More than 100 years of the Government Audit history in a few words:
The Portuguese discovered Brazil in 1500. As a colony of Portugal, Brazil featured the same control used by our explorers: A Casa dos Contos, which had the responsibility to oversee the collection of all kinds of resources used to guarantee the payment of taxes. Later on, it became the Erário Régio (Royal Treasure). The Royal Treasure was a Portuguese institution responsible for managing the public accounts, which included a national government accountability. In 1808, when the Portuguese Court moved to Brazil, the headquarters of the Royal Treasure was established in Rio de Janeiro, capital of Brazil at that time.
Since Brazil’s independence, in 1822, it was clear the need to control public budget, however; this was only accomplished after the Proclamation of the Republic, in 1889. From that point on, the idea that “government resources should be used for the benefit of the people, and the government must be held accountable for their expenditures” was starting to flourish.
In November 1890, Deodoro da Fonseca, the first President of the Republic, appointed the jurist, journalist and ambassador Ruy Barbosa, to the position of Minister of Finance. He defined the Federal Court of Accounts (Brazil) as:
"A judicial body set amid the administration and the Legislature which may wield its vital activities within the constitutional tasks. It should act autonomously, with attributions to review and adjudicate, and with protection assured against any and all threat."
The Federal Court of Accounts was established, then, in 1891.
Nevertheless, control the public budget can often create some embarrassment to the rulers, limiting the intensions and preventing that personal and partisan interests interfere with government results. For this reason, Floriano Peixoto, the second President of the Republic, committed on reformulating the prerogatives of the Court of Accounts, forwarded to Serzedello Corrêa, his Minister of Finance at the time, a draft of decrees diminishing the attributions of the Court. A man of elevated moral principles and public service spirit, Serzedello Corrêa chose to resign from office and issued the following comment:
"Whenever Your Excellence is within the law and the Constitution, the Court follows your orders. Whenever Your Excellence is outside the law and the Constitution, the Court is above you. We may not reform it. The legislative authorizations, put into practice, become final and, by law, the Executive may no longer amend them. If Your Excellence wishes to reformulate the Court, then dismiss me, and let my successor advance such act."
Today, his brave attitude and public spirit are still a major example to the population.
For a very long time, The Federal Court of Accounts (Brazil) had its power of controlling the public expenses diminished little by little. However, one a notorious episode happened in 1937, during President Getúlio Vargas mandate. The court issued a contrary legal opinion to the annual accounts of the Federal Government. Despite that, the Congress approved the accounts. Minister Francisco Thompson Flores, rapporteur of the legal opinion, was dismissed from his duties in the Court and never went back to the institution.
In 1946, the new Brazilian Constitution started a new democratization process and granting the individuals liberty rights. This lasted until 1964, when the military government changed again the Constitution and the President started to legislate through decrees. It was during this period that the new TCU’s Organic Law was stablished.
With the new Federal Constitution, in 1988, when the Brazilian citizens could get involved in the elaboration process, the mandates were amplified. They evolved to a new set of attributions, leading the Court to play an important role in monitoring fiscal management, and being both independent and part of the Legislative branch of Brazil .
Among the many attributions ascribed to the Court, the following are worth mentioning: overseeing the implementation, by federal agencies, of the objectives established by the Budget Guidelines Act (Lei de Diretrizes Orçamentárias - LDO). Besides that, the states are held accountable for compliance with the established limits for overall indebtedness and expenditures with personnel by the Branches of the state, and oversees the procedures applied, whenever necessary, for returning expenditures to the established limits.
The Court is also responsible for acting in a preventive capacity, alerting agencies and branches of the government when these are near their corresponding limits for expenditures and indebtedness. It also acts as serving notice of facts that may jeopardize compliance with the cost limits or results of government programs, as well as circumstantial evidence of irregularities in budgetary management. Additionally, it counts on the citizen participation, through its Ombudsman.
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