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Operation Serenata de Amor – An AI project to analyze public spending in Brazil (wikipedia.org)
342 points by dorfsmay on Mar 6, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

This project is using AI to analyse public data of receipts from elected government officials, detect anomalies and tweet about them. It has already led to a deputy to have to return funds to the government.

There is very little material in English about this project, I finally spent some time to translate and create an English and French wikipedia page. I am not otherwise involved with this project (yet!) but think it deserve more visibility, and that we should leverage it and similar project in other countries.

Sure, I'm following the project on Telegram (english only group): https://telegram.me/joinchat/AKDWc0BDOqriD1n-mntRBg

About: https://serenata.ai/en/faq/

How is this project perceived by the government officials?

I am sure (or at least hope) that some of them are very much in favour, but are there others calling into question the accuracy / legitimacy of these type of analyses?

(Brazilian here with bad english) There isn't much interest yet. But that is expected.

Information flows somewhat like this here: First they ignore it hard, then media comes and make a fuss and that makes the gov. officials respond with disdain or support (depends on the strategy they adopt). But if it gets hotter something bigger magically happens to distract public opinion.

At least it is already on dados.gov.br, which is the brazilian portal for open data, meaning at least received some support from groups inside the government. But almost no interest from conventional media.

Wow, I wish my Portuguese was that bad.

Government officials don't give a fuck about it. At all.

No one beside themselves has the power to declare any of their spendings as illegal. So they could, for example, declare they spent $190 dollars on burger and fries for one person, and nobody can do anything about it.

Operation Serenata may tweet about it. Some people will read that and complain on twitter, and life goes on.

Our current unelected president was recorded talking about killing people to stay in power, and nothing happened. People in high-paying government jobs are tricking the system to get paid twice and nothing happens. Politicians can vote on their own pay raise, which they do many times per year, and nothing happens.

None of these big things have consequences, so something as small as someone spending a bit more on lunch is so irrelevant that they don't even care to try and hide it.

Sorry, who talked about killing was the senator which presidential campaign lost by less than 3% of the votes. The president was recording supporting paying money for the silence of a jailed corrupt that was the Lower House Speaker.

Having worked in an innovation lab [1] that exists inside the brazilian house of representatives, I may be able to try to answer your question:

It's not an easy answer, things are not black and white. I think a great deal of the politicians don't give a shit about such initiatives, don't even understand them and their implications. But there's a great deal of people working close to theses politicians who keep pushing for a better future. I don't know them all because I have been mostly focused on the tech aspect of it, but you could reach out for some of them and they would guide you through their network.

For instance, Cristiano Ferri [2] has been doing a great work in this area. He was the head of the Laboratorio Hacker while I was there, and is very connected both to the politicans and the community.

[1] http://labhackercd.leg.br/ - Unfortunately HTTP, lol. I think it used to be served through SSL, but can't really remember.

[2] https://twitter.com/cristianofaria

Operations-level people overwhelmly love the idea. There is a big push inside the Brazilian government for publishing data, and Serenata de Amor is the showcase project for claiming "look, we just put the data out there and society can make good use of it".

You already are quite involved by providing translations, thanks!

English slides/presentation: http://jtemporal.com/serenata-ml-meetup/

Disclaimer: I am a former Brazilian. I am what in Brazil is called in pejorative terms "vira-lata" (stray dog), someone that fell out of love for his native country. Because a lot of people in this thread are patriotic Brazilians I anticipate a lot of downvotes.

This project is nothing more than a sharper and better diagnosis of topical symptoms. Unfortunately, the underlying disease remains without treatment. And if you allow me to explain such disease bluntly, here it is: the Brazilian voter is astonishingly stupid. Brazilians vote very, very badly. Politicians with a long and explicit history of corruption are routinely re-elected and remain very popular (e.g: Maluf, Sarney, Calheiros, Collor, Lula and almost everyone in the 3 big parties: PMDB, PSDB and PT).

There is even a standard justification for this behaviour, people say "rouba mas faz" (he steals but gets things done).

Like in most of the 3rd world and countries with authoritarian history, the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian voters don't understand how corruption, nepotism, patronage and incompetence affects them. I bet Turkey, Russia, Poland and Hungary are the same. Democracy goes far beyond the formal institutions, you need a civic heart, a belief within every citizen's mind that the public good matters a lot and affects everyone. In most 3rd world countries people just don't "get" this.

I could probably be considered a "vira-lata" too as probably many other Brazilians that lost hope at their countries. But I welcome any initiative from people that did not. I think that a "better diagnosis" is a step forward to a better "treatment".

I think that the stupid voter behavior is not part of the DNA of Brazilians. It is something that can change even if it looks very hard to do it. A lot of Brazilians are actually very tired of corruption, they know pretty well how bad things can get when politicians steal public money regardless of their level of education. They know it is that bad. Teachers don't get paid, policemen going on strikes, bridges falling, economy in shambles, etc. It affects their daily lives and it keeps getting worse.

I think that the "Rouba mas faz" might be true in some places but not everywhere. Now, think about it: you feel hopeless when you know that it's a problem but you don't know any better how to vote. How could you know? How can you trust 100% on someone else's integrity to represent you, specially in Brazil? It is at this point that the problem needs to be tackled from multiple angles. One of them being this initiative. Changing legislation, which happened, in regards to how campaign are run and who is eligible to become a candidate, punishing those who stole public money (Maluf is still in jail, Cabral is in jail, no everyone is in jail but justice is working now).

>>Like in most of the 3rd world ...voters don't understand how corruption, nepotism, patronage and incompetence affects them. All the above in US is called "lobbying" and it's legal, so you really can't jail anyone for it.

USA voters don't do much better, don't worry. We just have a printing machine that churns out new dollars at record pace so we face no debt deadlines.

Brazil is much, much worse off than the US. There the corruption goes all the way to the lowest levels of government. In the US local politicians don't pay a couple of bucks to a thousand dirt poor voters to vote in the county elections so they can win. In Brazil this happens everywhere.

It is very usual to buy votes in USA:


"The price of one bona fide, registered American vote varies from place to place. But it is rarely more than a tank of gas."

A good book that descibes it is "Washington, D.C: A Novel (Narratives of Empire)." of Gore Vidal.

Did you read your own article? It says: "Voter fraud, by any method, is still rare. A study by News21 — a consortium of journalism schools — found 867 cases since 2000 in which someone had admitted guilt or been convicted of a voter-fraud offense. That was out of about 146 million registered voters."

The headline is super misleading, the point of the article is that selling votes is more common than outright impersonation or other forms of voting fraud.

In Brazil, voting is compulsory. All those people are going to be voting anyway

That's the problem, it costs us a lot more than a few bucks. Billions and billions in spending or the US Senator will not vote the bill, or block it. F-35 is made in 45 states, only because all Senators and Congressmen want to buy votes (indirectly) http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/07/08/the-pentagons-399-billio...

In Brazil they do it the honest way.

We have that problem too, a lot of the corruption (I'd say most but I don't have data) is to gather money to be used by the political parties on their campaigns, propaganda, etc. Buying voters with literal cash works with people that are very poor and mostly alienated by the government.

As voting is compulsory in Brazil, a lot of people vote on the person that appeared on the television, or the person that had pamphlets being distributed at the red lights, so spending money on campaign works, indirectly buying votes.

Untrue. I've lived in Arizona for a year; have you heard of sheriff Joe Arpaio?


One could say the US is just as corrupt, or more, than Brazil.

Characters like Arpaio are relatively uncommon in lower levels of the US gov. Corruption in Brazil is endemic. Pretty sure theres a large difference.

US may occasionally see third-world-BS, but in many places elsewhere in the world it is a fact of life.

One could, but it would be a statement completely divorced from reality.

How so? I can cite a single corruption episode that trumps maybe 99% of the Brazilian corruption scandals.

40 billion USD in cash sent to Afghanistan by plane just "vanished". https://www.cnbc.com/id/45031100

For the sake of comparison, the largest corruption scandal of Brazil to this date revolves around 42 billion BRL, which is about 13 billion USD. http://g1.globo.com/pr/parana/noticia/2015/11/pf-estima-que-...

