[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian government has announced strategies to compensate the science sector after scientists challenged a budget cut made late last year.
The government announced the 18 per cent cut in the Brazilian science budget — around US$0.5 billion — in December last year.
But after protests from the scientific community — via articles in the media and emails to congress — and the government's own science minister, Sergio Rezende, describing the cuts as "irresponsible", the Ministry of Science and Technology announced that it was committed to ensuring the 2009 budget was rebuilt.
"The [science] minister is discussing solutions with the Ministry of Planning to ensure the implementation of all the intended activities and programmes," said a statement from the science ministry, published last month (28 January).
Senator Delcídio Amaral, who was part of the group responsible for the budget decision, told SciDev.Net that it was clear from the beginning of the budgetary process that cuts would have to be made.
But after the budget had been sent to congress for approval, it was found that there was around US$1 billion left over from the general 2008 budget. A reserve fund was created to compensate the science and technology budget and the education budget — which had suffered similar cuts. The Ministry of Planning will coordinate the use of the fund.
"Science and technology activities will not be impaired," says Amaral.
But Alaor Chaves, chairman of the Brazilian Physics Society, told SciDev.Net that it was scientists' actions that swayed the government.
"The scientific and educational community, although relatively small, influences public opinion. The mobilisation of scientists was crucial to the government's decision on reversing the science and technology budget cut."
A particular area of concern for scientists had been scholarships offered by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. Rezende had said that these would have to be cancelled under the budget cuts, but the government statement says it is committed to ensuring that they go ahead with funds of US$77.4 million.
While he is pleased that S&T activities for 2009 will not be compromised, Chaves says that, rather than creating a reserve fund, the government should restore the budget.