Senate Bribes Trial Verdict: A trial for bribery dating back to 2000 dominated the headlines this afternoon, as former President Fernando de la Rúa and seven other accused of bribing senators in order to pass a labour reform bill were absolved. The accused also included a former labour minister, intelligence secretary, four senators, and a parliamentary secretary. The latter, Mario Pontaquarto, had confessed to picking up bags of cash with up to US$5m from the Intelligence Agency (SIDE) to pay the bribes. “The ruling was shameful,” said Pontaquarto. “I told the story [about the bribes] ten times,” he added, “I should have been convicted because I gave my testimony and incriminated myself in this corruption case.” The labour market flexibilisation bill was passed in May 2000 and overturned in 2004. As a result of the scandal, former vice-president Carlos ‘Chacho’ Alvarez resigned in October 2000, less than a year after taking office. De la Rúa resigned a year later, in December 2001, due to the economic crisis.
New Economic Policies Announced: The government announced a series of policies aimed at boosting productivity and decreasing the rates of informal labour. Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich and Economy Minister Axel Kicillof announced the measures after a meeting with businessmen and union representatives. The measures include subsidies for small businesses and the creation of a register of sanctioned employers. Kicillof said that in the last ten years the informality in the labour market decreased from 40% to 34%, and that the aim for the next two years is to bring it down to under 30%; a “complex task,” according to the minister. In terms of boosting productivity, the main measure announced today is the launch by the Central Bank of a line of credit worth $100bn.
Voluntary Price Agreement: In a meeting between the government and representatives from the country’s main supermarkets, a new “voluntary price agreement” was signed off last week, with the aim of curbing inflation. Whilst the final list of products included in the agreement will be known on 3rd January, a partial list became public today. Some of the products that will have their prices fixed in 2014 include 11 cuts of beef and chicken, 12 fruits and vegetables, 16 drinks, 27 dairy products, 19 cleaning products, and 18 personal hygiene products.
Energy Companies to be Fined: Chief of Cabinet Jorge Capitanich said this morning that the energy regulation body (ENRE) will fine electricity companies for the power blackouts that have left entire neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires without power. It will also establish the mechanisms by which the companies will compensate their clients, which will include, for example, discounts in their electricity bills. Capitanich did not rule out that, if problems continue, the state could “provide the [power] service directly,” thus hinting at a potential nationalisation.