Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Oversee and Punish: Understanding the Fight Against Corruption Involving Government Workers in Brazil

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Abstract:  This exploratory study leverages a major dataset of official penalties against Brazilian bureaucrats enforced between January 2003 and November 2014, when 5,005 expulsive sanctions were enforced, 68.5% of which concerned acts of corruption. The analysis and discussion also integrate qualitative data gathered through 24 semi-structured interviews with civil servants who were integrity enforcers. Despite the rapid increase in the number of penalties enforced over the years, the creation of a robust set of disciplinary norms and an anti-corruption agency have not secured a fully operational horizontal accountability system within the executive. A great variance of corruption control was observed across agencies, manifested through disproportionate enforcement, not only of overall sanctions but also of corruption and non-corruption-related penalties. In light of the self‐protective behaviour of civil servants, who openly say they do not feel comfortable in the role of corruption fighters, the article advances an argument on ‘convenient accountability’—a kind of institutional abdication combined with a reluctance for peer monitoring, with outcomes that can be described as satisficing for integrity agents. This institutional aspect poses a risk to internal disciplinary systems and increases dependence upon external actors of accountability, compromising the efficiency of both.

Keywords:  accountability; Brazil; bureaucracy; civil service; corruption; punishment


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© Fernanda Odilla. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.