Will the administrative reform pass in Congress?

. Sep 11, 2020

This is Part 4 of The Brazilian Report’s special series on the Jair Bolsonaro administration’s proposal to reform public service in Brazil and its chances of passing in Congress. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


Major reforms are, by nature, hard to pass in Congress. They must almost always come through amendments to the Constitution — which requires a 60-percent majority and two rounds of voting in each both the Lower House and Senate. But Jair Bolsonaro’s administrative reform has even more hurdles on its way to passing.

</p> <p>For starters, the timing couldn&#8217;t be worse. The country is still trying to respond to the economic crisis inflicted by the pandemic —&nbsp;and there is little mood for unpopular measures. Moreover, the reform was presented just weeks before campaigns for the <a href="http://www.tse.jus.br/eleicoes/eleicoes-2020/eleicoes-2020">2020 municipal elections</a> are scheduled to kick-off, on September 26.</p> <p>As our <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-weekly/2020/07/20/the-future-for-work-in-brazil-seems-to-be-remote/">July 20 Weekly Report</a> showed, one-quarter of Brazilian lawmakers face elections for municipal office. And even those who won&#8217;t run will have their eyes on local races, as they have to set up the alliances that are key for lawmakers&#8217; re-election bids two years from now. Between September 26, when candidates are allowed to start campaigning, until November 29, when runoff elections will happen in major cities, nothing is expected to pass in Congress.</p> <p>&#8220;We should return only on December 1,&#8221; says Congressman Júlio Delgado, from Minas Gerais. &#8220;And still, on December 16 we wrap up the year. There are too many things to be decided upon [regarding the reform] in just two weeks,&#8221; he adds.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3199357" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3199357/embed" aria-label=""><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Controversial reforms</h2> <p>As we previously explained in this series, the reform will enact the biggest changes in public service Brazil has seen since its return to democracy. Its core point is ending civil servants&#8217; ironclad job stability, conditioning their permanence to periodic performance evaluations.</p> <p>That is, however, precisely what is set to spark the fiercest debates in Congress, as the civil servant lobby is one of the strongest in Brasília.&nbsp;</p> <p>Another point of contention concerns a section which would enhance presidential powers over the government&#8217;s structure. The head of state would be free to alter the structure of any agency without congressional approval as long as it doesn&#8217;t raise public spending. </p> <p>But as we explained in Part 1, it seems highly unlikely that Congress would waive its prerogative to approve or bring down presidential acts that reshape the government&#8217;s structure. Especially in a moment when tensions between the government and Congress are so high — to the point that House Speaker Rodrigo Maia declared that he no longer speaks to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes.</p> <h2>How the pandemic disrupts the reform&#8217;s calendar</h2> <p>Since March 20, Congress has worked remotely for the most part —&nbsp;and the work of various committees have been halted. However, no constitutional amendment can be voted on the floor unless it passes by multiple such committees.</p> <p>While congressional leaders claim they want committees to return to action as soon as possible, it is unlikely anything will happen before the end of the municipal elections. Meaning that there is virtually no chance of the reform progressing this year.

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Débora Álvares

Débora Álvares has worked as a political reporter for newspapers Folha de S.Paulo, O Estado de S.Paulo, Globo News, HuffPost, among others. She specializes in reporting on Brasilia, working behind-the-scenes coverage at the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government.

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