Colour of Corruption, a plug-in that works with Google Chrome, details criminal allegations against Brazil’s top politicians, who have long been accused of greasing the wheels.
In an age of epic corruption and political cynicism in Brazil, a new browser plug-in aims to attract and inform voters about the extent of their representatives’ involvement in graft.
Released before what is expected to be the biggest general strike in decades, Colour of Corruption is an online political scorecard that details criminal allegations against members of the cabinet, the upper and lower houses of parliament, state governors, their deputies – and even the president.>It comes in the midst of the biggest bribery investigation in Brazil’s history. Operação Lava Jato, or Operation Carwash, which started in 2014, has revealed a massive system of kickbacks and corruption involving almost all of the major political parties and dozens of leading companies, including the state oil giant Petrobras.
The latest revelations – detailed with shocking nonchalance by executives from the Odebrecht construction conglomerate – have prompted the supreme court to authorise investigations into eight ministers from President Michel Temer’s cabinet, as well as five former presidents.
Launched this week, the Google Chrome plug-in paints a vivid purple band over the name of any senior politician facing any kind of investigation. A click then reveals legal processes the politician is facing.
It is seen as a sign of a social and technological fightback against deep-rooted corruption and impunity, particularly when public resentment towards the government has been inflamed by controversial plans for pension reform.
Other sites and applications have targeted graft. During last year’s municipal elections, Brazil’s electoral court released an app for people to denounce electoral irregularities. But Colour of Corruption was launched by one of Brazil’s most popular consumer complaints sites Reclame Aqui, or Complain Here, which says 600,000 people check it every day.
Launched in 2001, Complain Here grew in importance during Brazil’s economic boom, when consumer spending soared but companies often failed to deliver what they had promised. Many Brazilians found posting a complaint on Complain Here more effective than contacting brands directly and also use it to check company reputations.
Now, with Brazil bogged down in the
third year of a recession, consumers are turning their attention to democracy,
said Iago Bolivar, director of operations for the Complain Here Institute,
which is behind the launch.
“The country was very focused on
consumption,” Bolivar said. “Brazilians are very focused now on citizenship.”
Information on legal cases is
generally available, Bolivar said, but locating it in Brazil’s labyrinthine and
cumbersome justice system to too complex for many. “We do not have a
transparent justice system,” he said. “Even though this information is in a way
available it is very difficult for the common citizen to access.”
After setting up an initial data bank
with non-profit group Transparência Brasil (Brazil Transparency), the institute
has partnered with the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná State, in
southern Brazil. Now 250 students from the university are upgrading the
database with a team of lawyers and journalists, Bolivar said. The next step is
to add thousands of mayors and state deputies.
Sylvio Costa, founder of Congress in
Focus, a Brasília-based watchdog site, said the initiative will ratchet up the
pressure on politicians already stressed by the overload of corruption
“They certainly won’t like it. But
this is a war in which society has advanced more than the politicians,” Costa
said. The problem will be keeping track of thousands of constantly-changing
legally processes. “To do a system like this efficiently, you have to keep it
permanently up to date,” he said.
The context is crucial. Last year,
to the streets to protest against the former Workers Party president
Dilma Rousseff, who was subsequently impeached. Her replacement, Temer, has
proven just as unpopular, with ratings now in single digits, and a third of his
cabinet implicated in graft, or corruption.
This Friday, the country’s schools,
hospitals and transport systems are expected to be paralysed by a general
strike against social security reforms. While corruption is not the main
rallying cry, it is a major reason for the public reluctance to accept the
changes that politicians are trying to impose.
”If we cannot trust the government,
why should we trust their message that this reform is unavoidable?” said
Fernando Limongi, a Political Scientist at the University of São Paulo.
Whether greater knowledge of
corruption will mobilise people has been debated. Nara Pavão, a professor in
the political science department at the Federal University of Pernambuco,
warned there was a danger that voters could feel the problems are so entrenched
that they cannot be solved.
However, Pavão said the government’s
unpopular efforts to reform the social security system – which is the major
issue in this Friday’s strike – conveyed the impression that politicians were
not just selfishly trying to enrich themselves, but had had a malign impact on
“Corruption is not the motive of the
strike but it plays a part. The feeling is that not only are the politicians
corrupt, but now they are also actively working against them. It shows
politicians are failing to consider the voters point of view.It is a problem of
Flávia Biroli, a professor at the
University of Brasilia, said problems were particularly evident in the Temer
administration because it was more detached from the public than any of its
“There is more at stake than the
enrichment of politicians and businessmen, what is at stake is the functioning
of Brazilian democracy and its susceptibility to the interests of big