Role of pastors in funding education creates outcry in Brazil

Allegations that two evangelical pastors used their influence with Brazil’s Ministry of Education to direct federal funding to friends sparks election scandal for President Jair Bolsonaro’s government

RIO DE JANEIRO — Allegations that two evangelical pastors used their influence with Brazil’s Ministry of Education to direct federal funding to friends — and in at least one case to ask for a bribe — are sparking a new controversy during the election year for the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil’s mainstream news media published a series of articles and leaked audio recordings this week alleging that two pastors serving as unofficial advisers to the ministry were favoring municipalities run by their allies.

One of the pastors, the Reverend Arilton Moura, even demanded a kilogram of gold in addition to about $3,000 in exchange for funding schools and nurseries, according to Mayor Gilberto Braga of the city of Luis Domingues, quoted Wednesday by the newspaper. Estado de S. Paulo.

The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper reported this week that Education Minister Milton Ribeiro appeared to implicate Bolsonaro — who has tried to ally himself with evangelicals — in favoring pastors by asking for help for cities. that they support.

The newspaper published a recording of what he said, with Ribeiro telling several mayors that the government has given priority to municipalities whose demands are supported by Moura and the Reverend Gilmar Santos. The two pastors also attended the meeting, the newspaper reported.

“My priority is first to serve the municipalities that need it most and second to serve all those who are friends of Gilmar,” said the voice identified as Ribeiro’s in the recording. He added that it was “a special request from the President of the Republic”.

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the recording, and neither the president’s press office nor the Department of Education responded to requests for comment.

Ribeiro, himself a Presbyterian minister, denied any wrongdoing on his official Twitter feed on Tuesday, but did not say whether the recording was authentic.

The ministry did not respond to requests for contact information from the two pastors. Silva Church in Goias state also did not respond to a request for comment and Moura’s whereabouts could not immediately be found.

Both are members of one of the smallest of several Assemblies of God movements in Brazil.

The largest of these movements, the General Convention of the Assemblies of God in Brazil, released a statement on Tuesday distancing itself from them.

The two “do not represent and are not authorized to speak on behalf of the General Convention,” he said, adding that the convention “repudiates the practices reported in the press today … regarding the intermediation public funds with the Ministry of Education”. .”

Several opposition lawmakers on Tuesday called for an investigation into the case, and House Minority Leader Alencar Santana of the left-leaning Workers’ Party filed a petition with the nation’s highest court asking him to investigate Ribeiro and Bolsonaro. However, such a request would have to be routed through the office of the chief prosecutor, a person appointed by Bolsonaro.

The Brazilian Socialist Party has also asked the Federal Court of Auditors to open an investigation into the use of the budget of the Ministry of Education.

“While pastors negotiated bribes in GOLD to direct (ministry) resources, millions of students were denied access to education or dropped out of school,” the MP said on Twitter. of the opposition Tabata Amaral.

Evangelicals are widely seen as a key faction backing Bolsonaro’s re-election campaign in October. Polls have consistently shown him trailing leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Wednesday the reports should be investigated, although he described the education minister to reporters as an “honest” and “extremely polite” person.

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