Brazilians chase civil servants' "train of happiness"
Thu Jul 24, 2008 12:08pm EDT
By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Late into the night, students diligently
rehearse exam questions at dozens of schools in downtown Brasilia
that offer people the chance for a better, more prosperous life --
that of a Brazilian bureaucrat.
Generous pay, stability, and often easy hours will attract
applications from as many as 10 million people this year for civil
service jobs. Brazilians often refer to getting a government job as
catching the "train of happiness."
In a country with glaring poverty, grossly inadequate public
services and a towering public debt, civil servants do very well, as
the many luxurious homes with pools, servants and shiny cars in the
capital Brasilia's residential areas show.
There are an average of 700 applicants per job and some candidates
study for years to pass an entry exam.
"My parents are civil servants and I want the pay and security they
have so I can buy a house and other things," said Rodrigo Hugueney,
a 19 year-old law student in the capital Brasilia. He is applying at
one of the two state-owned banks.
The problem is that Brazil's bloated public sector is a burden on
business and the economy, leaving little money to invest in
education or infrastructure.
Business leaders frequently complain about excessive red tape and
the complex maze of requirements they face in getting environmental
licenses of even filing their taxes. Rather than slashing jobs, the
government is adding more.
Despite an economic boom in recent years, Brazil ranks poorly in
international competitiveness comparisons, due mostly to an unwieldy
state apparatus that consumes about 38 percent of gross domestic
An accountant or administrator in one of the gray-green ministries
that flank the main avenue of Brasilia's government quarters can
earn more than 10,000 reais ($6,330) a month, or roughly 20 times
the minimum wage.
A police inspector or public prosecutor can bring home twice as
much, the equivalent of around $150,000 a year. In contrast,
Brazil's per capita national income stands well below $10,000
In addition, most civil servants cannot be fired unless they break
the law and many receive pensions worth 100 percent of their last
salary upon retirement.
Such benefits resulted mostly from years of pressure by unions and
politicians eager to satisfy their constituents.
In some government agencies, such as the Federal Police or National
Revenue service, rigorous hiring, training and performance controls
But many areas remain plagued by incompetence, overstaffing and
corruption, says Jose Matias Pereira, a public administration
professor at the University of Brasilia.
"The public sector needs a major reform, a more corporate
management. But, unfortunately, that's not in sight," he said.
Experts say the work ethic has improved in recent years but remains
lax, and two-hour lunches still cause traffic jams at midday in
"People don't hang their coats and leave for the day anymore --
things have changed," said Jose Wilson Granjeiro, who was a civil
servant for 17 years and runs a school to prep candidates in
"Now you work six hours or whatever and then do another job, you can
easily double your income," he added.
Only a public outcry this month stopped ruling party and opposition
senators from appointing themselves another well-paid staffer each,
posts widely thought to favor friends or political allies.
Opinion polls show that less than 1 percent of Brazilians trust
Congress, which has been plagued by corruption scandals.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former union leader, cut some
pension benefits during his first year in office but since has hired
as many as 95,000 civil servants and is expected to hire 56,000 more
by next year in part to help replace cheaper, outsourced labor.
Despite the tax burden, union leaders are pleased.
"We're rolling back privatization, which wanted to cut our
benefits," said Sergio Ronaldo da Silva, director of the Condsef
civil servants confederation.
(Additional reporting by Ana Paula Paiva; Editing by Kieran Murray)