the same as Canada and better than the U.S. and European Union (5%). The world average was 25%.
But the item that the Brazilian press mostly reported in critical tone was that 54% of respondents think that the measures taken by the Brazilian government are not effective. Well, the same table shows that in the U.S. this percentage is 71% in Canada, 74% in Germany, 76% and in Finland, 65%, all far worse than Brazil. On the other hand, in Azerbaijan, only 26% think so about the measures of their government, while in Kenya 30% and in Uganda, 24%. The table would be reversed? No. What happens is that when the question involves perception, not fact, the answer depends on the level of information, requirement and the degree of critical consciousness of society. In other words, Brazil is very well positioned in the global context.

What is the importance of international cooperation when it comes to corruption?
International cooperation is the key to combating corruption worldwide. Brazil is aware of this and it is the reason why the country is signatory of the three international conventions against corruption: the United Nations' one, the Organization of American States' one and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Europe Development' one. Only with articulation and exchange of experience between nations, you can neutralize the firepower of corruption and organized crime, which is undergoing modernization and getting more sophisticated every day, using even the most modern computer resources.

About the penalty, when do you believe that a famous person (politician or businessman) will fulfill the term of imprisonment for an act of corruption?
The corrupt, or "white-collar criminals" (as we call them in Brazil), will be arrested only after a comprehensive reform of the Brazilian procedural laws, beyond the understanding of the Supreme Court jurisprudence. I understand that the more agile rite procedural means to suppress rights as the "presumption of innocence." The banker Bernard Madoff, for example, was sentenced to 150 years in prison for a fraud that caused financial loss of billions of dollars. The verdict came in less than a year and was given by a court in New York, it wasn't even the U.S. Supreme Court. And, to my knowledge, the United States is a democracy and not an authoritarian or police state.