Argentina´s cabinet chief unveils public service belt-tightening measures

FILE PHOTO: Argentina's President-elect Alberto Fernandez announces his cabinet next to Argentina's incoming Cabinet Chief, Santiago Cafiero, ahead of taking office on December 10, in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian/File Photo

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The head of Argentina´s new cabinet under President Alberto Fernandez said on Saturday that the government would make a series of belt-tightening “public spending adjustments,” just hours after the country´s senate gave final legislative approval to an emergency economic reform package touted by Fernandez as the country’s best chance at sparking growth.

“There has to be an adjustment in political spending and that is being done,” Santiago Cafiero told Argentina´s CNN Radio. “We are streamlining the number of advisers and official vehicles, for example.”

His comments come amidst an ongoing public debate about the retirement packages of certain public functionaries, including judges and diplomats, which are significantly higher than those of other public workers. President Alberto Fernandez has said he will seek to repeal such pensions in an extraordinary sessions of Congress next month.

“The two departments with the highest pension packages are the foreign office and the judiciary. We want that discussed. Within this law, we will set up a commission to deal with this issue.”

Fernandez issued a decree on Saturday to extend the extraordinary sessions of the Congress until Feb. 29, although he did not detail the issues he would table for discussion.

Argentina´s new emergency economy law, the “Social Solidarity and Production Reactivation” act, was approved 41-23 with one abstention in the Senate after passing the lower House earlier on Friday, all less than two weeks after moderate Peronist Fernandez took office.

The new leader is faced with inflation of more than 50% and an economy expected to shrink for a third straight year in 2020. He is headed into restructuring talks on about $100 billion in debt owed to bondholders and the International Monetary Fund.

“With the passing of this law we have the tools to orient our administration according to the objectives set by the president, and generate a package of measures that could give some breathing space for those who have less,” said Cafiero.

“Everything is going to be resolved if we Argentines are able to unite.”

Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Andrea Ricci