Supreme Court majority to outlaw pork-barreling grants in Congress

supreme court pork
Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux and Justice Rosa Weber. Photo: Rosinei Coutinho/SCO/STF

Six out of Brazil’s ten sitting Supreme Court justices have voted to ban so-called “rapporteur-designated budgetary grants,” opaque and little-understood mechanisms that give lawmakers leeway over the federal budget and are chiefly used as bargaining chips by sitting governments.

The decision came in response to an injunction issued by Justice Rosa Weber on Friday, suspending the use of said grants and claiming they are “detrimental to the general population.”

In simple terms, sitting governments use these grants to allocate portions of the budget to lawmakers, which they typically spend on infrastructure projects in their constituencies. As the administration holds the keys to these grants, they can act as convincing tools of coercion to “buy” support for crucial votes. Just last week, the Bolsonaro government freed up over BRL 1.2 billion (USD 220 million) in budgetary grants in an attempt to pass a controversial constitutional amendment proposal capping repayments of the administration’s court-ordered debts.

The measure passed a first-round vote by the slimmest of margins. And now that budgetary amendments appear to have been frozen, this casts doubt on the government’s chances of approving the measure in the decisive second round later this week.