Rio de Janeiro mysteries: incompetence at root?

Are the Civil Police capable of solving the murder of city councilwoman Marielle Franco? Can Mayor Marcelo Crivella actually run Rio? Does Governor “Pezão” manage to manage the state? And those below them? Who’s truly equipped to lead a revolution of results, just and accountable?

“I don’t want to die, I want to go to school”: incompetence kills

We hear a lot about corruption nowadays. Lately, however, as this blogger moves around the metropolis she’s gotten wind of another word: incompetence.

Clique aqui para português

Are the Civil Police protecting the killers of city council woman Marielle and her driver, Anderson, this blogger asked a public safety specialist. The answer was that the Civil Police are simply incompetent.

What happened to the Santa Teresa tram upgrade, the blog last week asked current state representative Carlos Roberto Osório, state transportation secretary during the first Pezão administration. “You had work half done, poorly contracted, with no basic study, a very generic bidding process, quite fragile,” he said, adding that the contractor, a foreign firm, lacked “financial capacity” and local experience. To top this off, no one in the state government gave thought to the water and sewerage company’s pipes running under the tracks up for renewal. Work came to a standstill so the pipes could be replaced.

Then the money ran out. Today’s short stretch of serviceable tram tracks owes its existence, says Osório, to revenue in the form of fines paid to the state by intermunicipal bus companies.

Good thing they paid the fines! And city buses? What’s going on with bus company bankruptcies, disappearing service on some lines, the long waits? According to Osório (who was also municipal transportation secretary, under mayor Eduardo Paes), the concession model, set up by Paes in 2010, is more practical than the previous permissions model, or public sector ownership — already attempted in Rio.

The basic problem is lack of information and technical capability. According to Osório, the city lacked (and still lacks) the personnel to track the degree to which concessionaires are fulfilling their end of the contract. So officials blindly accept bus companies’ information regarding costs, rubber-stamping fare increases.

Current mayor Marcelo Crivella broke with this behavior; he denied fare increases. Companies went broke.

There’s so much to shock anyone who takes a peek beyond appearances. Researching transportation for a book (really truly almost done), this blogger was surprised to discover that not an official soul in Rio thinks about, much less manages, transportation at the metropolitan level*. And few even have an overall grasp of the patchwork that it is — though approximately two million people commute daily to and from the capital.

The surprise is shared. “The municipalities each do their own planning with no coordination with the others, nor with the state government, it’s been this way for years,” Osório said. “This surprised me a great deal, when I was secretary here in the city of Rio de Janeiro, really, that there was no dialogue, no exchange.” He told the story of the 2013 collapse of a section of the Linha Vermelha (Red Line) highway. A Rio traffic planner proposed they “protect [the international airport] and Ilha do Governador, and leave [the bedroom communities of the] Baixada to their own devices.” The city of Rio runs the Linha Vermelha highway, though it cuts through the cities of Duque de Caxias and São João de Meriti.

Because it’s a particularly opaque institution, the Civil Police’s would-be incompetence gets lost in mystery, adding to general perplexity and conspiracy theories. “There’s a cloak of invisibility over the Civil Police,” says the previously cited specialist. “It doesn’t function and is controlled by no one.”

In recent years media and public safety specialists have focused on Rio’s Military Police. Perhaps the time has come to swivel the spotlight. “The big problem in public safety,” says the specialist, “is the Civil Police** […] In addition to the almost total opacity of the PCERJ, in the media as well, there’s the difficulty of combatting organized crime without any investigation. If you have a police force without due external control, enduring profound privation in a crime-ridden environment, the most you’ll get is what we have today: islands of excellence that investigate high-profile cases. The rest is the bureaucracy of crime. In other words, the movement of paper, reporting crimes. If that.”

If there’s a high-profile crime at the moment it’s the Marielle and Anderson case, the blog reminded the specialist. “Well then we have to wonder just how ‘excellent’ those ‘islands of excellence’ are,” he responded.

