1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Petrobras, not politics

Rodrigo Rimon Abdelmalack / sgbFebruary 15, 2015

In the wake of the Petrobras scandal, critics are calling for the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. A thorough reform of the oil company would be better, writes DW's Rodrigo Rimon Abdelmalack.

Brasilien Präsidentin Dilma Rousseff & Gracas Foster Chefin Petrobras ARCHIV 2013
Image: Vanderlei Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilians' doubts about Dilma Rousseff are growing: According to the latest survey by the Datafolha research institute, 44 percent of respondents assess their president's work as poor or very poor. In December, only 24 percent thought that way.

Rousseff's numbers weren't even this terrible during the mass protests of 2013. This shows how closely the president has come to be associated with the Petrobras corruption scandal, in which prosecutors say at least 2.1 billion reals, or more than 700 million euros, were embezzled from the oil company, which is 64 percent state owned.

Some critics are even speculating about impeachment on charges of impropriety in office. The sheer number of these calls in the Brazilian media could lead one to conclude, erroneously, that this would be a logical step in the restructuring of Petrobras. But the voters know that this also did not happen when CEO Graca Foster and five other top executives resigned. Much more will be needed to regain lost credibility. Getting rid of Rousseff is not the solution.

Keeping the company's interests in mind

New Petrobras CEO Aldemir Bendine, previously head of state-owned Banco do Brasil, can't simply start with a blank slate. He must identify and carefully restructure the subcontractor contracts from which millions were siphoned. In times of a weak global economy and lower oil prices he must do this with great skill, so as not to hurt the struggling company even more.

Deutsche Welle Brasilianisch Rodrigo Rimon Abdelmalack
Rodrigo Rimon AbdelmalackImage: DW

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to leave it there and thus to reduce the restructuring of Petrobras to its acute political dimension. All too often state-owned enterprises are abused for political purposes. And their decision makers know that in an emergency, losses can be compensated with public money. Now would also be the opportunity to tackle structural reforms. That would be enormously important both for Petrobras as a company, as well as for Brazil as a democratic state.

For critics of state-owned enterprises, the current scandal provides a welcome opportunity to call once again for the full privatization of Petrobras. But that would not only go against the wishes of most Brazilians, to whom Petrobras is still considered the crowning glory of Brazil as an industrial nation. As a proposed solution this also comes up just too short, in much the same way as the desire to exploit the political scandal does.

Separating the political from the economic

The unearthing of the alleged corruption is to be welcomed, of course. That the guilty should be punished is clear. And of course it is perfectly correct to demand that the president fulfill her duty to protect state property from criminals.

But the president is also right when she says that not the company, but those responsible must be punished. Only then would it be possible to do justice to the thousands of professionals who have made Petrobras one of the largest oil companies in the world with a turnover of 100 billion euros.

The voters should therefore be concerned with bringing the political instrumentalization of Petrobras to a definite end. Only then can the new corporate leadership be in a position to implement the overdue reforms. And only in this way can Petrobras be taken out of the line of fire of an ideological conflict.