Brazil’s Congress moves to mollify protesters

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Brazil’s Congress scrapped a proposal that would have restricted the power of prosecutors to investigate corruption, as the country’s politicians seek to mollify the mass street protest movement that shook the nation this month.

The house rejected the constitutional amendment on prosecutors’ powers known as “PEC 37” and also worked into the early hours of Wednesday morning to approve a proposal to allocate royalties from oil and gas to education and health.

“We will be able to invest more in teachers with these resources,” said the author of the legislation, congressman André Figueiredo.

The rush by Congress to appease public opinion follows a proposal by President Dilma Rousseff to hold a plebiscite on political reform.

The proposed plebiscite was part of a five-pronged plan in which the president also proposed spending more on public services and transport, the issue that originally sparked off the protests.

“It is a strategy by Rousseff to buy time, to convey a sense of boldness,” said João Augusto de Castro Neves of Eurasia Group.

The attempt by politicians to respond to the country’s biggest mass demonstrations since 1992, when former President Fernando Collor was impeached for corruption, came as protesters turned out on Tuesday for a semifinal of the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the World Cup, in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais state.

About 50,000 demonstrators gathered in the city with some clashing with police near the stadium. Tear gas was fired and 24 people have been detained, newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported

The “PEC 37” constitutional amendment had proposed limiting the powers of the Ministério Publico, or public prosecutors, to investigate corruption.

This was seen as an attempt by Congress to protect itself from the ministry, which has uncovered numerous corruption schemes among politicians of all hues.

In one of its biggest recent cases, federal prosecutors were behind the prosecution in the Supreme Court of the Mensalão case, a vote-buying scheme in Congress in which senior members of the ruling Workers’ party were sentenced to jail.

Brazilians have watched with revulsion as some of those convicted in the scheme, known as mensaleiros, have continued to serve in Congress pending appeal.

In a sign of the eagerness of the house to please the protesters, Congress voted to overturn the bill by 430 votes to nine, according to newspaper Valor Economico. Earlier the bill had the support of 207 congressmen.

Mr Figueiredo, the author of the royalties proposal, said it would increase the resources being allocated from the oil and gas sector to education and health from R$25.8bn to R$335.8bn.

But economists said throwing more money at Brazil’s public services would not solve the problem.

“The response of Brazil’s government to recent unrest suggests a willingness to engage with protesters’ concerns, but also reveals a fundamental misdiagnosis of the underlying issue,” said London-based Capital Economics. “The problem lies with poor governance rather than a lack of spending.”

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