The state-run Instituto de Segurança Pública (Public Safety Institute) publishes data on Civil Police murder clearance rates, for homicides and violence-induced lethality. The ISP checks up on cases from 18 to 24  months after a crime is reported. So the most recent data is on homicides committed in the second half of 2016: 83.8% of the investigations are still under way. Cases of violence-induced lethality during the same period are 80.2% still open. A request to the Civil Police press department for an answer to the accusation of incompetence in the Marielle/Anderson murders produced this affirmation: “the investigations continue under strict secrecy.”

The crime took place four months ago.

The U.S. murder clearance rate in 2016 was 59.4% (the Rio rate is under 20%, as seen above).

It’s the Rio State Public Prosecutor’s office’s job to keep tabs on Rio police behavior and work conditions. GAESP, the Public Safety Special Group, is working to improve what it calls the sucateamento (literally the scrapheaping) of the PCERJ, in its “Concise report of GAESP activity in relation to the PCERJ containing a diagnostic of the current problems of the Rio de Janeiro state Civil Police.” The report, to which RioRealblog acquired access, is part of an ongoing investigation.

Missing are a sufficient number of employees, correctly functioning weapons, suitable offices, overtime payment, training and perhaps most important, a working computer system and data bank capability. In order to finish up the prosecutors’ PCERJ investigation phase and then come up with a Conduct Adjustment Commitment, one of which already exists for the Military Police, GAESP awaits answers from the state Public Safety secretariat, the state’s chief Public Prosecutor and the Federal Interventor in Rio’s state public safety apparatus.

Given its financial hardships, the specialist says, Rio’s Civil Police could be more practical. In other states, they pass simple paperwork on to the Military Police, and concentrate resources on more complex investigative tasks. No such luck, here.

There are also signs of incompetence in the military. During an incursion last year in the Salgueiro favela (before the federal intervention), military and civil police seem  — given sparse information — to have committed a serious strategic error, wounding and killing civilians at night on a little-used road. Even if you consider civilian deaths “collateral damage”, in these operations, you must agree that whoever planned this one was wrong to suppose that only fleeing drug traffickers would be on that road.

Maybe the military participants counted on the protection of the new Law # 13491, which last year transferred to the Federal Military Court crimes allegedly committed by members of the military on “missions to guarantee law and order.”

The assumption might be a good one — for now. In April, the state Public Defender’s office denounced the so-called “Chacina do Salgueiro” (Salgueiro slaughter) to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission , claiming that Law # 13491 is itself a violation of the American Human Rights Convention. We’ll see what the Commission’s response is; the Inter-American Court has already found Brazil guilty in two massacres in the Complexo do Alemão favelas and its more than tardy decision found the country’s investigation of journalist Vladimir Herzog’s 1975 death (duing the military dictatorship) to be incomplete.

July 2018 report on the Federal Intervention

The federal intervention itself may suffer from incompetence (and also from a cloak of invisibility, some complain). According to the Observatório da Intervenção (Intervention Observatory) after five months “[…] the intervention command invests a great deal in military operations and little in intelligence. The result is an increase in what people fear the most: stray bullets, crossfire and shooting. Up to now, the Armed Forces’ presence has not resulted in a perceived increase in public safety in Rio, since the intervention.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that most of the cases of would-be incompetence described here are connected to the “scrapheaping” (as Brazilians say) of institutions and public services: the tram, Cedae pipes, the bus system, metropolitan transportation, the Civil Police, public safety in general. Could it be that this weakening will lead us, some day, to reforms that have so far been resisted by those who hang onto the withering status quo?

At any rate it’s healthy for us all to think about public management competence. The terrible education system is certainly at the heart of the problem. More official accountability — more eyes — would also be useful, both to check up on service quality and to ensure the prioritization of the greater good, the client or public service beneficiary. What we need is a results revolution.

