The dismantling of the Brazilian State


Author: Eduardo Bittencourt Carvalho

Source: O Estado de S. Paulo, 29/08/2007

The democratic state plays a fundamental role in modern society. The ability to occupy spaces where organization via the market is inefficient makes it possible to produce public goods essential for the well-being of the population. In a decisive way, the State organizes the private sphere, reducing externalities, whose elimination via the free market is impossible. However, public administration is a complex challenge. Its operation requires permanent bureaucracy, charged with planning, organizing and executing state action. Naturally, there is also the need to control the State's activities.

The inability to perfect public administration monitoring is a typical problem of the principal agent. The asymmetry of information between society and public actors allows the bureaucratic body to divert state action from meeting collective demands. In general, threats to the good management of public affairs can be summed up in three generic concepts: corruption, clientelism and income capture. In all three, the distortion of state action provokes a chain reaction, whose damage to society far exceeds the already costly diversion of resources.

Corruption, for example, in addition to the illicit enrichment of members of the state bureaucracy, damages the collective interest in distorting the functioning of the public sector. This category includes unnecessary, overpriced or poorly executed works. Clientelism and income capture, in turn, provoke the privatization of part of the State, which, maintained by society, ceases to serve it. The first, in addition to the diversion of resources, elects segments of the population to be privileged. The second leads to the appearance of activities with no social function.

The typical figure of income capture is the dispatcher who profits from the inefficiency and slowness of the public administration. Unfortunately, the analysis of the current situation in the Brazilian State is discouraging. The chaos of Brazilian aviation is a predictable catastrophe, produced by a cruel mixture of these three evils. The co-optation of Regulatory Agencies by private interests, especially the National Civil Aviation Agency (Anac), left Brazilian society very far from the safe means of transportation that characterizes air transport. Before the advent of low cost companies, Congonhas was a complementary airport to Cumbica. Today, it has become the center of Brazilian aviation. What interest? Clientelism relations, in turn, took the bulk of Infraero's investments to the Northeast and North States of Brazil.

And what was done in São Paulo? Priority was given to the modernization of the passenger terminal and the expansion of parking. However, amazingly, the runway renovation was postponed to the maximum, as if security was found in luxury boutiques, in airport lounges. It cannot be forgotten that these same wounds prevented airports, roads and railways from developing. The pain caused by thousands of losses on federal highways is immeasurable. There is no Brazilian state in which there is no death road. Not to mention the lack of security and a public quality education and health system. In this sad scenario, only dispatchers and tax collectors thrive. The latest measures to deal with the crisis illustrate this process of dismantling the Brazilian State.

Much of the progress observed in public management is being put to the test. The weakening of regulatory agencies, as exemplified by the case of Anac, is a sign that things should not improve. The centralizing attitude of the current Minister of Defense may seem promising, but he condemns all Brazilians to continue to live with the current political winds. Professionalization of the sector is not promoted, nor are adequate mechanisms created to control civil aviation.

The state government itself cannot be exempted from guilt, as it has not invested in the necessary infrastructure to access the Cumbica and Viracopos Airports. This sad fate only begs the question: what will be the next tragedy announced? The democratic state is being dismantled; the Republic of corruption, clientelism and income capture rises. Is this the legacy of our children? For, surely, they will be the biggest victims.

* Eduardo Bittencourt Carvalho is an advisor and vice president of the São Paulo State Court of Auditors