Brazil's Supreme Court (Supreme Federal Tribunal) ruled Tuesday that a decision by congressional leaders to almost double the salaries of senators and representatives must be put to a vote in Congress.
Party leaders and the speakers of both houses last week approved a 91% monthly salary hike from the equivalent of 5.975 US dollars to 11.375 US dollars. The move must now be approved by a vote in the Senate and lower house to be valid, the Supreme Court said on its web site. The ruling was supported by a majority of its members, which was described as "unconstitutional". The Supreme Court addressed the issue following a petition from the minority Popular Socialist Party that voted against the increase which it considered "immoral". Lower house speaker Aldo Rebelo said Congress will abide by the Supreme Court's ruling. Party leaders also agreed to hold talks to discuss a new proposal for the pay increase. Brazilian lower house representatives salaries actually account for about 20% of the total income they receive, which also includes benefits such as gasoline, home allowances and funds to hire up to 20 employees. The 91% salary increase compares with an annual rate of inflation of 3% in the first eleven months of 2006, and threatened to prompt similar moves by state legislators. A move which is not considered encouraging for the reputation of Congress and other regional legislatives that have been exposed in the last two years to mounting corruption scandals. Furthermore the controversy became public when Congress is in the midst of an intense debate over the monthly national minimum salary which could finally be raised from 350 Reais to 375 Reais equivalent to 175 US dollars. The impact of the increase sent shock waves to Brazilian public opinion and a woman simulating alienation, walked up to a member of Congress and stabbed him slightly in the back complaining bitterly about the huge salary increase. Deputy Antonio Carlos Magalhaes Neto only suffered minor injuries but his case was headlines in most of Brazil's main cities as an example of "public indignation" with Congressional "offensive abuse". The Catholic Church instructed that all parishes address the issue during mass emphasizing in the sermon the need to abide by "Christian ethics". Lower House Representative Henrique Fontana, leader of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's Worker's Party, said he expects lawmakers will approve a lower pay increase when the measure is put to a vote.