João Geraldo Piquet Carneiro
Chairman, Brazil Public Ethics Commission, 1999-2004
Sequencing Reform, Corruption in the Civil Service
Brazil, conflict of interest, code of conduct, confidential declaration of information, corruption, reform sequencing
Wed Sep 15 2010
João Piquet Carneiro traces the origins of the Code of Conduct to the work of the Council of State Reform convened under President Fernando Cardoso. After a first draft of the code was completed, the Public Ethics Commission was created by presidential decree with a mandate to clarify gray areas in the duties of senior officials of the executive branch. Piquet discusses the commission’s political autonomy, its functions that notably excluded any role in coercion or discipline, and its deliberation style that favored unanimity. He describes the Code of Conduct as a set of general rules mostly concerned with detection and prevention of conflict of interest, which he defines as any activity that may be incompatible with the attributions of public function. The challenges of initial implementation mainly arose from the code becoming effective mid-administration, thus affecting officials who had already been appointed. Consequently, the code was not enacted into law, due to the commission’s perception that a) moral commitments are intrinsically more effective than legal ones, b) voluntary adherence would be easier to implement than forced compliance, c) casting the code as a tool to protect officials from trouble resulting from involuntary transgression rather than as a punitive tool would decrease resistance, and d) the long-lasting impact of the code would come from internal respect garnered over time rather than policing, which would need to be perpetual. Piquet describes successful efforts by the commission to avoid centralization and foster adoption of internal codes of conduct throughout government agencies. He then discusses the Confidential Declaration of Information, in which public officials disclosed details of their wealth and possible conflicts of interest. He emphasizes its evidentiary role and its contribution to the specificity of the Code of Conduct, which was continually updated through resolutions. The consistent obstacle he identifies has to do with the small budget allocated to the commission. Nonetheless, each administration entailed new challenges. The Cardoso administration addressed the difficulties of initial implementation, which were resolved when compliance with the Code of Conduct became a precondition for taking office. Under President Lula da Silva, the commission's purview was partially restricted because the president often did not endorse commission recommendations. Piquet notes that lawyers are heavily represented in the current commission, which has led to a drift toward a more formalistic and legal approach to public ethics, with growing emphasis on due-process provisions.
At the time of this interview, João Geraldo Piquet Carneiro was the chairman of the Hélio Beltrão Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement of public administration. Piquet started his career as a lawyer. As an economics law professor he became interested in the operation, control and efficiency of governmental bodies. From 1979 to 1985 he served in the national program of debureaucratization, starting as legal council and eventually assuming the post of Special Minister when the incumbent left to take another office. In the 1990s, Piquet served as an adviser to the Deregulation Committee of the Presidency convened under the Fernando Collor administration, which constantly posed ethical questions in connection to corruption related to excessive regulation. In 1991 he returned to government to participate in the State Council on Reform created by President Fernando Cardoso. As a result of the council’s recommendations for improvement of ethical conduct in public service, the Public Ethics Commission was created in 1999. Piquet Carneiro served as its chairman from its inception until 2004.