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Funding for scientific research

Constituent congressman Florestan Fernandes (center) participates in an action in support of the university at the USP amphitheater, in October 1988

Wilson Melo / Folhapress

The way in which the Federal Constitution would consider the allocation of resources for science and technology mobilized the scientific community from the beginning of the constituent process. An amendment submitted by Representative Florestan Fernandes (PT-SP) gave rise to the fifth paragraph of article 218: “The states and the federal district may allocate a share of their budgetary revenues to public entities which foster scientific and technological education and research.” It is this legal provision that allows states to allocate pre-established percentages of their revenues to research foundations such as FAPESP.

Although optional, it was the first time that a Federal Constitution in Brazil addressed a budgetary link to science and technology. The provision was the result of the efforts of several entities, such as the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC), and groups such as the Constituent Assembly’s Science and Technology Movement for Social Development, which called for the establishment of funding for the sector. Despite these initiatives, the draft constitution presented in November 1987 by the Systematization Commission didn’t include any provisions on public funding for science and technology. “It’s always been very difficult to reach consensus on the issue of budgetary links, because the federal government, the states, and the municipalities want to use the revenues with as much flexibility as possible,” says André Ramos Tavares, from the University of São Paulo Law School (FD- USP). Tavares has been studying the economic aspects of the Constitution for the past 14 years.

Celso Lafer, a professor at FD-USP, recalls that Alberto Carvalho da Silva (1916–2002), FAPESP’s director-president at the time, tried to reverse this situation. He went to Brasília in search of constituents’ support for approval of an amendment that would allow linking state revenues to scientific research. “Florestan Fernandes, who submitted the auxiliary amendment to the draft constitution, played a decisive role, but he also had the political support of Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the help of José Serra, who dealt with the economic aspects of the amendment,” Lafer recalls. “The three of them each had experience at FAPESP and recognized the foundation’s importance.”

The amendment was introduced in January 1988 and Fernandes justified the need for the measure, saying: “Several states have discovered that they should broaden the effort made by the federal government in this area and have created public entities for the promotion of teaching and scientific and technological research that we can be proud of today. The oldest example of these is in São Paulo, with FAPESP…” For Tavares, the amendment was fundamental in establishing an exception to Article 167, which prohibits the linking of tax revenue to an agency, fund, or expense, which would have compromised state funding allocations to institutions such as state agencies for supporting science.

In Lafer’s assessment, the constitutional provision proved essential for the development of scientific research in Brazil. “The security of these revenues allowed FAPESP to finance wide-ranging, longer-term thematic research.” The former chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Governors (2007–2015) also points out that the measure contributed to the development of research-funding agencies in various other states. In the case of São Paulo, in order to make the opportunity created by Article 218 of the Federal Constitution effective, the legal certainty of constitutionalizing it at the state level was required. Thus, the amendment proposed by Representative Aloysio Nunes Ferreira eventually became article 271 of the Constitution of the State of São Paulo, which in 1989 increased the portion of the budget revenue allocated to FAPESP from 0.5% to 1%.