Global Research Bytes: Procurements and Corruption in Brazil


Global Research Bytes: Procurements and Corruption in Brazil

Beatriz Silva da Costa headshot
Transcript of Interview with Beatriz Silva da Costa

Emily Mellen 0:06
Welcome to Global Research Bytes. I'm Emily Mellen and I'm here with Beatriz Silva da Costa, a PhD student in Politics at UVA. Hi Beatriz.


Beatriz Silva da Costa 0:15
Hi, Emily. Thanks for having me. 


Emily Mellen 0:16
Your current project "Campaign Donations and Public Procurements: Brazilian Procurements Playbacks Before and After the 2015 Electoral Reform" explores if and how public procurements in Brazil can be used to reward campaign donations from firm donors. Can you tell us more about public procurements and about this project?


Beatriz Silva da Costa
Yes, of course. So, this idea came actually out of a first fieldwork that I did two years ago in Brazil, when I was trying to explore more the whole accountability and the corruption in institutions in the country and public procurements came out of these interviews as a factor there that really drives corruption the country and that was very new to me. So, I was like, hmm, I wonder if there is more to that and started, like, researching more about public procurements and, you know, state purchases around Brazil and there was not a lot of literature about that topic. There is a lot about the same topic in Latin America, but not as much in Brazil. I wonder if, because I like studies of corruption, stuff like that, I was like, I wonder if I could, like, try to explore political donations, which is a very common practice in these studies around Latin American countries about public procurements. I wonder if I could replicate that idea to the Brazilian context. And after two big corruption scandals in Brazil, there was a law that happened in 2015 that prohibited campaign donations from firms, basically because firms, in Brazil, used to pretty much pay, you know, politicians in order to for them to award those firms in the future via public procurements. So, that's pretty much how the idea came out. It is related to my dissertation, even though my dissertation is not necessarily about firm donations, but I thought it was a good way to start, taking a a deeper, like ,look, and try to understand the whole, you know, scenario about public procurements in Brazil. So, that was an exploratory, you know, first step paper, kind of, to explore and to give me an idea of topics that I could potentially, you know, use for my dissertation prospectus.


Emily Mellen 2:44
And as you've sort of alluded to, this summer you traveled to Brazil to do this research, to interview bureaucrats who deal directly with public procurements. Can you tell us a little bit about your interview or ethnographic techniques and about how this process went? And what did you learn?


Beatriz Silva da Costa 3:00
Yes, so, basically I interviewed bureaucrats, but also a few politicians, and also third actors, like NGOs, private firms, all of those actors that work, to some extent, to either the execution or the planning of public purchases, things like that. I basically created a structured interview where the whole idea was like, okay, you are the person who deals with those procurements on a daily basis, like, what are the biggest challenges for, you know, the state to effectively use anti-corruption measures? Like, is that even a thing? What are the biggest challenges that, like, the state faces to purchase something for the public good in terms of quality, price, fair competition, especially because in Brazil cartels and bid rigging [are], sadly, factors that try to undermine the democratic process of those procurements, which, at the end of the day, is going to impact someone's life, right? Because Brazil, which was also another factor that drove me, spends roughly 12, 13 percent of its GDP on public procurement and on purchases. So, I was like, okay, what is the quality of these purchases? So, [those were] basically the kind of questions that I was trying to understand with those bureaucrats, because at the end of the day, they are the ones who make the decisions about what is going to be bought, from whom, what quantity, and things like that. So, I wanted to have a really holistic feel of the process.


Emily Mellen 4:52
That's really interesting. So, how did you become interested in this topic?


Beatriz Silva da Costa 4:57
Yeah, so, as I said, this project itself, the first idea came out of my first fieldwork. The one that I just finished this summer was my second and it was specifically on public procurement. The first one came out of these explorations in which I was trying to understand more the biggest challenges in terms of corruption, and especially political corruption, and bureaucracy in Brazil, since the data and the literature talks about that as being, like, a challenging factor for Brazil and, you know, for pretty much any developing country, to overcome. And I thought that, you know, since I'm a political scientist in training, having the initiative to take a look [at] those aspects that for me as a citizen are also valued. And it also has implications in terms of, you know, people's lives. I thought that was a good way to combine my own training, also, with public administration, bureaucracy accountability that are aspects that for me, as a citizen of Brazil, I value. So, basically, that was like a personal motive there, which, of course, I'm trying to like, okay, how can I use my education to some extent to try to, you know, make a contribution to my country?


Emily Mellen 6:23
Yeah, that's great, sort of an ethical motivation. So, following this project, what are your next steps as you approach your dissertation and the rest of your time at UVA?


Beatriz Silva da Costa 6:33
Yeah, so, as of now, I am in the time, I'm in the stage, of finalizing, pretty much, analyzing these interviews, and I'm trying to, for the PhD journey itself, I'm trying to write and finish my dissertation proposal, that hopefully is going to be defended by next year. And I'm trying to have an holistic perspective of, okay, now that I, you know, I got those insights from that first paper about firm donations, which used to be a very common channel for corruption in Brazil, but now that is forbidden, as of now, like, what are the other aspects that the state itself should be paying more attention to, one, you know, improve the quality of the purchases? There's like a a very good literature on the active waste of public purchases and there is no such thing about Brazil. So, I thought that I could start there. That that would be a good start. I'm trying to look, basically, from two different angles, like, what are the main challenges that also bureaucrats face on a, you know, on a daily basis to implement and execute the public policies that are drafted by our politicians? And, on the other hand, you know, how can the system itself facilitate their work in a way that can, you know, enhance the chances of such purchases being made more efficiently and, at the end of the day, ethically as well, in a way to, to some extent, decrease the corruption level of such processes that is, I believe, very common. Basically, I think I'm trying to understand what are the biggest, like, maybe three factors. They're like, okay, if I had the chance to meet with, you know, an important institution in Brazil from the government that cares about this and if I could deliver this product, like, what as, you know, an academic and as an expert in that field, like, what could be my contribution about? So, I'm pretty much in that phase.


Emily Mellen 8:58
That's great. Thank you so much for chatting with me today and we look forward to seeing you as you continue in your career at UVA. 


Beatriz Silva da Costa 9:04
Thank you so much, Emily. Have a good day.