Top 10 Things Brazil Must Do

images

Let’s be positive

Not wishing to criticise without offering solutions, I decided to list some of the things I think are a priority for Brazil to sort out. The list is not exhaustive.

  1. Reform the legal system.
  2. Remove trade barriers
  3. Encourage smart gringos to come and help
  4. Completely overhaul employment legislation and place a moratorium on all unions for two years
  5. Introduce trust-based systems
  6. Introduce genuine transparency in local, state and federal government
  7. Reform the political system
  8. Reform the tax system
  9. Invest more in education, health and security
  10. Redefine responsibility and accountability in government

There are, in detail, probably thousands of things the country needs to resolve, but this is my main ‘bucket list’, not necessarily in order of importance, and I’ll deal briefly with each of them in turn over the next few weeks

Posted in Brazil, Culture, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil – who gives a damn, my dear?

boring_presentationsLest my recent silence on the subject of Brazil be taken to mean that things have got better, or that little is happening, or that – heaven forbid – I am happier with the state of affairs, allow me to state my position before I go and do something more productive.

I have said before that every Brazilian is tainted by corruption or by complicity therein. It is deeply ingrained in the culture, and is the explanation for the fact that nearly all – probably all – Brazilian politicians are corrupt. But then, so is everyone else. It is normal to pay for one’s  qualifications, to bribe people for things that need done officially, to avoid taxes, to win contracts, to get bank loans…and so on. This is normal, day-to-day stuff in Brazil. It is also a deeply ingrained part of the culture to think only of today and only of oneself: there is no social responsibility, no ethical conduct, no community spirit, just as there is no adequate planning, no future vision, no ‘big picture’.corruption

The result is a society controlled by psychopathic kleptomaniacs, elected to office by an electorate which understands little and cares less, provided it has enough to get by with for the rest of the day.

This is not a complaint, but a mere statement of fact. It is also why it may be impossible for the country to resolve its current crisis  – since it is not so much economic or political, as cultural. There are no good people in politics, fighting for their people or their country. There is no political idealism, nor any idealism at all: the motive for being in politics is simply a desire to be (or to remain) rich and powerful. I saw yesterday that the local (state with a small ‘s’) government has an advertising campaign on the go which seeks to amaze us all by telling us we can now find out how much individual elected officials are being paid. Online – ooooo! We are to believe that this is progress – democracy – transparency! – when in fact it is just a rather crass diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the money the same individual elected officials receive from bribes, from privileged information, from favours, from unauthorised use of infrastructure and assets, from illegal payments to friends and family, from contracts awarded to fictitious companies and from simple theft of money and goods. Salary? Who cares about that? Being a politician also puts one so far above the law that it becomes, to all intents and purposes, meaningless. And there you have it – money, power, and fuck you very much.

braz_failAnd frankly, whether Brazil’s president is impeached or not (the current – yawn – ‘hot’ topic), is really rather irrelevant, when more than 30% of the country’s leading politicians are currently under investigation for corruption. Will Brazil sort itself out? Will it not? Does anyone care? Well, most of the electorate doesn’t, so why should I? The road to Hell is undoubtedly paved with apathy, and Brazil is piling down the home straight right now, the winning post clearly in sight.

So I must declare that I am utterly bored with it all now. Good luck Brazil; I’m off to enjoy the sunshine and work on the escape plan.

Posted in Brazil, Moving abroad, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 7. The Political System

“They aren’t communists or socialists – they’re crooks…”

It seems an appropriate moment to look at reform of the political system, as it becomes increasingly clear to even the meanest intelligence that in Brazil politics is a synonym for theft, embezzlement and corruption, not to mention ignorance and arrogance.

The political system itself is an unremarkable federal presidential constitutional republic, although it is said that “due to a mix of proportional voting (the only first-past-the-post elections are for the 1/3 of senate seats every 8 years and for mayors in small and medium-sized cities every 4 years), the lack of election threshold and the cultural aspects of Latin American caudillismocoronelismo, party politics in Brazil tends to be highly fragmented.” (Wikipedia).

