Ventilators could become “seized merchandise” in Brazil

Photo: SFAM Photo/Shutterstock

In another round of controversy involving medical equipment needed to fight Covid-19, Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service declared that the state of Maranhão must forfeit 107 ventilators. In April, state governor Flávio Dino assembled a heist-like operation to bring these equipment units into Maranhão, preventing them from being seized by buyers from the U.S., Germany — or even Brazil’s own federal government.

According to finance website Brazil Journal, which had access to the decision made by tax auditors, it is unlikely the ventilators will be removed from hospitals where they are currently being used. At this moment, it is not clear whether the case is another textbook example of Brazilian bureaucratic overreach — or if the tax authority was used for a political hit job. Maranhão’s governor is a left-wing presidential hopeful and has been frequently attacked by President Jair Bolsonaro.

The episode illustrates how even simple procedures have become knife fights in Brazil’s public administration. But without clear protocols, in a country with high levels of corruption, the system is vulnerable to abuse.

Currently, there are investigations in at least four states concerning possible overpricing in the purchase of Covid-19 medical equipment. In São Paulo, for instance, one of the problems is precisely the lack of a public bidding process for the purchase of ventilators, the majority of which have yet to be delivered.

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