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The Brazilian government has come under fire from the president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, Glaci Zancan, for holding back about 45 per cent of the budget of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

According to Zancan, this decision, taken apparently as part of a dispute between the government and Congress over a separate tax bill, is threatening to damage the future of Brazilian science.

Budgetary restrictions at the beginning of this year allowed only payments for fellowships to be made, and several research institutes belonging to the Ministry of Science and Technology currently face difficulties in conducting their activities as a result.

“The education sector is also paralysed, and federal universities have been receiving no money at all for new buildings and equipment, or for maintaining basic services,” says Zancan.

Government officials claim that the spending cuts are only temporary, and that the full US$700 million allocated for science and technology in the budget for 2002 will eventually be restored, once additional funds are forthcoming.

But Zancan believes that the government’s decision to cut funding for science and technology, as well as other areas of public activity, is a political move. The government is putting pressure on Congress to approve an extension of a current tax imposed on all banking operations that was initially created to raise extra funding for health spending, and has since been used for other purposes.

The minister of the Science and Technology, Ronaldo Sardenberg, defends the extension of the tax to the end of 2004. "There are many [research] projects under way, and they must not be paralysed because of the lack of financial resources", says Sardenberg.

He adds that a failure by the Brazilian Congress to approve the extension would cause significant damage to the Ministry of the Science and Technology.

But Zancan is afraid that, despite government assurances, the budget will not be restored. And she adds that, even if the budget is restored, the funding prospects for Brazilian science remain a source of concern.

She points out, for example, that since 1987, the main task for the CNPq — one of the main Brazilian funding agencies — has been to support research fellowships, and has had almost no additional budget available for funding research.

Zancan criticises the discontinuities in funding research programmes: "Over the years, Brazilian researchers have had to get used to permanent juggling to survive the constant changes in those programmes resulting from the 'creativity' of government officials", she says.

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