Greg Michener wrote, as far back as  in 2013, “ I also highlighted the private-regarding nature of parties, who binge at the trough of government largess, blackmailing governments for more positions and pork while weakening meritorious presidential initiatives.” (Observing Brazil, 27/1/13) The mechanism which generates such a plethora of substantially incompetent political parties is clearly broken and needs fixing.

But I believe that what turns it into a fiasco of biblical proportions is a political culture which is not yet mature enough to effectively police the system against the scum that often rises to the top, and legislation which both allows them to get there and protects them when they are ensconced.

President of Chamber of Deputies

President of Chamber of Deputies

If we take just a couple of examples, the problem may be clearer. The latest in a woefully long line of corruption stories involves the President of the Chamber of Deputies, who has (alledgedly) been caught with his hand in the cookie  jar (Swiss banks accounts for himself and his family and allegations of receiving R$5m in Petrobras bribes). Outside of Brazil, he would be mercilessly hounded into retirement, suspended from carrying on his duties from the minute the news broke. In Brazil, life goes on as normal, as it does for all the other politicians currently under investigation.  The President, meanwhile, even though she presided over Petrobras during the time everyone was helping themselves to millions, is content to say that she knew nothing about it and carry on regardless. Outside Brazil, she would have been forced to resign at the merest sniff of such incompetence or impropriety, on the principle of ‘the buck stops here’; in Brazil, it is accepted – along with all the other institutionalized incompetence and impropriety.

And this is the real issue, perhaps: the institutionalization of lack of responsibility; of the lack of accountability. The politicians believe impunity is their right, and the electorate accept their representatives’ ignorance and incompetence as unconcernedly as it does their arrogance, while legislation seems unable to put things right (perhaps this is unsurprising, when you realize that it is the same people who are stealing all the money that are responsible for the legislation).

As Dr Janaina Paschoal said in a recent

Drª Janaina C. Paschoal, advogada criminalista e professora de direiito na Faculdade de Direito da USP

Drª Janaina Paschoal

interview about the current ruling party, “Eles lidam com as coisas públicas como se fosse deles e não como se fosse do povo…Eles entendem que o país é deles e aqueles podem fazer o que eles querem” (“They manage [public resources] as if they belonged to them and not to the people of Brazil…They believe the country is theirs and they can do as they please.” (Ficha Social, 30/9/15)

She is right, but I do not believe she goes far enough – where does the responsibility really lie – with the useless politicians, or the useless voters? After all, it has been ingrained in

Unless there's some sort of party, or some money or sex or drugs...

Unless there’s some sort of party, or some money or sex or drugs…

Brazilian culture over centuries that you look after yourself and only yourself. No-one else matters, and you should not trust them, help them, or even take any notice of them – unless you can get something out of it right now.

If I had a vote I would be hoping Dr Paschoal might run for election…

See the original Top 10 list here.

Posted in The Amazon | 1 Comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 6. Transparency

Something doesn't add up.

Obfuscation is the new transparency in Brazil. In fact, let’s be honest, there is no transparency in Brazil. At all. One only has to look at the notices local and federal government put up when they are carrying out work: “Licensed Work…The value of this work is R$2,899,845.06… Time to complete: 270 days.”  Oh yes? 270 days from when? No information is available. And how is that estimate arrived at? No information. Who are the contractors, then? Where are the project costings? Where is the money coming from? Who? The whaa..? And note the 06 cents in the estimate – who’s looking after that, while we can’t even get any information on the R$2m? The whole thing is an hilarious joke practised continually on a public who have not the slightest notion of nor interest in accountability or transparency.

Don’t forget the 6 cents….

Time for this to change. It should not be difficult, if the politicians have any interest in doing it (which they clearly have not). On a local level, state income comes from federal grants and state taxes. It should be easy to calculate, monitor and report this. Expenditure similarly should be quite easy to monitor and report. Each project should be accounted for and reported on to the public. This does not happen. Accountants in Brazil do not understand the most basic of accounting concepts or calculations, and neither does the Inland Revenue. Meanwhile the politicians (all of them dishonest) have no desire to expose their incompetence and criminal behavior to the public.

