Lula and public ethics


Source: O Globo, 21/02/2008

It was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that President Lula attempts to publicly excuse an ally of his who had to leave the government for misusing public money. Yesterday, he claimed that the secretary of Racial Integration Matilde Ribeiro "did not commit any crime", but only "administrative failures" in the use of the corporate card. Failures such as spending “by mistake” R $ 461,16 in a free shop, or using the corporate card to pay expenses of R $ 2.969,01, from December 17, 2007 to January 1, when he was officially on vacation . In total, the exministra's “administrative failures” cost the public coffers, in 2007, R $ 171,5 thousand.

This permanent dispute between ethics and political activity is not exclusive to Brazil, nor to the current government. But this is, without a doubt, an administration that does not fear confrontation with the values ​​of Brazilian society, supported by the popularity of the president and his ability to trivialize the ethical issue.

The recent Sensus survey, which showed Lula's formidable rates of personal acceptance with the population, also revealed that more than 70% of the majority who were informed about the case of corporate cards consider that it has the potential to affect the image of the president .

As the good performance of the economy favors the dampening of indignation at the embezzlement of public money, Lula is going ahead with his government without worrying about the CPI of the Card, as he said recently. But he takes care of controlling all the important posts in the commission so that he still has no reason to worry.

As this is a recurring subject, I also, from time to time, return to the issue of ethics in politics, and I have used more than once the comments of Norberto Bobbio on Max eber's “ethics of responsibility”, as I did yesterday.

As ex-minister Marcílio Marques Moreira, president of the Public Ethics Commission and of the Advisory Council of the Brazilian Institute of Ethics in Competition - ETCO, in the preface to a book on the “culture of transgressions”, to be launched in the coming days, addresses the theme of “Our leniency with impunity, with ethical deviations, with trickery and even with more serious faults”.

He, who is at the center of a controversy with the Minister of Labor, Carlos Lupi, who resists failing to accumulate his position with the PDT presidency, makes clear in this text what he thinks about the relationship between politics and ethics.

Without citing Lula directly, Marcílio addresses the various arguments used to justify what he identifies as “a tendency to excuse the figures involved in limine”: from the allegations that the transgressions happened 500 years ago, to the need to ensure “governability” in political system of “coalition presidency”.

“The ethics of principles would be appropriate only for opposition politicians, whose actions, by nature, would be inconsequential.

The politician in the government would have his own responsibility and ethics, independent of 'principisms' or 'formalistic moralisms', hypocritical ways of acting in politics ”, summarizes Marcílio.

Using a concept by Amartya Sem, an Indian economist Nobel Prize winner, who says that the divorce between politics and ethics does these two branches of the social sciences a disservice, impoverishing both of them, Marcílio starts to analyze the question in the light of two texts: Machiavelli, in “The Prince”, and Max eber, who in “Politics as a Vocation”, coined the classic distinction between the ethics of conviction or conscience and the ethics of responsibility or consequences.

Marcílio points out that Max eber, although he considers the ethics of responsibility to be typical of politics, believes that “the political agent, in the last instance, cannot escape the ethics of conscience, when the two are in insurmountable contradiction”.

In fact, says Marcílio, eber perceives them not “as radical contrasts, but as complementary elements, which only serve together the authentic man, who will choose politics as a vocation”.

The president of the council also analyzes the affirmation, attributed sometimes to Machiavelli and sometimes to the Jesuits, that the ends would justify the means, "a proposition that would also be implicitly underlying the ethics of Eberian responsibility".

For Marcílio, “not every means can be justified by the ends, because, when intrinsically perverse, it ends up contaminating its own ends or eroding citizens' trust in institutions and political actors, a serious threat to the very social fabric that, in order not to fray, depends mutual trust, its strongest amalgam ”.

Marcílio recalls that "the economy initially appeared as a branch of ethics, a close relationship lost during the height of 'wild capitalism', but which, fortunately, is being found by modern entrepreneurs".

Citing Norberto Bobbio, Marcílio points out that "it is only in really exceptional circumstances - in cases where the exception confirms the rule - that the end can justify the means". But he emphasizes Bobbio's warning: "only when the end aims at the effective achievement of the common good".

Even for Machiavelli, the means must be justified by the search for "great things" or "for the health of the country".

And this, "when it is not about potential dictators, who list themselves - like those recently affected by Bolivarian ravages - in saviors of the country seeking, above all, to expand their own power".

Marcílio uses a definition of the sharp irony of San Tiago Dantas to put this “achievement of the common good” into perspective: “Wanting to save is sublime, judging oneself a savior, is ridiculous”.