*This will change, once the state assembly votes on the bill creating and funding the Câmara de Integração Metropolitana (Metropolitan Integration Chamber), whose creation was required by a 2014 Supreme Court decision.

**Broadly speaking, Brazil’s state Military Police do street work and Civil Police do investigative work. Oddly, in Rio each force has its own elite squad.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Rio de Janeiro mysteries: incompetence at root?

  1. PTRio says:

    Great post and much needed with respect to the incompetence which governs Rio. Your examples are of a far more serious nature than those I have used, below, my point being that this is a top to bottom problem. My recollection, and from my own personal experience, is the Policia Civil were efficient, honest, college educated, and staffed with English speaking people for the benefit of the many tourists who visit Rio and add significantly to the local economy. Apparently, not so much any more. I love Rio and most people who live here, and I live here by choice. But that does not mean I need to accept what is wrong with Rio.

    In the process of obtaining a degree in political science, I came to believe any given population gets the government they deserve. Vote for a corrupt politician, get a corrupt politician. Allow a dictator to take over, get a dictator. Rio is populated by far too many incompetent, careless, quasi or fully corrupt individuals. Their corruption may, or may not, be minor in comparison with the recent political corruption but it is in my view what allows larger scale corruption to take place. Rio is likewise governed by incompetent, careless, quasi or fully corrupt individuals, elected or appointed. Occasionally, there are exceptions but it is dangerous to be the exception in a corrupt environment as we have seen. So, how it is the citizens of Rio expect to have a government which exceeds their own personal legal and moral standards is beyond me. In fact, Rio residents seem to prefer a corrupt government when it is of benefit to them, but curse it when it isn’t.

    One recent minor example, my wife and I walk the length of Ipanema Beach or Copacabana each weekend. For the FIRST TIME EVER this past weekend I saw a group of perhaps 7 Guarda Municipal (why it required that many is beyond me) directing bicycle riders to use the exclusive bicycle lanes along Ipanema on Viera Souto instead of the area occupied by pedestrians. It is simply dangerous to have bike riders (especially the new electric bikes) zooming through groups of children and older people. That is why there is a separate, and exclusive, bike lane. Some riders I saw were riding four or five side by side, taking up half the street. But, all the Guarda Municipal had ever done in the past was watch them speed by and ignore the infractions.

    Same goes for smoking marijuana on the beach. You cannot walk 10 meters on virtually any Rio beach on a weekend, or any day for that matter, without smelling marijuana smoke. It is illegal to use or possess, yet nothing is done about it. Either legalize it, which would be the best approach, or arrest these people. Allowing a population to ignore the laws they choose to ignore only leads to a loss of respect for the rule of law. And there is a serious, and dangerous, lack of respect for the rule of law in Rio.

    These are two minor examples, but they occur regularly and are signs of the disrespect and disregard many Rio residents have for authority. Rio has many silly rules and regulations, those involving public safety are not silly and should be enforced. Those which serve no beneficial purpose, such as prohibiting use of marijuana for medical purposes, and even recreational purposes, should be repealed. That would, in my view, be a positive step toward regaining respect for laws and law enforcement.

    Rio is still suffering from the grand larceny which took place during the Copa do Mundo and Olympics, and that will likely go on for another few years. It was in my view an extraordinary, positive and encouraging thing that at least some of the most corrupt politicians have been imprisoned. At some point, however, Rio needs to realize that corruption and incompetence should not be the standard for anything. It is not someone else’s problem, it is everyone’s problem. In my view, Rio residents are too willing to accept corruption and too reluctant to complain about the poor public services, they simply accept the situation as a fact of life. They may complain in a private conversation, but that is where it usually ends. It does not need to be that way. But, with Rio residents so reluctant to stand up and complain, corruption and incompetence will likely remain everyone’s problem for some time to come.

  2. Pingback: Marielle and Hope that Moves | {FAVEL issues}

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