But change it must, if the country is to find the money to fix all its dysfunctional systems and repair a decrepit infrastructure. Were the government to take a project, however small, cost it out, request the funds, tender the work, apply the money, then monitor and report on it without allowing themselves or anyone else to put their hand in the cookie jar, it would not only be a first, but would undoubtedly mark the beginning of a new and more viable Brazil.

Until then, all I can say is: 6 Reais to the Dollar…

See the original list of top 10 things Brazil must change

Posted in The Amazon | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 5. Trust Based Systems

 trustBrazil wastes  billions on propping up a culture and systems based entirely on mutual mistrust. Every aspect of daily life is touched by the fundamental philosophy that you must trust no-one. It is, sadly, a self-fulfilling prophesy, and has resulted in a country completely hamstrung by a bureaucracy which seeks (but fails) to protect the party of the first part against the party of the second part and the party of the second part against the party of the first.

No example I can provide will be believable to anyone who is not Brazilian, while Brazilians themselves will look at such examples apathetically and mutter “yeah, but, you know, that’s the way it is.” Well I have news.  That is not “the way it is.” It’s just the “way” you have created.

Brazil must seriously study the costs and benefits of turning a system that quite clearly does not work, on its head. It should seriously consider letting go of all its completely counter-productive bureaucracy. Fix the lamentable legal system, and let people get on with their business without having to have things “recognized” and “authenticated” and initialed and signed and duplicated and replicated and approved etc etc etc. Let’s be quite clear about this – the system which Braziliabureaucracyns accept as being normal and natural and which requires people to spend days performing a simple transaction which anywhere else would take minutes, is exactly the same system that allows billions to be stolen from the taxpayer every year. In short: it is a wholly dysfunctional, and completely meaningless system.  It needs to change.

Imagine if all the millions of simple daily transactions in Brazil took minutes, rather than days.  Just imagine the billions and billions and billions and billions of man-hours that would be saved. What is that worth, against the cost of legal action for those transactions which are fraudulent? And let us remember that it can be quite easily proved that it is impossible to run an honest, law-abiding business in Brazil. Why? Because of the bureaucracy and corruption (and there is the irony) that grinds any legitimate business into the ground.

It would transform the country, overnight, into a potentially sustainable economy (which it cannot be considered at present). Brazil must address this issue, or continue to be one of the worst places on earth to do business (according to the World Bank, Brazil is ranked 120th out of 189 countries – it is easier to do business in Nicaragua or Mongolia, Jamaica or Rwanda).

The problem is, as always, that it is those who police, feed, design or administer the system who have most to lose – the politicians, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, the corrupt industrialists. So who is it, exactly, that is going to tear it apart..?

Original Top 10 List

Posted in The Amazon | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 4. Employment legislation and unions

Paternalismo

Paternalismo

Brazilian employment legislation is extremely paternalistic, perhaps in response to a history of widespread slavery and indentured labour and an extremely unequal distribution of wealth. However, much as it may be understandable, it is inappropriate for a country wanting to grow and improve. Nor is it just the untenably high employee oncosts, coupled with legislation which protects incompetent and dishonest employees. The proliferation of trades unions, and the presence of specialist “workers rights” judges, involves employers spending billions each year defending nonsensical lawsuits from opportunist employees represented by opportunist lawyers: the avaricious leading the blind to sue the disadvantaged, overseen by a nanny state managed by imbeciles. It’s not ideal, for all love, is it?

To move forward in any meaningful way, one of the things Brazil must do is to reduce the costs of employment, in the context of reasonable employee protection, and at the same time put in place a system which requires the employee the take some responsibility for his or her actions. To encourage this, there clearly needs to be a balance between the needs of the employee and the needs of the employer.  And the solution must be merit based. As long as Brazil continues to indulge in nepotism, cronyism and corruption, there will always be a majority who are poorly educated, disadvantaged and disenfranchised (but don’t know any better, and are unable to do anything about it), and a minority who are ignorant, arrogant and incompetent (but don’t have to care about it).

how_to_put_hands_up

Forecourt attendants from one gas Station practising for the next robbery.

