Massive amounts of COVID-19 funds are being stolen in Brazil, the second hardest-hit country in the world. On Tuesday, Brasilia’s health secretary was arrested over alleged kickbacks on coronavirus test kits as Rio de Janeiro’s governor faced impeachment over separate corruption charges.

The large-scale corruption across the country has left Brazil struggling early in the pandemic. In fact, 11 out of 27 Brazilian states have current corruption cases and funds intended for the purchase of supplies necessary to fight the pandemic are nowhere to be found.

According to experts, corruption in Brazil intensified as the country attempted to contain the coronavirus when it struck the country earlier this year. As authorities scrambled to purchase ventilators, intensive care beds, hand sanitizers, and face masks to tend to the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, the Congress passed a bill authorizing local governments to make emergency purchases without the usual red tape.

What added to the problem was President Jair Bolsonaro’s doggedness at the beginning of the pandemic. As the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Brazil, Bolsonaro underestimated the pandemic, refusing to implement a nationwide lockdown and attacking the “hysteria” caused by COVID-19. His poor response to the pandemic left states and municipalities fending for themselves with very little budget to work on.

Guilherme France of Transparency International Brazil said the total lack of coordination by the federal government increased the risk of corruption in the country. “Brazil has all these states and municipalities competing against each other to buy the same things,” he said. “It’s much easier to monitor one big public entity’s contracts than 5,000 entities,’” he added.

Data from the Federal Accounts Court revealed that of the 286.5 billion reals in federal emergency allocated for the pandemic, only less than eight percent has gone directly to the fight against COVID-19. But while tracking where all the funds have gone is necessary to address the current shortage in medical supplies across the country, the Federal Accounts Court’s secretary-general said such would be an “intense” job.  

“Crises are always an opportunity for people who want to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “There’s no doubt that this crisis is being used by those who want to misuse public money,” he added.

COVID-19 COVID-19 around the world. Photo by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay