March 16th, 2010 | Karlos Kohlbach, Katia Brembatti, James Alberti and Gabriel Tabatcheik
Jermina Maria Leal da Silva and her daughter, Vanilda Leal, have their names listed on the Legislative Assembly of the State of Parana’s payroll, which was made public last year. Their salaries are deposited into bank accounts opened in their names, but both women guarantee they never saw that money. The amount of money deposited by the House was quite high: BRL 1.6 million, over five years. Living in the farming town of Cerro Azul, located 60 miles away from Curitiba, in the Ribeira Valley, they survive with the help of neighbors and with the money they can get from Bolsa Família, the social program created by the Brazilian government for low-incomers.
Vanilda, 33, says she has no idea where “this Assembly” is. She also claims she has never had a bank account. Living in a hovel by a slope, a place impossible to reach by car, she shows no sign of having BRL 1.2 million – the amount of money that was deposited to her alleged account. Actually, she could only have so much money if she has kept from spending, for 634 years, a single penny from the BRL 164 benefit she receives every month from Bolsa Familia. The number of deposits into her account since 2004. The amount of money deposited each time is about BRL 20,000, in average, but in some months, in 2006, her salary spiked to up to BRL 35,000.
Vanilda’s name has appeared only twice in the Assembly official daily files since 2006. Once as a nomination in 2008 for the administration office, signed by José Ary Nassif, and once on a list of employees made public last year. Yesterday, the House confirmed that Vanilda is really hired, but, according to them, she works at the office of the state representative Joceli Canto (PTB).
Vanilda lives 50 yards from her mother, Jermina, 60. In the middle of chickens and pigs, Jermina’s one-room hovel is the home for her, her husband Izaltino Floriano, 62, and one of her grandchildren. Jermina had 12 kids, four of them died at birth.
Besides being engaged with subsistence farming and getting money from Bolsa Família, Jermina makes extra money selling hand-made rugs she makes at home. Even though, at the end of the month, the family income is not even close to BRL 1,000.
Their income doesn’t match her banking statement. The deposits made to Jermina total BRL 380,000 from 2004 to 2009. There were at least 21 deposits. In average, the salaries were about BRL 18,000, however during 2006, she got a BRL 26,000 salary in some months.
Vanilda is semiliterate and dropped out of elementary school. Surviving was more important than dreaming about education. Jermina, who was alphabetized later in her adult life, tried to put her daughter through school, but necessity has forced Vanilda to leave books on the shelf. She can barely sign her name. In 2008, a Labor Ministry investigation found Jermina, her mother, working almost as a slave.
All this reinforces that the money deposited to their alleged account had a different destination – a case very similar to the House’s grasshopper scam. Unveiled in July 2008, the case involved the deposits of several employees of the Assembly into one single bank account. Some of these employees, as poor as Vanilda and Jermina, didn’t even know they were working for the House.
When informed about her alleged salary, Jermina couldn’t hide her distaste: “This is a shame! I never received such money. God is seeing this,” said her.
The possible criminal misuse of public resources can also have tax aggravations. By checking Jermina and Vanilda’s CPF (Brazilian SSN) on the Brazilian IRS webpage, it’s possible to confirm that both farmers did their taxes and got tax refunds from 2004 to 2009 – refund money that they also denied having ever received.
Besides that, Jermina is also under investigation by the Public Ministry of the State of Parana as suspect of getting salaries without working for the Assembly. The people who allegedly withdrew the money deposited into Jermina’s account have also given her the right for retirement. “My mother tried to retire, but she wasn’t able to. They claim she already receives too much money from the Assembly”, explains one of Jermina’s sons. Now, she and her daughter might even lose the benefit provided by Bolsa Familia, crucial to their survival.
Legislative Assembly denies editing unnumbered journals
The Legislative Assembly of the State of Parana declared yesterday, through a press release, that the House does not edit unnumbered journals and that the farmer Vanilda Leal does work at the state representative Jocelito Canto’s office. Jocelito has denied the allegations. He stated he has never had any employee named Vanilda. “This is an outrage. I don’t know her. I don’t know who she is. And I know very well every one who works for me. The Assembly might have made a mistake”. The state representative also informed he made a personal call to the president of the House, state representative Nelson Justus (DEM), yesterday to talk about the possible misunderstanding.
Regarding Jermina Maria Leal da Silva, the House informed she worked at the office of former state representative Geraldo Cartário and was dismissed after the politician left the office, in 2009. Cartário had his political powers revoked for three years after charges of abuse of economic power and misuse of the media. Cartário asked for a 6-month leave in February last year – time when Ademir Bier (PMDB) took office in the Assembly as interim state representative. On the morning of May, 11th 2009 Bier became permanent.
Contacted by Gazeta do Povo, Cartário said that the hiring and exoneration of employees was a responsibility of the Assembly Chief Clerk, João Batista Lopes. The former state representative confirmed that Jermina worked for him, but he wasn’t able to give further information about her duties. “By the time, I was first secretary, so I don’t recall if she worked at the office of the assistant secretary or mine. But I think that’s her”, said Cartário.
Nelson Justus announced last Thursday there will be a relisting and repositioning of the entire House staff. The announcement was made few hours later Gazeta do Povo and RPCTV looked for Justus so he could comment about the difficulty to get a hold of the Assembly daily files.