A small example will illustrate. In Brazil, a petrol (gas) station is required to have forecourt attendants, because a union demands it. The union regulates (very, very badly), the hours the attendants may work and the multiplicity of extra payments the employee is entitled to (extra payments for wearing a uniform, working a pump, handling cash, moving in any way at all and for breathing unnecessarily). It is, to be honest, an unpleasant job: generally attendants are treated like shit by the public (mostly the rich), they smell of petrol all day, and are regularly held up by armed criminals (mostly the poor). They represent a staggeringly large percentage of the total costs of petrol station ownership, and they mostly sit around all day dreaming up schemes to steal from their employer. However – and this is the point – the fact that they are completely, absolutely and wholly unnecessary (excuse the tautology) is ignored by everyone.

Now, throughout Brazil, thousands of similarly pointless jobs – often related to the pointless bureaucracy which is fundamental for a system built on mutual mistrust – are protected by the state and the attendant unions, and it is clear that it will take a political force of great vision and strength to begin to change it: who, after all, wants to be the one to consign people to a growing list of unemployed? But, if Brazil wants to become “a player”, as it keeps telling us it does (or is), then change there must be. Of course there are those who believe this type of paternalism is the way to go – but in this case, they may want to look at how to do a better job of it. Maybe they should go and get some advice from Kim Ill Looking and his bunch, who seem to be much better at that sort of thing (ah, but then that would be taking advice from gringos, and we would not want that, would we..?).

See the original top 10 list here

Posted in The Amazon | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 3. Encourage smart gringos to help.

timetolistenBrazil needs a lot of help. It has needed a lot of help for a very long time. But the people in power are having such fun they certainly do not want to be told what to do by a bunch of gringos, even when it could save the country billions, help the poor, save the rainforest and conserve natural resources (because the people in power don’t care about these things).

In fact, I can understand this attitude – at least up to a point: everyone should be allowed to make their mistakes, and let’s face it all the so-called developed nations have made enough of them over the years. So I understand. I get it. However, this ongoing, unflagging hubris is now destroying Brazil – and the question has to be asked – at what point should one accept help? Why would you want to recreate the wheel, when there are so many people out there with the experience to help you avoid it? Why waste so much money, so much time, so many lives, committing avoidable mistakes, just because you are too proud to accept help? The fact is that in many ways Brazil is a land of children, who act – at least collectively – in a childlike manner, and whose vision and understanding is childlike (there is only today; a thing worth doing is worth doing badly; it’s my ball and I’ll make the rules…I’m putting my fingers in my ears and humming loudly so I can’t hear people saying “there is a better way!”). Is it not now time to grow up?

I believe it is, and I would suggest that it is time to open immigration to anyone of any race, creed or culture who has experience and qualifications that can benefit Brazil. Further, they should be actively encouraged – welcomed – listened to (critically, of course, but listened to). There are hundreds of examples of Brazil spurning advice and action which could help the country, simply because people won’t listen; don’t want to be told. A look at the list of “reserved occupations” is some indication, but a minor one which is very close to my heart is in many ways an exemplification of the issue.

There is a system in Brazil whereby translations for any bureaucratic purpose have to be done by a registered translator. The qualification for this exalted post basically boils down to knowing the right people, and it is widely acknowledged that most registered translators are pretty useless. I recently had occasion to correspond with a government department that has produced translation after translation that makes a laughing stock of the place. I offered to help  –  for nothing – to ensure that the translations in question would be of a higher and a more consistent quality, to which the response was “no need to worry yourself gringo, we are having everything done by a registered translator.”  Well there we are, then:  f*ck you very much (fingers in ears, humming  the national anthem very loudly).

So I would suggest that at the very least, the country should relax immigration restrictions for smart cookies (actually, for pretty much anyone – the money is needed), and develop an exchange programme where people on the outside come to show Brazil why it is a total mess and offer some suggestions to help it sort itself out, while smart Brazilians get an opportunity to work abroad in some of the institutions that have benefitted from hundreds of years of experience to become a serious force in global politics or economics or sociology or ecology…or whatever.

