Brazil’s Amazing New Anti-Corruption Law

Posted on September 7, 2010


Once again Brazil is in the forefront of political action, this time domestic.

[South America’s largest Democracy] is taking huge strides to wash away corruption in politics with a groundbreaking new law referred to as Ficha Limpa – which means ‘clean slate’ in English. The law would permanently bar anybody from running for any political office (in municipal, state or federal elections) who has any corruption charges (or even allegations) pending against them.

But the law is even more far reaching, and bars candidates who have been expelled from any professional organisations, such as lawyers who have been kicked out of a bar association.

“Every country has political corruption of some sort – the United States, Germany, Israel – but what we are doing here in Brazil with this ‘clean slate’ law is to add morals to our electoral process and increase the quality of the candidates,” Luciano Santos, a lawyer who helped spearhead the law, told Al Jazeera.

“The candidates that remain in the election should be those who have a public life that meets – or exceeds – the standards to represent citizens and voters.” [aljazeera.net]

How could this happen in the Brazilian Congress just prior to national elections this October?

The roots of the law can be traced back to an organisation called the Movement to Combat Electoral Corruption (MCCE), an umbrella group comprising over 43 like-minded NGOs and organisations.

Campaigners from MCCE said few politicians wanted to sponsor an anti-corruption bill in congress, so the organisation took advantage of a little-known, and almost never implemented, ‘popular initiative’ clause in congress that says with signatures from one per cent of the Brazilian population a bill can be taken up in congress.

Only four bills in Brazilian history have reached congress in such a manner.

In September of last year, after 18 months of signature collecting, the law organisers forwarded to congress 1.7 million signatures. Soon after, another two million people registered their support for the bill online.

“At that point senators and lawmakers felt pressure to approve the law,” Santos said. “That is the importance of the popular initiative. The people’s will.”

In the US, anyone can write a bill but only Congress can introduce bills.  However,  the power of petition by citizens is granted under the first Amernment. [whitehouse.gov]

The right of petition is expressly set out in the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
— from the First Amendment

The petition clause concludes the First Amendment’s ringing enumeration of expressive rights and, in many ways, supports them all. Petition is the right to ask government at any level to right a wrong or correct a problem.

Although a petition is only as meaningful as its response, the petitioning right allows blocs of public interests to form, harnessing voting power in ways that effect change. The right to petition allows citizens to focus government attention on unresolved ills; provide information to elected leaders about unpopular policies; expose misconduct, waste, corruption, and incompetence; and vent popular frustrations without endangering the public order. [First AmendmentCenter.org]

With the growing list of corrupt Congressmen and women, we citizens need to get serious about a petition that, to the greatest extent possible, will weed them out before they are elected.  At the very least, we need to remind Congress that we  are watching and prepared to take action to address what they will not.