New Petrobras boss seeks free-market ‘efficiency’ for oil giant

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – The new boss of Brazilian state-owned oil giant Petrobras said on Thursday that he wanted to draw a line under the company’s graft-mired past and offer “a new dawn”.

“Monopolies restrict liberty,” Roberto Castello Branco told a crowd of officials and Petrobras executives on the day he took up his functions.

Petrobras a couple of years ago “was looted by a criminal organisation made up of corrupt politicians, enemies of capitalism, and a small group of employees,” he said.

“Privileged people and monopolies are intolerable in a free society.”

The harsh words referred to a sprawling, multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal implicating Petrobras and political parties, including those from the Workers Party that ruled Brazil from 2003-2016.

Investigations into the scandal, dubbed Car Wash, brought down politicians, including former leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and resulted in Petrobras paying a USD2.95-billion settlement to US shareholders.

Castello Branco also referred to Petrobras piling up a vast debt load, which currently stands at around USD73 billion.

Brought in under new Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes – like him, part of the “Chicago Boys’” club of US-trained free-marketers who have graduated from the University of Chicago – he is intent on turning Petrobras around by reducing its statist dependency.

His strategy, he said, was simple: better management, cut capital costs, seek efficiencies, impose a meritocracy, worker safety, and protection of the environment.