In short, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it is time for Brazil to grow up, take responsibility for its actions, and learn how to listen to people who know better (and indeed to develop the critical faculties to identify those who do not).

See the original top 10 things here.

Posted in The Amazon | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 2. Remove Trade Barriers

protectionismProtectionism and why it is a steaming pile.

It is a tradition among countries with economies run by paranoid idiots to try to protect domestic economic activity by imposing unfeasibly high import duties on foreign goods, long long after it is needed (if it is ever needed at all). The conversation goes something along the lines of

“Let’s protect our fledging industries from those big nasty foreign companies who can do things twice as fast at half the price to a better standard.”

“Uh, okay, Boo-Boo.”

RV-AM454_LATINA_G_20140103182151Sadly, the result is invariably very far from what is intended: a country full of hopelessly inefficient, ineffective, uneconomic, corrupt, lame ducks. They feed off the state, pass back bribes to those who patronize them, and extort money from a public that knows no better and has no choice. Meanwhile the rich (those who own the companies and the politicians that support them) don’t care because they can swan off to wherever they want and smuggle in quality products from abroad.  What a way to run an economy. Unfortunately it is currently the Brazilian way, and the trademark “Industria Brasileira” is the consumer’s guarantee of utter rubbish at stupidly high prices.

What does one do?

shoot

Official Brazilian Economic Policy

One gets the Hell out of the Mercosul, for a start, which is just a Latin American club developed by rich, corrupt political regimes to guarantee their kickbacks ad infinitum (or until their people finally wake up to what is going on) and perpetuate their fundamentally unsustainable economies.

Once out of Mercosul, trade barriers should be substantially eliminated, and ONLY those which are genuinely designed to ensure fair play should be reinstated.

That’s it – all very simple, in essence. It would of course decimate the useless Brazilian industries, but it would be like scything through the weeds, leaving a level playing field for genuine entrepreneurship and the development of good businesses (whoever develops them – be it Brazilians, Americans, South Koreans or Eskimos). It might even encourage the so-called “first world” businesses (who sell their shares on the basis of their ethical policies, while selling tat at an overprice to developing countries to pay for the discounts they are forced to give the more demanding first world consumers – Ford, Electrolux, Nestle etc – they are all guilty) to become more ethical  – who knows? The end result will be a healthier economy and a huge incentive for people to get educated and get to grips with the real world that turns on the other side of the glass bubble.

An added benefit  – one of many – would be the elimination at a stroke of all the corrupt, inefficient, expensive and wholly unnecessary industry that surrounds the policing of the corrupt, inefficient, expensive and wholly unnecessary protectionist barriers which drag at the feet of all Brazilian businesses and crush any genuine entrepreneurship that might show signs of springing up.

A clear case for “Just do it.”

See the original Top 10 Things Brazil Must Do.

Posted in Brazil, Economy, Politics, The Amazon | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Things Brazil must improve – 1 The Legal System

judge_porsche

A federal judge caught using the seized assets of ex-Millionaire Eike Batista. What system can produce a judge that thinks this is acceptable?

Let me state at the outset that I am not a lawyer, nor do I fully understand the legal system in Brazil. I do know however, by observation and experience, that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – remotely just about it on any level. I offer my thoughts on what might be some of the causes and what might need to be done, but would love to hear from others who have considered the problem.

Entry to the System

Lawyers are created in Brazil in much the same way as they are created anywhere else, although the abysmal quality of education in Brazil means that many an idiot gets through simply because they have the money or the influence to avoid any undue merit-based interference. It is also a fact that the qualification process is much shorter than in the USA or Europe, and depends simply on obtaining a law degree and passing an exam. Once they are “in”, lawyers often specialize, since Brazil’s written laws are archaic, badly written, verbose in the extreme and generally designed to favour those who have money (money to pay lawyers, money to wait, money for bribes etc). It can be truthfully said that all Brazilian lawyers are corrupt, but let’s put this in context – everyone in Brazil is corrupt in one way or another. It is really asking the impossible, I would suggest, to demand that lawyers in a wholly corrupt society should be totally honest, and let’s face it, a lot of the scum they have to deal with hardly merit much honest justice.  Nonetheless, we have to start somewhere, and one would want to start with the system of justice.

