Ingraining Honesty, Changing Norms: Government Ethics in Brazil, 1995-2004

During the 1990s, conflict of interest scandals in Brazil weakened public trust in civil servants and rendered many competitive processes like procurement, privatization and employment inefficient and ineffective. In 1999, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso created a Public Ethics Commission to confront these problems. Led by João Geraldo Piquet Carneiro, a Brazilian lawyer, the commission developed and implemented the Code of Conduct for Senior Government Officials. Piquet first focused on the upper echelons of the civil service— public sector managers and highly visible presidential appointees. For the first time in Brazilian politics, specific rules set public standards on conflicts of interest. Within 10 days of taking office, senior civil servants had to agree in writing to adhere to the code and submit forms detailing personal and family assets. Piquet and his team developed procedures for detecting and addressing violations. The commission avoided a backlash by walking a tightrope between being a watchdog and working with senior civil servants to help separate personal and public interests. By the end of Piquet’s tenure in 2004, the commission had set a precedent. According to interviewees, norms in the upper echelons of Brazil’s federal government had changed, and senior government officials no longer had an assumed impunity. However, critics noted that the commission’s success hinged on presidential support, as the commission lost much of its momentum under the administration of Cardoso’s successor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Deepa Iyer drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Brasilia and São Paulo, Brazil, in September 2010. Case published March 2011. Case revised and republished in March 2013.
confidential declaration of information
Conflict of Interest
code of conduct
corruption & patronage
culture & traditions
coalition building
engagement & communication
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Civil service corruption
Public management reform
Core Challenge
Norm coordination
Reducing capture
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Deepa Iyer