Some people asked us to publish an interview with the local project coordinator, Fábio Oliva, who is an investigative journalist, active blogger (http://blogdofabiooliva.blogspot.com/) and founder of the Friends of Januária Association (Asajan). Asajan has been fighting corruption and monitoring public expenditures in Januária for seven years. Since then, the association has investigated corrupt politicians and, as a result, many mayors were driven from office due to wrongdoings in public administration. Oliva thinks Friends of Januária Citizen Media project will show to the youth of Januária how important it is to monitor the town’s administration. Besides, says Fabio, the project can give them the opportunity to become citizen reporters, which will give voice to people from Januária. We made a long interview with Fábio, which we will publish in 3 or 4 posts. We also made a short video with him! Stay tuned! See below the first part of the interview:
How did the interest in monitoring public administration start?
I was born in Januária and have always heard my parents and also my grandparents speaking about the problems faced by the town, which hadn’t been growing, hadn’t been developing. At that time, the re were many people who made up reasons for the underdevelopment of Januária. They used to say that the town would not develop because the road to Montes Claros [the biggest town in the region] was not paved and, besides, that there was no paved road because there was no development. Well, the pavement was completed. And Januária continued unchanged. Further, these people started to make up other excuses: Januária would not grow because there was no bridge crossing the São Francisco river [the most important river at the Northeast part of Brazil] and, besides, there were no bridge because there was no development. Well, the bridge was completed, and Januária did not grow.
I grew up hearing these kind of excuses. I moved to Montes Claros – and so did thousands of young people from Januária – because there were no opportunities in the town. Then, something happened to my father. He had a heart attack and died inside an ambulance, which ran out of fuel in the middle of the road to Montes Claros [Januária hospital could not look after him and, then, he had to be removed to the biggest town nearby]. The only cause for this reality – backwardness, underdevelopment, lack of medicine and doctors, an inadequate hospital – is corruption. I myself suffered from a problem that was caused by corruption.
How exactly does corruption affect peoples life in Januária?
Incredible though it may seem, corrupt politicians prefer to withdraw money from the most important areas: health and education. I use to say that the thermometer of corruption in most of Brazilian towns is the quality of the food provided to children at school. In towns where corruption is a big problem, the school lunch is garbage. When the school lunch is good, you can be certain that corruption is less. This has two different impacts: long term and the short term. The short term impact is that people die because of corruption, as my father died. They arrive at the hospital and there are no gloves to undertake medical procedures, there are no syringes, there is no medicine, there is no doctor (because they do not want to work if they do not get paid).
The long term impact happens when money is embezzled from education and you cannot offer children good nutricion when they are at school and you can not offer them goo d course materials, like books. The lack of good education generates a problem in the future: the lack of civic consciousness and lack of a concept of civic rights in youth and adults. And that is exactly what the corrupt politician wants. The fewer people to fight corruption the better for him. These kinds of impacts (the short term and the long term) are not accounted by politicians in their illegal bank accounts. Neither can authorities count them. State attorneys only count the amount of money that has been embezzled, they do not count how many people die because of the embezzlement of public funds. That is a very important calculation.
Was it after your father’s death that you decided to create Asajan?
Actually, a second problem happened with my nephew. Once, my brother, who is parent of the child, called me very upset. He said: you help so many people, you do a lot of good things in Montes Claros – I had always been connected with social projects and I work as a journalist since I was 18 years old – but you do nothing for Januária. Then, I told him: the problem in Januária is that people don’t have courage to fight against corruption. However, if you succeed in bringing together between 8 and 10 people who want to do it, I will come back to Januária and we will create a NGO to fight corruption.
In fact, my brother got his hands dirty and brought together a group of people. So I searched the Internet for information about fighting against corruption. The first site I came across was Amarribo’s [Friends of Ribeirão Bonito Association, the first NGO in Brazil to dismiss a corrupt mayor from the town's administration]. Amarribo gave us all the support we needed to start Asajan. They explained to us how to create a statute and other bureaucratic procedures. Two weeks later, we came together in Januária to create the first NGO to fight corruption on Northern Minas Gerais [one of the poorest regions in Brazil].
(to be continued…)