In my recent interview with Ricardo Freitas – one of the new wave of corporate leaders in Brazilian sustainable development – he talks of the endemic nature of corruption in Brazilian business and politics. The founder of the sustainable Eco-Vita Water Company tells me this is perhaps the most serious problem Brazil faces.
Brazilian media provides a regrettably steady stream of substantiation for Ricardo’s claim. A recent case in point has been the widely publicized corruption scandal in the southern state of Novo Friburgo, whose citizens suffered political treachery in the wake of a natural disaster. Following a violent tropical storm caused wide-spread flooding and landslides in the region, killing over 900 people, the federal government granted an emergency aid fund of R$100 million ($65 million U.S.) to help the tens of thousands who were left homeless. Unfortunately much of this never reached the survivors. According to media reports, up to half of the relief package was embezzled by local government officials.
This is merely the latest in a string of incidents that are often as ridiculous as they are despicable. Early last year, for instance, an Amazonian state governor was caught with his socks and underwear literally stuffed with laundered money.
How can so pervasive and entrenched a problem be tackled? This is the question which the new president, Dilma Rousseff, has been asking herself in the run up to the high profile events Brazil will host in the coming years, such as the Rio Summit+20 and the Olympic Games.
Perhaps one part of the answer lies in the very source of our knowledge of these scandals: Brazil’s free and very robust investigative press, which doggedly tracks down and denounces corrupt politicians and businesspersons alike. Such institutions will surely prove vital in the nation’s pursuit of greater transparency.
See also the interview with Ricardo Freitas