Insider

Congress holds 20 times more budget power in Brazil than in OECD countries

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Brazil’s model of budget control — with Congress holding more control over what should and should not be spent — is unlike any other in the world. According to economist Marcos Mendes, the involvement of lawmakers in state expenditure is 20 times higher than in member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the liberal club of rich nations Brazil is desperate to join.

This means that 24 percent of all money spent by Brazil’s government — on areas such as investment, oversight actions, and even electrical bills — is ordered directly by Congress. The data was revealed by newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo ahead of Mr. Mendes’s presentation at Instituto Millenium, a libertarian think tank.

This budget snowball began growing significantly after 2015, when then-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha gathered support to pass a constitutional amendment beholding part of the budget to the lawmakers’ decisions. After President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016, incoming President Michel Temer made a cooperation pact with both houses of Congress, only serving to increase lawmakers’ control over the budget. 

The figure of 24 percent, however, was only made possible thanks to President Jair Bolsonaro’s heavy reliance on the so-called “Big Center” in Congress, and House Speaker Arthur Lira. Now, senators and representatives decide on their own budgetary grants, a pork-barreling scheme that benefits congressmen unequally, with priority given to Mr. Lira’s allies.