May 24, 2013
Secret meetings as government hopes to push through budget bill
By Rubén Rabanal
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration is convinced that no more debate is needed to approve the 2013 Budget in the Lower House. By breaking another record in terms of the increasingly non-existent debate on the Budget, the Government aims to ensure that today the Budget and Economy Ministry Committee will today approve the text for the bill which will be debated next week by the deputies.
Everything related to the Budget is moving at a forced march these days. Another interesting fact is that the Economy Ministry has already visited Congress three times since it sent the bill: once for a private session with the pro-government Kirchnerite caucus, another for the judicial presentation of the text and the most infamous of the three, in Economy Minister Hernán Lorenzino’s secret visit to the office of Deputy Roberto Feletti, on the Budget and Economy Committee, last Friday. So many visits by a minister to the Lower House is rare indeed.
The problem with the text of the 2013 Budget does not appear to be the opposition, which appears likely to present its own text that is unlikely to threaten the government, which has votes to spare. The problem is apparently being caused by loyal Kirchnerite Peronists themselves.
As happens in many areas of government, the headaches and demands are this time coming from governors, mayors and even university chancellors — an entire chain of similar complaints being received by the President.
For that reason, Lorenzino and Feletti decided to close the complaints office and no longer accept further pressure, when the elasticity of the sum to be spent reached its limit some time ago.
The Economy Minister visited Feletti in the Lower House on Friday to sit down and iron out the last wrinkles in a parliamentary debate which to all intents and purposes had already ended. Without accepting the classic rules and codes of Parliament, it was decided that the following would be blocked: requests from universities for greater budgets (there will however be an increase), extensions to construction works, financing the “chain of happiness for the governors” (which is currently a little slack) and greater funding for promotion schemes, among others. In order to block these requests, the best idea was to immediately ram through the text’s approval without further trips to the Committee.
These are the problems which the government is currently facing, rather than the protest against the official inflation (10.8 percent) and growth figures, the use of almost eight billion dollars of reserves or the apparently limitless spending of funds on importing energy in all its forms in the midst of a growing deficit, or waiving the debt and taxes owed by public companies. It is clear that the problems facing the 2013 Budget come from within Kirchnerism in the provinces, which are crying out for greater financing.
In this context, it seems fairly clear that the government found it necessary to send Economy Deputy Minister Axel Kicillof, Treasury Secretary Juan Carlos Pezoa and Finance Secretary Adrián Cosentino to the Lower House to help push the budget through without problems.
However, on the road to passing the Budget, doubts remain regarding inflation, which, according to the deputy minister, is just a (minor) issue which affects the financial sector and not the real economy; the questioned list of those public works which have moved from the responsibility of Julio de Vido’s Federal Planning Ministry to the Economy Ministry; the authorizations allowed by the national government to contract debt to finance public works and purchase fuel from abroad; financing for the fuel oil import agreement signed with Venezuela; the novelty of the authorization and tax exemption of petrol purchases from other countries; the new costs, not only of gas, but of other fuels; the extension of the “Football for Everybody” programme and, of course, the use of what is left of the 7.967 billion dollar Debt Reduction Fund, once creditors have been paid.
Demanding why the government, with its 2013 Budget, validated growth of 3.7 percent for 2012, thus activating the payment of the GDP Coupon, although the difference between reality and this amount still has yet to be seen and will be shown when the government reveal how many dollars it has left in the Debt Reduction Fund, did not make an appearance in the Lower House this year.