Of course, one might argue "oh, but 40 bilion dollars in cash going missing is not corruption, it's just unfortunate/bad management/insert excuse here". "Corruption" is just one of those words of which the meaning changes depending on the object it refers to - it's always the other person's, never your own.

As the nephew of a former mayor of a small town of about 5k people in Brazil, I heard most people who get into office here can't possibly make back in salary all the money they spent buying votes before the election so the system itself usually removes the least corrupt candidates automatically.

It's not quite the same. Lobbyists money pays for election campaigns to persuade citizens to vote for the lobbied politician. Traditional corruption involves doing something wrong/unfair/criminal for personal profit.

I am also a vira-lata, and couldn't agree more.

Brazil, like other 3rd world countries, has an endemic cultural problem that hinders economic, social or technological progress.

You can "fight" corruption, but if it's part of your culture, it will always find a way back.

Congrats for the project, but you'd really need to rewrite 500 years of history to make Brazil a livable place.

Yeah, there is a saying that “Politics is downstream from culture”, the Brazilian culture does not help.

I don't have much hope.

We're talking about a country that gave 1.35 million votes to a literal clown [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiririca

The literal clown is a decent deputy, even above average. He is as educated as the majority of the the population. He was present all the days that the Congress opened.

Your talk if full of prejudice.

It's not a uniquely Brazilian thing. Say hi to the former Mayor of Hartlepool, a monkey-suited football mascot elected on a manifesto promising free bananas


The world's largest economic power and largest democracy, aka United States, elected a Western movie actor and a Reality TV star as presidents. The clown pales in comparison.

Sorry, but there is no comparison. None of them were elected by saying: "Vote Reagan (or Trump). It can't get worse than this".

The people that voted for Trump didn't vote for him because he was a reality TV star.

lot of people in this thread are patriotic Brazilians I anticipate a lot of downvotes

Anyone else find over-the-top portrayal of patriotism annoying? Every time there is someone on the TV talking about "hard working and patriotic" (I don't even have a TV, only catch a glimpse at dunkin donuts and such) even when the topic on hand has nothing to do with hard work or patriotism. You are making a very valid point, but you literally had to start your comment saying you anticipate downvotes. It has become that bad.

Well, frankly I believe it is a biological trait, an unavoidable natural instinct manipulated by propaganda.

Humans and their ancestors survived for several thousands of years in bands and tribes with between 10 and 50 individuals. Social cohesion and collaboration among them was essential for survival in confrontation with other animals or tribes fighting for the same resources (or females).

It is unavoidable that evolution shaped them to develop a desperate wish to "belong" to a group. Some call it tribalism. Nations just grab this tribalism and turn it into ideological justification for everything as in: "my country, right or wrong". Religions, political affiliations, corporations and sport associations use that trick too.

Pode explicar a tradução ou conexão para as palavras, vira e lita. Não significam "look" e "can"?

Não sou brasileiro.

Like the others already explained, "vira-latas" is a portuguese term for a stray dog and the idea that they need to flip trash cans to try to find food.

However, there is also an expression (whose origin was also explained) that means "Mongrel complex (Complexo de vira-Lata in Portuguese), which is an expression used to refer to a collective inferiority complex felt by some Brazilian people in comparison to Europe or the United States."[0]

Contrary to what was said here, the term coined by Nelson Rodrigues was not exclusive related to soccer. According to him: "By "Mongrel Complex" I mean the inferiority in which Brazilians put themselves, voluntarily, in comparison to the rest of the world. Brazilians are the reverse Narcissus, who spit in their own image. Here is the truth: we can't find personal or historical pretexts for self-esteem."[0]

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongrel_complex

Interesting concept, the "reverse Narcissus", especially in this case. Because you see, in the same breath as they complain about their country, Brazilians will tell you that "God is a Brazilian".

Perhaps jingoism and mongrelism are two sides of the same coin. It would certainly explain how Trump got elected after a campaign based on complaining about his own country.

It's an interesting fact--anecdotally, of course--that as much as they complain about the country, they won't let anyone from outside to do the same thing.

Excuse me that's "God is Brazilian"

Literally, it means "can turner".

Originally the expression came from football (soccer), as it happens in a lot of stuff within Brazilian culture.

In 1950 Brazil lost the finals for the Worldcup to Uruguai at Maracanã, the country biggest stadium. It was a national tragedy that left the country depressed (see "Maracanazo"). A very famous journalist from that age, Nelson Rodrigues, complained that the country was under a "stray dog syndrome", feeling unworthy when it was a lot better than that.

The important thing to notice is that Rodrigues was talking exclusively about football. He hated politics and deeply despised any form of nationalism. He actually didn't hold the national character in esteem.

It was much later on, on the 90's after his death, that the expression was hijacked and twisted to antagonize any Brazilian that criticizes Brazil in front of foreigners.

"virar" means "to turn (over)" or "to flip" "lata" means can---in this context "garbage can"

A stray dog turns garbage cans over in search of food.

I believe the term also refers to "mutt", a dog that is not purebred.

"Vira-Lata" literally translates to "Can-Turner". But the meaning is of a stray-dog.

In Peru we have an equivalent phrase for "rouba mas faz", the "roba pero hace obra", also a popular justification that got a corrupt major elected for Lima, even when major media outlets showed proofs of corruption.

Another 'vira-lata' here. Thinking about braziL causes me nausea. Hope that 'country' be better but I really doubt.


The difference here is that voting is compulsory and a much bigger part of the population can barely read, let alone judge more complex situations.

In the US, the "stupid" (as you call them) voters can stay at home if they are uninterested in the election. In the very least, this makes the voters be more involved.

Here, a lot of people only remember they need to vote when they try to buy beer on the Saturday before the election and they can't or when they turn the TV to watch their soap operas and see the mandatory political programs instead (and turn it off instead of watching).

Yes, and they will vote on the person that had the biggest budget on their campaign most of the time, because that's the person they will see on the television or outdoors. A lot of the corruption in Brazil is for stealing money to spend on political campaigns.

How so? It seems your choice was a potentially corrupt (FBI email investigation announcement weeks before election) status-quo candidate or a populist outsider.

Not the 2016 election, all of them. People only vote for the most well funded candidates, which typically means the most corrupted. There are a few exceptions of privately funded campaigns but they didn't win.

Yeah, I can't believe a majority of voters went for HRC.

Serenata de Amor is a brazilian candy: https://hibrazilmarket.com/products/garoto-serenata-de-amor-...

From their faq: https://serenata.ai/en/faq/

1 - We were inspired by the Toblerone Affair, a case in which a Swedish politician was pushed to resign after being caught paying simple Toblerone chocolate bar with public money. That’s what we want to do: empower social control of public expenditures including values as low as a chocolate bar.

On the topic of corruption, my Spanish teacher said that countries where corruption is endemic and part of the culture almost always started out as "extraction colonies". That is, the natural resources were plundered by the colonizers (the Spaniards or the British or the French). What present day politicians are doing is simply continuing the strong historical precedent of taking out riches/prosperity/profits/resources from the country for their own use.

In Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the slave rebellion who overthrew the colonizers rapidly became one of the "1%" and a de-facto colonizer once he gained power and they realized that slavery and plantations and serfdom was quite lucrative and profitable.


> countries where corruption is endemic and part of the culture almost always started out as "extraction colonies".

This is an overly simplified, albeit correct, way to explain it.

In case you see this, can you please point me to any resources /books on a non-overly simplified way to explain the roots of corruption in Latin American countries?

I would start with "The causes of corruption" by Daniel Treisman. It isn't specific to Latin America, though.

In summary, Treisman will show that many factors appear to have an influence on whether a country is more or less corrupt. The colonial past of Latin American countries helps to explain part of it, but it doesn't appear to be a causa sine qua non.

Thank you! I have started reading the paper, and it is interesting to read how the author lays out his hypotheses.

Most intriguing is the link between how judicial systems that were setup to support the king may tend to be more corrupt since they were literally robbing property/money from his subjects. On the other side, the British system relies on judicial precedents and process, helping ensure a more fair trial between the government and property owners/business people.


Slight unintended consequence is it creates a significant incentive for politicians to allow their expenses to be picked up by someone else. There are rules in many democracies where "gifts," over small amounts (~$50) must be reported to ethics commissions and scrutinized for opportunity by the opposition, media, and by extension, the public.

In a simple risk game of likelihood vs. consequences, expensing a meal in an upper end restaurant will %90 draw political consequences from an AI, with a high degree of uncertainty in the cost to fight it, vs. accepting the hosts generosity, with a sub-%5 chance of consequences occurring like having to pay your share, or a minor sanction some years into the future.

I'd argue most politicians necessarily make risk and cost/benefit calculations before ethical signalling ones, and the indiscriminate application of rules in this case creates inverted incentives that demoralize the situation, and will cause them to start accepting insignificant bribes.

The economic value of "AI" is mostly to obfuscate and symbolically defray the chain of individual human accountability. While this may be working for the "good guys," in the public interest, it's really about protecting the people who are using what is essentially a Bayesian black box as an ethical proxy for their personal interest. It's fascinating and cool, but it's also a bit disingenuous to accept magical pretexts and other ethical proxies because we perceive them to be "on our side."

I don't get most of the argument here, what are you trying to say?

Politicians are already incentivised to get their bribes indirectly, that's a natural consequence of doing something illegal while expecting to have your actions recorded. But beyond that I don't understand, are you saying that because the AI allows for such efficient oversight that politicians will be unable to hide large bribes and be forced to accept "insignificant bribes"? But even if the only effect is that corruption is much cheaper, what is the downside to that? At least more people can afford it then.

> it's really about protecting the people who are using what is essentially a Bayesian black box as an ethical proxy for their personal interest

How is fighting corruption best described by "personal interest"? The only way I can make sense of this is of you hold the belief that rule of law is not fundamental for a just society, and the circumvention of the law that corruption represents somehow makes societies more just.

That seems like an uncharitable interpretation.

What I have said is that this particular AI approach changes the risks and incentives for politicians so that they are more likely to commit a greater number of small, but more real offenses, than the few outward anomalies the AI flags.

Which is worse? Expensing a bottle of wine, or having a vendor pick up the tab for an entire meeting? I would argue the latter has more impact on perceptions of corruption, yet this demoralized AI approach disproportionately punishes the former.

There is a style of argument that I'm starting to think of as "argument from tyranny," which begins with a denial of the coherence and legitimacy of the speaker, and ends with a defamation of character. They call it "sealioning," on the internets, but it bears more scrutiny, because it is part of why people are reduced to using pseudonyms.

And the alternative is what? Just let them spend whatever they want? How can politicians in Sweden do the same job without spending exorbitant amounts of money? They clearly don't need this much money.

This is such a cool project that deserves some attention.

As a side note: one of the project members was interviewed on The Changelog[0]. The interview presents many topics related to the project, e.g. technology, community, challenges.

[0] https://changelog.com/podcast/268

Thanks. I was was actually about to post this. Fábio Rehm gives a really good overview of the project in that podcast. This is how I actually discovered that project.

Oh, It wasn't me :) I just suggested the podcast and Eduardo Cuducos (@cuducos) talked about it there =}

Oh! I discovered it from one of your tweet / blog! Thanks for the correction.

Slightly off-topic, but this is what a Serenata de Amor is in Brazil (it's a bonbon and it's very good, IMHO): https://i.imgur.com/tQZ0JHF.jpg

YMMV: It is overwhelming sweet.

I assume it's also "love song" (well, "love serenade", to be a bit more accurate) :)

You are correct! https://serenata.ai/en/faq/

I love the idea, but a quick review of tweets shows a bunch of seemingly inconsequential reports for meal refunds where the issue is that the meal price is an outlier, but prices listed are 39 to 75 BRL (12-25 USD).

That doesn't strike me as a funny meal price. Assuming it's not an error, it would be nice to have some additional context on what the observed distribution of meal prices is, because at a cursory glance this looks like noise.

Is someone able to find a more substantial report?

Take this one, for instance: https://jarbas.serenata.ai/layers/#/documentId/6185347

R$239.50 or $74. That's 25% the minimum wage here in Brazil.

This means that this congressman was paying for someone else's meal, which is in itself an act of corruption.

And even if that's not the case, most Brazilians can't afford a 40 BRL meal on a regular basis, so why should a politician be able to do so with our money?

If you dig deeper into other reports, you can also see congresspeople spending public money in sex shops and clubs, for instance (https://twitter.com/cuducos/status/840882495868530688).

I think there are two separate issues.

I don't know whether paying for someone else's lunch is OK according to regulations for meal stipends in Brazil. I wouldn't call that corruption off hand, but it might be forbidden. I defer to you on this.

Personally I live in Buenos Aires and I regularly spend USD 15 on a no frills lunch menu in a fancy-ish neighborhood (nothing fancy for the food itself, no desert, the kind of place where a group of 20 people from nearby offices have a loud lunch). From my experience Sao Paulo is more expensive than Buenos Aires, so it didn't strike me as odd initially.

That's out of reach for the statistical average of income from Argentineans, but it's not an amount that a congressman wouldn't be able to afford on their own dime. I certainly wouldn't get outraged at the expense or assume corruption - congressmen are paid significantly above minimum wage.

40 BRL can pay a lunch in a very good restaurant, maybe not the commoner's bit understandable.

100 BRL would pay a buffet in a fancy barbecue shop, the absolute limit for me.

200 BRL+ is completely unnaceptable. Do they want to eat at a bistreau with public money?

You're missing one important thing here.

These spendings that Serenata's robot tweets are literally reimbursements that congresspeople receive from the federal government for spendings needed while "on duty".

They aren't paid using their salaries. If that was the case, there would be no problem (legally speaking).

You're thinking about meal prices on richer countries.

I am a software developer, so I get paid more than the average Brazilian. And I spend 14~18 BRL (4.3 to 5.5 USD) on a good meal regularly.

39 to 75 BRL is very expensive to our standards. The restaurant I take my wife on our anniversary costs 60~70 BRL per person.

Someone spending close to 75 BRL per day is the equivalent of eating every day in that nice restaurant you go a couple times a year.

Where do you live? I live in Buenos Aires and in my experience Sao Paulo is pricier. The amounts dont seem crazy to me.

Edit: if they actually did it every day then it wouldn't be a statistical outlier :P

> if they actually did it every day then it wouldn't be a statistical outlier :P

True, haha!

The average brazilian does not spend 50 BRL on a meal. Why should a public servant be able to? These guys are living like kings when they are mostly blowhards with very few skills other than being able to manipulate poor people into voting for them.

Well, a congressman is hardly an average citizen. I don't necessarily disagree with your point but that doesn't necessarily mean that spending 15 USD on lunch is a sign of corruption.

Brazil is in many ways similar to Argentina (where I live) and the average voter doesn't value austerity much. Our current president is the son of one of the richest businessman in the country, and is a millionaire himself.

It would also be handy if we had a short description of the suspicion in the tweet message itself.

Interesting project, but the false positives might turn people off. Stuff like a 50 BRL (~15 USD) pizza receipt (https://jarbas.serenata.ai/layers/#/documentId/5611260) are not that interesting in a country with much more lavish public spenders.

Namely, I'd like to see more public scrutiny against the illegal salaries judges receive in Brazil - which sometimes are twice or three times greater than the legal limit.

Yeah, as well intentioned as it is, the real corruption is people taking huge backhanders for stuff, and diverting government funds to their family, not people forgetting to name the members of staff they had lunch with on paperwork, getting the date wrong on the paperwork or buying stuff in both the origin city and destination city of their flights. And the real corruption generally doesn't involve expense receipts

The UK had a similar issue which started off with looking at very specific instances where politicians made hundreds of thousands of pounds from fraudulent representations for expenses associated with a London "second home" and ended up ranking MPs by office expenses they were very much entitled to claim and highlighting legitimate claims for snacks just because they were funny. Trouble is, the basic conclusion was "all MPs are corrupt" which actually makes it harder to grab public attention over more serious conflicts of interest.

I'd say there are lots of things that should be better discussed: royalties that mining companies should pay, fairer income tax, how much foreign companies get in fiscal incentives, inheritance tax, excessive use of agrochemicals, etc.

There is a long list of things that are not been adequately discussed. Sure, this is important, but it shouldn't take up as much of our collective attention as it does.

I say it is a start...

The thing is, the data is already public, but the volume is just so big that nobody paid much attention.

Now, at very least, some politicians will be weary of spending something that MIGHT look suspicious. Mostly the young ones.

The old politicians here have no shame whatsoever and know they will keep being elected until they die or retire.

About the judges salaries, there are a couple of other Twitter accounts that regularly publish out-of-ordinary payments as salaries and pensions.

As a Brazilian, I don't think this will change anything, but I think it is a great project that will at least prevent some "in your face" absurds that our politicians like do from time to time.

It's a bit bland compared to what Eduardo Cunha could pull in, but then Cunha didn't get his money by sending a receipt to be reimbursed.

The problem is more that this sort of data isn't likely to find the serious corruption, it'll likely just find pedestrian examples of misuse of public funds.

this is awesome! having lived in Brazil I can testify that the country really need this (if such testimony is necessary). However I do think other countries would benefit too!

I've long wished for AI governance, and this is a great step in the direction I imagine that working. I for one welcome our new robot overlords ;)

>I've long wished for AI governance

Someone has to write the algorithms, and something tells me it's not going to be the 99%.

It probably wouldn't end in a Skynet-type situation. Or rather, that is very very unlikely.

Though on the remote possibility that this does happen; I welcome our new AI overlords!

I don't know who'll build it, but any such AI should be named after Stafford Beer's Cybersyn.

In Brazil, federal, state and some local governments publish what is called "Diário Oficial". It's a daily ledger of official hirings, firings, payments, votes on legislative chambers and even criminal indictments. The Brazilian Congress also post all the laws and amendments proposed and approved on its website http://www2.camara.leg.br/.

While AI is no solution for corruption, it could create a more transparent system with a lot more accountability highlighting the potential misuse of money.

Actually, even without sophisticated technology, whoever decides to read the free and available content, will quickly find many things that jump the eyes. For instance, I remember seeing that my city, under the new mayor, was paying for school buses while the school was off, in the month of January and three times the amount the previous administration used to pay (while kids were in school). My city also had even a helicopter for the local security force, which was not actually police and was not able to even carry guns. The helicopter was paid, faithfull, for many years. But seen in public only once, in a parade.

At the time (many years ago), I tipped newspapers and nobody cared.

A few years ago I created a simple script that to download all the public available law proposals from the Congress (https://github.com/pablomelo/baixa_camara) and downloaded 300GB of data.

I wanted to create an app where voters could see where and what was the allegiance of their representatives (In Brazil there's no district division and a candidate for Congress can get votes from anywhere in the state. While it prevent's gerrymandering, it also allows politicians to have little commitment to their constituents).

This project is interesting, but real corruption doesn't happen with receipts. Corrupt politicians will receive funds in offshore accounts and then work for foreigners, such as the foreign oil companies that are now taking vast amounts of Brazilian oil contracts for next to nothing. The corruption cases presented by the Brazilian media are peanuts compared to these shady deals involving big foreign investments.

This is the excuse of the impeached Workers Party ex-government. With a touch of fascism - "the foreigners are the real danger!!!!!11111".

The other excuse was that "corruption is small compared to the GDP". (And what about the chilling effects?)

If you don't believe that Shell/BP can buy politicians to have easy access to oil, you should better get acquainted with the politics of other countries [0]. This is the first thing I thought about when I heard about big oil reserves in Brazil.

[0] https://www.ft.com/content/a9e193de-2044-11e7-a454-ab0442897...

I am not naive, and you should not be naive to the "bad bad foreigners" mantra that is tailored for the reptilian brain layer of the voters, either.

Dude, this hapoens and is not as negligible as you imply.

Sure, there's an agenda to appeal for a certain rhetoric, but you must accept some facts.

> The other excuse was that "corruption is small compared to the GDP".

Well, we already know as a fact that at least in Brazil the excuse is wrong. There's a long time that I don't hear it, so I guess people can't even deny anymore.

The new excuse is "but look, the people that inherited the power do it too, and nothing is happening to them". So, back to good old whataboutism.

Some people are missing the point. The project does not have the idea of seeking congressmen who spend a lot on their meals. Of course, that could help them spend a little less.

But the idea is to find irregularities. That is, a congressman who says he had lunch at such a restaurant, but by analyzing the invoice and the address we find that this restaurant never existed. Or a gas station that does not really work anymore.

This is very common. It is not an analysis of what they do with their wages. These congressmen receive compensation beyond their wages to spend when working in their regions. This compensation has a value of four to five times more than their salary.

Slightly OT but combination of gov and data kind of reminded me of Project Cybersyn. If you like this project, you might find reading about Cybersyn interesting http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/13/planning-machin...

Very interesting.

I heard of Benford's law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benford%27s_law#Accounting_fra...) that is used to detect accounting fraud.

Are there other known mathematical models to detect fraud?

FWIW, it is named after an immensely popular bonbon from Brazil: https://www.garoto.com.br/produtos/detalhes/191

Why is a fishing expedition OK in this scenario but not in normal criminal cases?

It's not a value judgement. I think it's an interesting question.

Brazil is currently overly excited with fighting corruption when its greatest problems lie unperturbed.

Income is too concentrated, taxes are highly regressive, and half the federal budget goes into servicing the debt.

All spheres of brazilian government have achieved a good level of transparency. But the national debate is always skewed by the current scandal cooked up by the media (that's another serious issue: the media is also too concentrated).

hmn, do you mean corruption is not as bad as income inequality?

Because one can argue that corruption foster inequality, where government workers steal money from the people, they give favor to rich "friends" making them richer.

I can guess your solution is to give more power to the state to solve the inequality issue, which actually worsens the corruption caused inequality.

I don't think cutting corruption to zero would impact people's lives as much as having a progressive tax system.

If you look at overall tax burden, the lowest tier pays close to 50%. The highest tier, a bit over 25%. Trump tried to lower corporate tax to 15% and not even his party thought it was reasonable. In Brazil, corporate tax is zero.

One of the richest people in Brazil, Steinbruch, was caught trying to evade an estate tax of only 4%, when food is taxed at near 20%.

You're wrong. In Brazil corporate income is taxed at 34,5% (base 15%, plus additional 10% for medium to big sized companies, plus 9,5% for social security)

That amount is on par or above OCDE counties, and much higher than most developing nations.

What we don't have is dividend tax. Unlike corporate tax that one must pay every quarter, you only pay dividend tax if you give money back to shareholders, so reinvestments are not taxed.

Usually countries balance income and dividend taxes so the government has a stable income but doesn't penalize investments as much. In Brazil, we opted for screwing investors.

Not to mention that companies pay an enormous amount of money in combined sales taxes. A manufacturing company usually pays 17% for state sales tax, another 9,35% federal social security, and sometimes an extra 5% to 15% for "luxury good" (like shampoo).

So, again, you're completely wrong and companies (read YOU) pay a hell lot of taxes in Brazil.

Source: I worked in investment analysis in another life.

Idk much about corporate taxes in Brazil, but I do know that the poor pay way too much, a minimum wage employee pays taxes and "contributions" and other forms of taxations, such as FGTS and inflation.

And they pay again when buying goods, I was shocked when I read about the welfare state and the welfare cliff in the US, for the propaganda I was subjected in Brazil it was hard to believe.

So Brazil is way worse for the poor than the US, and getting paid in Brazil as remote for me (as a dev) is cheaper, since I work as a contractor and would pay between 4-6% taxes against ~25% in the US.

that's exactly what happens, couldn't agree more!

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