Brazil's president says NGO funding will be tightly controlled

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Nongovernmental organizations working in Brazil will have their public funding rigidly controlled, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday, as part of increased oversight of their activities by his new right-wing administration.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends the handover of his new Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva in Brasilia, Brazil January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

The plans have raised concerns that NGO activities might be restricted by a nationalist government that has criticized foreign interference in the Amazon region.

The responsibility for monitoring NGOs has been put in the hands of Government Secretary Carlos dos Santos Cruz, a retired Army general who has said the initiative will help determine whether the organizations are fulfilling their role of carrying out work that complements government actions.

An executive order issued last week gave the new administration potentially far-reaching and restrictive powers over NGOs.

“The government’s intention is to optimize the use of public funds and bring more benefits” to people assisted by the NGOs, Cruz said in an interview published on Monday on the G1 news portal.

He denied the intention was to restrict their activity.

“The plan is not to interfere in the life of the organizations or restrict anything. But it’s public money. There needs to be transparency and there needs to be results,” Cruz said.

Jurema Werneck, the executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, expressed concern about the new measures, saying NGOs were crucial in maintaining checks and balances on democratic institutions. Eroding their influence could lead to a rise in rights violations, she said.

The “unprecedented” move on NGOs showed that Bolsonaro’s government “intends to intervene in their activities, favoring a process of criminalization and restriction of freedom of expression,” said Werneck.

Increasing oversight over NGOs was one of Bolsonaro’s very first acts after he was sworn in on Jan. 1.

Bolsonaro’s temporary decree, which expires unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, gives Cruz’s office the power to “supervise, coordinate, monitor and accompany the activities and actions of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations in the national territory.”

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Rosalba O’Brien