Interview: Daniel José Hopes to Reform Brazilian Politics

Isabela Sartori sat down with the Brazilian politican Daniel José to talk about the Partido Novo movement, what it is like to be in politics, and José’s hopes for Brazil’s future.

Much is said about Brazilian politics: corrupt, polarized, and oftentimes unmatched by any work of fiction. With a deplorable track record, including the biggest corruption scandal of all time, Operation Car Wash, it would seem the stereotype has proven itself time and time again. That has resulted in a strong disbelief coming from the population, with over 75% of citizens reporting they distrust political parties in 2018. Brazilians are exhausted, or at least this Brazilian is. 

Nevertheless, the last few years have offered me continued hope for our political scenario, and one of the reasons for that is Partido Novo, or in English, the New Party. The translation is important because it encapsulates what this political party stands for: a new way of doing politics, that is far from the abusive reality we have been accustomed to. For a system which has been plagued with cloudiness, their clarity stands out immediately. 

As a representative of Partido Novo, and the State Representative for São Paulo, Daniel José is the focus of this interview. A man of humble beginnings, and the youngest of 11 siblings, it was through a lot of hard work that he was able to gain scholarships to study Economics at the Insper Institute for his bachelor’s degree, and later at Yale University, for a masters in International Relations. From that moment onwards, he worked in the private sector, at M Square Investments and JP Morgan. However, after a year of working with refugees in Jordan, he switched paths, and began working at Falconi Education, the only consulting firm invested in helping both private and public institutions in Brazil. That then set the stage for co-founding RenovaBR, an initiative to train and accelerate new political leaders, and later joining Partido Novo, a liberal party. 

Here is the interview in its entirety, with no changes, except for a direct translation from Portuguese to English.

THE QUARTERLY: Many students in France may be unfamiliar with most Brazilian political parties, especially new and disruptive ones. Could you give us your take on what Partido Novo represents for the new political scenario in Brazil?

JOSÉ: Partido NOVO is a movement that was started by citizens dissatisfied with the amount of taxes paid and the quality of public services received. This group of people had never run for any elective office, but concluded that a political party would be the appropriate democratic tool to make the desired and necessary changes.

Analyzing the existing political parties, we concluded that none of them clearly advocated greater autonomy and freedom for the individual, a reduction in the areas of state action, a reduction in the tax burden and an improvement in the quality of essential services such as health, safety and education.Despite being considered an alternative path, the Partido Novo has gained political relevance in recent years, especially when we analyze the results of the 2018 elections.

THE QUARTERLY: Studying at a university specialized in Political Science can give us a skewed vision of the reality of the profession. Is there something about working in politics you believe would surprise students?

JOSÉ: I believe that the main surprise is the glaring difference between political theory and practice. The discipline of political science has several models and assumptions that help us to understand the whole, but often they do not apply to political reality.

THE QUARTERLY: As many of our readers are French, they may be wondering: is there any aspect of French legislation you believe we should be inspired by, and why?

JOSÉ: French legislation has had a strong influence on the construction of the Brazilian legal system. We in the New Party have adopted a liberal ideological line and hold in high esteem many of the principles that were enshrined during the French Revolution and then consolidated in the French Civil Code of 1804. It is clear that the principle that most inspires us is freedom: freedom to contract, freedom to worship, freedom of expression, etc… The incessant search for freedom and protection of individual property observed during the Revolution resulted in Napoleon’s Code. This code strongly influenced the Brazilian Civil Code of 1916 which reproduced practically literally many provisions of the 1804 Code regarding freedom and property.

THE QUARTERLY: There is an image of Brazil portrayed in foreign media that does not align with our reality. Would you agree with that statement?

JOSÉ: I think the reality we live in is often distorted by a person who is not living the day-to-day. And I also have the impression that this has a lot to do with the polarized scenario that we are living in, in which sensible opinions lose space from inflammatory discourses.

On the economic side, for example, I believe that we have advanced considerably in recent years, with laws that facilitate the opening of businesses and structural reforms, such as the Social Security.Often this good news is more than compensated for by noises on the political side, which certainly hinders our image before the world.

THE QUARTERLY: You have been very vocal about the necessary changes to the Brazilian education system. Could you elaborate on your project “ICMS education”, and why a change in the allocation of resources for education is necessary in our country?

JOSÉ: ICMS Educacional is a project of my own that aims to increase the transfer of resources (in the case of circulation tax, the ICMS) to the municipalities that present the best educational results. That is, to implement a meritocratic model of receiving funds from some pre-established indicators, such as the score on a state exam, the rate of participation of students in the exam and school performance measured by retention and dropout rates.

It is a very important project because it changes the incentive structure of municipalities to focus on education performance.

THE QUARTERLY: Brazil is not welcoming towards entrepreneurs. Would you agree with that statement? If so, what are the key changes we must make?

JOSÉ: I have no doubt as to the veracity of that statement. When we look at the data available in the Doing Business report, from the World Bank, the Brazilian situation is shameful. We are the last ones placed when assessing the time for tax payment, we are badly placed in the time for opening companies. The impression is that the owner of a company in Brazil is always guilty of something, but has to prove his innocence over time.

It makes no sense to treat a country’s businesses in this way, as we are discouraging entrepreneurial activity and formalization, which is so important, for example, to the fiscal side. Reforms in this sense are underway, as was the case with the Economic Freedom Law, which was approved last year.

THE QUARTERLY: What has been your biggest accomplishment during your mandate? Are there any regrets?

JOSÉ: The greatest achievement is responsibility in the use of public resources. It seems banal, but here in Brazil many people forget that public resources do not fall from the sky, but come from the money collected in taxes, primarily. I have been repeatedly returning unused resources from my office to the State, and these resources can now be used to combat the effects of coronavirus, for example.

I have also fought against the existence of various privileges that exist for the political class, such as housing assistance and health care, for example. It doesn’t always make sense for the private sector to foot the bill for crises and for the public sector not to move to set an example.

As for regrets, I would say that the difficulty in the processing and slowness in voting on matters related to education bother me a lot, not least because the Brazilian educational indexes have not improved in this period (see the result of PISA).

THE QUARTERLY: And lastly, how do you hope to see Brazil in 10 years?

JOSÉ: I hope to see Brazil recover from the financial crisis of 2015/2016, which still leaves deep marks on the Brazilian economy (high unemployment). In addition, I would like to see a fairer education system, in which public investments between basic and higher education are more balanced, given the importance of early childhood in human development. Finally, a country that encourages free enterprise and entrepreneurship, giving real conditions for private initiative to leverage the growth of the economy in the coming years, thus reducing the state’s presence in the economy.

To his alma mater Daniel José has underlined his strive for a strong democracy and diversity in opinion. “I’m very optimistic about how things can change in Brazil if we have better political leaders…If we want to build a modern country with a strong democracy, we need to have people with all perspectives, but with the right values and principles, who have a strong will to serve and unshakeable honesty.” To achieve this José hopes more young Brazilians will raise their voice and run for office.

Written by Isabela Sartori. Edited by Jeppe Damberg.

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