The Judiciary

The problem is that as lawyers move up the legal food chain, they essentially lose touch with reality, become very wealthy, become used to dealing with a legal system which is not fit for purpose, and eventually become judges. Many judges here are amongst the most corrupt, incompetent and least productive in the known universe. And so the whole system is protected, inward looking, self-satisfied, vain-glorious and inherently unjust, which is not what Brazil needs from its system of justice.  Anyone who doubts this should look at the very recent case of judge Flavio Roberto de Souza, caught using assets seized in a court case (including a Porsche, a grand piano and a fabergé egg)  and allowed to resign with a full pension, instead of being summarily disbarred, fined, and disqualified from receiving any further state money. Any system which can produce this sort of judge and which deals with an issue in this sort of way is clearly a joke.

What do we do?

But how do you resolve the situation? Unfortunately as someone recently said, the plane needs to be fixed in flight;  radical surgery needs to be performed without killing the patient. Obviously entrance to the legal system – whether at a clerical or any other level – must be based on merit and merit alone.  The system of qualification should be overhauled and anyone who wants to be a lawyer should be required to work for at least a year in the USA or Europe or Australia (in law – not behind a bar or sitting in Daddy’s Miami apartment bought with laundered money). They should be very well paid, but this should be conditional on ongoing professional development and testing, and lawyers, judges and any associated businesses or legal practices should be subject to auditing on an annual basis (effective auditing). The merest suspicion of impropriety should be sufficient to have them disbarred.

Codified Law

In the case of the system itself, the codified law needs to be completely reviewed, and made relevant to a modern society. This is obviously an immense task, but needs to be tackled.   The additional precedent law will improve over time once the incompetent boobies at the top are weeded out.

Devolution

Courts should be devolved further, to the municipalities, so that the system of justice takes months rather than years, and the ability of a judge to interfere directly in cases should be fundamentally restricted – in other words it should be the lawyers who ‘work’ the case, under the eyes of the court/judge – not the judge who  works the case (as it stands at present, it is basically enough for you to know the judge to be able to avoid the vagaries of the law, and if your lawyer is friendly with the judge, you will often win your case regardless of legal niceties like guilt or innocence).

One rule for all

On the subject of guilt or innocence, exceptions and qualifications to the rule of law across the board (chiefly, but not exclusively, for politicians) need to be reviewed and substantially eliminated so that there is equal treatment of all citizens before the law.  The fact that this obvious requirement has never been fully implemented is on its own sufficient to make a mockery of the entire system.

And just so we can understand it

Finally, all legal documentation, of any kind whatsoever, should be completely re-written in plain Portuguese, such that the meanest intelligence can understand it.

NEXT: Trade barriers – What they have done to Brazil and why they should be torn down.

See the original Top 10 list here

Posted in Brazil, Culture, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Caindo no Real (getting real)

One man you wouldn't trust to hold your pint while you go to the toilet.

One man you wouldn’t trust to hold your pint while you go to the toilet.

There is an interesting piece today by the NYT, and it is morbidly gratifying to see that the foreign press is finally beginning to get something of the measure of the crisis here. It should be noted however that the comment on Collor, the former president who we are told “resigned in 1992 under suspicion of corruption and later resurrected his career as a senator”, is somewhat ingenuous. He was in fact found guilty of corruption, which verdict was subsequently overturned on a technicality. He was also banned from holding public office for 8 years. Few people doubt that he was one of the most corrupt of Brazil’s leaders in recent history, and the recent seizure of his various Ferraris and Lamborghinis in an investigation into the Petrobras affair would seem to suggest he has not changed much in the last twenty five years or more.

The fact that the people of the state of Alagoas have succeeded in electing him to the Brazilian senate is less a comment on his political ability or suitability, and more an indication of the pervasive gullibility and lack of critical thinking of the electorate, who consistently vote the country´s overwhelmingly  under-qualified, over-confident, narrow-minded, self-seeking, corrupt and incompetent political classes to power.

Posted in Brazil, Culture, Economy, Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment