The Costs of Rousseff’s Coalition Continue to Mount

The price of majority consensus in Congress is rising as the Rousseff administration muddles through yet another ugly compromise with allies.

Over the past week, the magazine Veja broke a story about how political bosses within the Ministry of Transport have siphoned-off large amounts of cash, approximately 4 to 5 percent of total funds earmarked for projects. The Minister of Transport, Alfredo Nascimento, is not from Rousseff’s PT party, instead he represents the PR, an important coalition ally in Congress.

Leadership Lacunae

When corruption scandals of this magnitude surface, the usual response is for leaders to resign or be forced out. However, when the minister is from a key party in the President’s governing coalition and this party’s legislators and leadership are implicated in the siphoning scheme, the choice is either to slap a few wrists and keep the coalition together, or let heads roll and risk losing support and majority dominance. Rousseff forced out most of Minister Nascimento’s subordinates but the boss himself has stayed.

Rousseff’s response undermines leadership– hers and Nascimento’s both. If all those around the Minister were engaged in embezzlement, there is no question whose head should have rolled to set things straight up top. Nascimento has run the Ministry since 2004. Today Globo issued a special report on the long legacy of corruption within the Ministry of Transportation.

Driving Out of Control?

Rousseff has complained, according to Veja, that the Ministry of Transportation is “without control”; prices of highways and other projects have been dramatically “inflated”. Ironically, Nascimento has entreated Rousseff for an additional $10 billion Reales (about $6.5 billion dollars) to make up for shortfalls.

The opposition is calling for a congressional investigation, or at the very least a ministerial resignation. But Rousseff remains unmoved, even despite other recent episodes that have cast doubt on government’s commitment to greater accountability and transparency.

During the past two weeks Rousseff waffled on her support for a freedom of information bill awaiting definitive approval in the Senate (41/2010). She alternately supported and then denied demands for its delay and weakening–again, it was coalition allies that the President sought to appease.


  • Thanks Greg. I missed this. I read the Veja and Globo articles you linked. It is nice to see some investigative journalism and sad to see the historical lack of real punitive action and deterrence. I remember a friend telling me a condition of a countries/municipalities roads what a good indicator of corruption. That said perhaps corruption investigators ought to take up permanent residence in side every ministry of transportation office in the country.

    • Glad you liked it, Steve. You’re right, roads might be a good proxy indicator for corruption, if only you could measure how deteriorated they were– perhaps counting the potholes by city/district/state. Interested?

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