MEC – a historic scandal

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By FERNANDO BONADIA DE OLIVEIRA*

The current Ministry of Education is not a pioneer in the practice of projects that flirt with transparent or hidden corruption

When Health gained its own ministry, in 1953, the acronym MEC was invented: the Ministry of Education and Culture was formed. It was time for a ministerial reformulation in the government of Getúlio Vargas, who in the first moment of his provisional government, in 1930, had created the Ministry of Education and Public Health Affairs. Before Getúlio Vargas, something resembling a ministry of education came from the ephemeral Ministry of Public Instruction, Posts and Telegraphs, formed shortly after the coup d'état, in April 1890 and dissolved in September 1892.

To explain the current MEC, however, it is not necessary to go back to 1953, after all, only later did it gain the exact features of today, operating as a contract and business desk that constrains Brazilian education to remain, as much as possible, immobilized or unable to meet minimum social needs. In the best periods, the ministry maintained the unequal institutional structure of education with measured and palliative changes, well restrained, which bordered on the best intentions of the developmental and military principle with its compensatory policies; in the worst periods, like now, it reinforces educational inequality with robust setbacks, which border on the most perverse primitivism of slave society.

To quickly reach the current MEC, we must rediscover the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education (Law n. 4.024 of December 20, 1961) which gave autonomy to state and municipal education bodies, decentralizing the activities of the ministry. The direct result of decentralization seems to have been the centralization of the MEC in the hands of rogue mediators from the Brazilian military service who, since 1964, entered into abnormal pacts with USAID (the United States Agency for International Development).

The first signature that committed the MEC to USAID was made on June 26, 1964. The pact promised an amount “not exceeding 375 thousand dollars” to support, “for two years”, “a group of six specialists in education that would help the Ministry in its program to improve primary education in Brazil”.[I] The first agreement was signed on June 23, 1965, but “the first official information” about it “only came to light in November 1966, even so in a fragmentary and imprecise manner”.[ii] Transparency has never been the strength of the MEC-USAID agreements. Lauro de Oliveira Lima, by the way, stated in 1968: “It is the first time, as far as we know, that the educational planning of a country is the subject of secrecy for the very people who will use it…”.[iii]

The truth is that, in the very happy formulation of Márcio Alves, what was wanted with USAID was “to implant in the Brazilian educational system (…) privatization, the best way to slow down development”.[iv] In 1976, USAID itself began to see problems in financing educational projects in the country, as the Brazilian government was directing investments predominantly to the private sectors of education. Among this and other information, researcher José Wellington Germano recalls that such “privileges and incentives granted to the private sector” ended up “degenerating into abuses and corruption, reaching 18 billion in 1982 alone”.[v] These are inevitable consequences arising from the transformation of the Ministry of Education into a business desk destined to favor privatism.

Even in the best phases, it should be noted, the MEC did not stop serving the interests of private education groups. Fernando Haddad, who for the first time proposed a comprehensive reform of Brazilian education, from pre-school to post-graduation (the Education Development Plan), took over the management of MEC – as he himself declared[vi] – after his merits in giving birth to PROUNI. PROUNI, as is known, functioned as a machine for transposing public funds that ended up boosting, despite budget transparency, the private education network.

The current ministry is not, therefore, a pioneer in the practice of projects that flirt with transparent or hidden corruption (public or secret) of contracts with private initiatives of all kinds. The novelty brought by the current accusation is that, in addition to the constant action of international interests in the immobility of the Brazilian educational structure, the business desk of the MEC would have counted on the protagonism of two evangelical pastors who, at the request of the President of the Republic, regulated – together with the Minister of Education, Milton Ribeiro – funds from the FNDE (National Fund for the Development of Education) through the request for bribes. The scandalous accusation, as with the MEC-USAID agreements, was revealed by the press and then, little by little, ended up being confirmed by countless other testimonies.

For those who do not understand the reason for the presence of evangelical pastors in the MEC (or who are surprised by this), just remember the first impression that professor Luiz Carlos de Freitas recorded on his website, Educational Assessment, on January 3, 2019, when the Bolsonaro government had not even completed a week in office. According to him, after the reformist entrepreneurialism that had occupied the ministry with ever-increasing spaces since 2016, the turn of the “new evangelizers” had arrived. When referring to the ministerial contraption created by Bolsonaro's MEC in the first second of his inauguration, he noted: “The Bolsonarist contraption brought together conservatives, who we could call 'new evangelizers', associated with a handful of engineers”; the team was committed to "dismantling the ministry and not, as might be expected, managing education."[vii]

Therefore, it is not really surprising to find that the MEC's ​​historical business desk has now turned to evangelical interests, supporting the allocation of resources and efforts of the ministry to the manufacture and distribution of bibles or similar activities. Those who know the history of the MEC cannot, in fact, be surprised when they discover the existence of bribe payments to finance education in municipalities; he is not at all surprised to learn that Minister Milton Ribeiro's attention has been focused (as he himself said[viii]) first of all in the municipalities that “need it most” and only then in the “friends of Pastor Gilmar”, the latter a friend of the president himself.

Even before the first month of the Bolsonaro government, it was already possible to foresee an even greater reduction in the powers of the State in conducting the destinies of Brazilian education. It was seen that the new ministerial team would be responsible for ensuring “evangelization”, that is, defending an ideological strategy whereby the portfolio would be fully dedicated “to a few activities with a view to a scenario in which the government leaves the process of managing education at all levels, acting as an inducer/regulator of privatization (vouchers, outsourcing, homeschooling)”.[ix]

What could not be imagined was that with the spread of the new coronavirus (and the consequent state of a pandemic) the perfect stage would be formed for many cattle to pass through various ministries, including that of Education. With schools closed and churches open, the context favored even more the rogue action that has always been the practice of dictatorships: corrupting educational institutions politically and administratively, and accusing of political and administrative corruption all those who stand up to defend public education, free and democratic.

What makes the plot of the most recent scandal even more disastrous is that the situation of having such vile corruption, discovered in the midst of electoral agitation, ends up covering up reality: it was not the current managers who invented corruption in the MEC. Wherever there is a ministry operating as a trading desk between public funds and private initiative, corruption will continue to parade, in a more or less apparent way. It is not, therefore, the case of a specific management problem of the MEC, but of thinking about the refoundation of the MEC, which has – it is worth saying – a respectable technical framework for this.

*Fernando Bonadia de Oliveira is professor of philosophy of education at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ).

 

Notes


[I] Alves, Marcio Moreira. The MEC-USAID baby. Rio de Janeiro: Gernasa, 1968, p 79.

[ii] Lima, Lauro de Oliveira. Preface. In: Alves, Márcio Moreira. The MEC-USAID baby. Rio de Janeiro: Gernasa, 1968, p 7.

[iii] Ditto, p. 8.

[iv] Alves, op. cit., p. 14.

[v] Germano, Jose Wellington. Military state and education in Brazil (1964-1985). Sao Paulo: Cortez; Campinas: Editora da Unicamp, 1993, p. 204.

[vi] See the first minutes of the interview given by the minister to the Instituto Unibanco Channel. Available in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SUL3BLYXUA

[vii] Freitas, Luiz Carlos de. The “new evangelizers”. Educational Assessment (03/01/2019). Available in: https://avaliacaoeducacional.com/2019/01/03/os-novos-evangelizadores/

[viii] See “Minister of Education says to prioritize friends of pastors…”. Current Brazil Network (22/03/2022). Available in: https://www.redebrasilatual.com.br/politica/2022/03/ministro-educacao-pastores-pedido-bolsonaro/

[ix] Freitas, “The New Evangelizers”.

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