Accounts Court to scrutinize government ad spending

ad spending
Press Secretary Fábio Wajngarten. Photo: Marcos Corrêa/PR

Brazil’s Federal Accounts Court — a sort of audit tribunal that monitors public spending — will scrutinize the potentially improper use of public funds to finance government ad campaigns. The Jair Bolsonaro administration transferred BRL 83.9 million (USD 17.1 million) from Bolsa Família, its flagship cash-transfer program, to its advertising budget using a loophole allowing for the reshuffling of the federal budget for coronavirus-related expenses. However, these funds are earmarked for the government’s press secretary, which would be a violation of existing laws.

Federal prosecutors have urged the court to block the transfers, saying it “disrespects the Constitution.” The government claims that the funds were “freed up” by its three-month coronavirus emergency salary program, which already encompasses families enrolled in Bolsa Família. Experts warn, however, of the dangers of the cash-strapped administration enhancing its advertising budget.

Since the pandemic arrived in Brazil, the government has enrolled 1.2 million new families into Bolsa Família, pushing the total number to 14.27 million — a 9-percent increase from March 2020, according to data journalism website Núcleo. However, according to a UOL article published on April 28, the government had only spent 3.7 percent of the total budget for the social program for that month.

A group of economists at Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) believe that the way to avoid economic collapse is not to expose citizens to a deadly virus, but to expand social programs in order to mitigate the adverse financial effects of the virus. And any broadening of welfare initiatives would require the government to enhance its biggest and most successful social program.

UPDATE (5:47 pm): The federal government revoked the provisional decree transferring funds from Bolsa Família to ad campaigns.

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