Senators file request for Education Ministry probe

senate education ministry inquiry
Senator Randolfe Rodrigues filed a request for a congressional inquiry into the Education Ministry. Photo: Pedro França/SF

The political opposition in the Senate has filed a request to create a congressional hearings committee into corruption and influence-peddling schemes within the Education Ministry. 

A similar push failed in April, but the arrest of former Education Minister Milton Ribeiro last week rekindled calls for an inquiry. Mr. Ribeiro and two Evangelical preachers are the lead suspects in an alleged scheme that distributed public funds for education policies in exchange for kickbacks.

Senator Randolfe Rodrigues, one of the proponents of the hearings committee, said the document should be read before the floor on June 30. After that, senators have 24 hours to withdraw or add their support to the request. The timetable presented by Mr. Rodrigues would give the Jair Bolsonaro government until Friday to talk lawmakers into removing their names from the petition.

The opposition, however, gathered 31 signatures (out of 81 senators), which gives it a little cushion against an offensive from the Jair Bolsonaro administration. It would take five dropouts for the request to have fewer names than the one-third threshold necessary for hearings committees to be launched. 

The committee’s work, however, would only begin in August — after the mid-year congressional recess in July and right in the middle of the election campaign season. 

While that would mean that the Education Ministry inquiry would probably not work at full speed (if it has quorum to work at all), it would also create a firehose of bad press for President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking re-election but trails frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in all polls.

In order to spin the news in the least negative way, the government is trying to present the probe as a witch hunt promoted by the left against Evangelicals — as the main suspects in the case are all Evangelical preachers.

At the same time, pro-government senators are pressuring Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco to not proceed with the inquiry until previous investigation requests have moved forward.