October 8, 2015 9:59 am
Brazil’s federal budget watchdog, the TCU, has rejected President Dilma Rousseff’s 2014 public accounts in a historic decision the opposition is expected to use as the basis for an impeachment process against her.
The decision, announced on Wednesday night, is the second prong in proceedings that could result in the ousting of the president.
It comes a day after Brazil’s election watchdog, the TSE, opened an investigation into alleged illegal funding of Ms Rousseff’s 2014 election campaign — which could end her presidency if she is found guilty under Brazilian law. Ms Rousseff denies wrongdoing in both cases.
“This will definitely lead to an impeachment process,” said Sérgio Praça, a political scientist at FGV in Rio de Janeiro, of the TCU decision.
Only 10 months into her second four-year term, Ms Rousseff is locked in a battle for political survival.
With the economy slipping into deep recession as a result of the end of the commodities boom, the president of the left-leaning Workers’ Party, or PT, is trying to restore balance to Brazil’s sinking finances.
At the same time, members of Ms Rousseff’s ruling coalition have been accused of conspiring with company directors and contractors of state-owned oil operator Petrobras to extract bribes and kickbacks.
The combination of sinking economic growth and the stench of corruption has driven Ms Rousseff’s popularity to a record low, leaving her vulnerable to impeachment.
In a long session on Wednesday night, the judges of the TCU congratulated themselves on their hard work and independence in coming to their decision.
“The tribunal recommends to the National Congress the rejection of the accounts,” the TCU said in a statement. “A recommendation to reject the accounts has not occurred since 1937.”
The problem with the government is that it does not have control over the national congress
- Celso Mello, political scientist
The TCU cited illegal government manoeuvres, such as running up debts with the state banks for the payment of expenses such as social welfare that should have been included in the budget. These alleged pedaladas or tricks enabled Ms Rousseff to pretend the budget was in good shape during elections last year, critics say, when it was in fact heading further into deficit.
The TCU’s ruling will now go to the congress where it will land in the coming days on the desk of the house speaker, Eduardo Cunha, a sworn enemy of the Rousseff administration even though he is affiliated with its main coalition partner, the PMDB.
Ms Rousseff has been trying to prevent Mr Cunha and the opposition from getting the necessary numbers in congress to kick off the impeachment process byrebuilding her cabinet with more loyal PMDB figures.
Her position appeared to have been strengthened last week when Mr Cunha’s credibility was shaken by news Swiss authorities were investigating him for alleged money laundering and corruption. Mr Cunha, who has also been named by state witnesses in the Petrobras case, has denied any wrongdoing.
Despite her efforts, however, Ms Rousseff this week failed to muster a quorum in congress to force the lower house to pass presidential vetoes of budgetary measures introduced by lawmakers that would blow a hole in her austerity efforts. While the vetoes are likely to eventually pass, her weakness in congress so soon after the cabinet reshuffle is a bad sign.
“The problem with the government is that it does not have control over the national congress,” said Celso Mello, political scientist at business school Insper.
Even so, an impeachment process promises to be long and bloody with no assurance that it would result in the removal of Ms Rousseff, said Mr Praça of FGV.
He argues that there still does not exist enough support for an impeachment decision against Ms Rousseff. Such a decision would require two-thirds of the lower house to kick off the process and two-thirds of the senate to decide on its merits.
“The outcome could be the worst possible, which would be to start the impeachment process and then drag it out for months while Dilma remains in office,” he said.
Throughout the recent political turmoil, Ms Rousseff’s mentor and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been rumoured to be working behind the scenes to secure her position, organising the cabinet reshuffle, for example.
But Mr Praça said if that was the case, Mr Lula da Silva appeared to have lost his touch. Ms Rousseff’s decision on the cabinet reshuffle was a case of too little too late.
“If Lula were still as influential as he claims to be or people claim he is, this series of mistakes wouldn’t have happened,” Mr Praça said.