It was Victoria Tolosa Paz who opened up the doors of the Social Development Ministry to Alicia Kirchner in 2003. Almost 20 years later she is now the minister, heading the portfolio, returning to the historic building on the Avenida 9 de Julio thoroughfare.
Her office no longer has the view of the Obelisk requested by Carolina Stanley during the Mauricio Macri presidency – upon arrival Tolosa Paz returned to the offices used by the predecessor who is now governor of Santa Cruz, hanging up portraits of Evita and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. She also placed a photo of the president and vice-president together on her desk. The remaining portraits and photos are piled up near the entrance, waiting to be hung up.
“This Ministry and its Labour counterpart have two clear functions, which are capping the social programmes so there is incentive to work and administering funds responsibly to avoid the overlap of plans which end up discouraging the search for formal employment. What must not happen is an excessive overlap of social plans so that there is no money for those sectors with nothing,” declares Tolosa Paz at the start of the interview.
This will require a firm political decision because insisting on no more plans has already triggered plenty of conflict in the streets.
The political decision is that we cannot transfer incomes which discourage work. It’s knowing that there is a limit and that people cannot just queue up and walk away with this, that and the other because that means that elsewhere there are people who do not pick up any of the assistance which they really need. That is to say: You’re going to have to go out and work if you want to earn more than the minimum wage (54,500 pesos).
Patricia Bullrich has said that should she run and win the elections, there would be no more plans left in four years’ time.
The headline saying that Bullrich would end the plans cannot be applied in this context, she loves throwing out highly explosive headlines. What do we propose? Bridging jobs. And what might that be? Putting the economically active population to work with the state obliged to generate the economic conditions for that to happen. We must encourage employment and discourage overlap in the transfer of incomes.
Some social organisations are requesting more plans. How do you think they are going to react to ending overlap?
There are no more social plans and they already know that because [previous minister] Juan Zabaleta drew that same line – that definition cannot be moved. We’re going to take up every demand which is soluble but no more than that.
There is a sector of the population below the line of destitution which needs urgent measures. Isn’t that bonus which was going to come with the “soy dollar” and for which there is still no known date necessary?
The commitment is already there with the creation of the soy bond in writing and this will make some sense out of the last three months of this year. It will be temporary and I’m moving to a deeper question: How do you stop destitution from growing? You can do two things: raise incomes and try to keep the food prices in the basic shopping-basket frozen and accessible. We need to be able to clinch a wage-price agreement.
And how do you make that agreement work if there has been none until now?
Over the last year we could not reach that kind of agreement because the previous economy minister [Martín Guzmán] did not have the necessary political support. Sergio Massa does have it and I think that just as he managed agreements to accumulate reserves, he has the clout to get an agreement out of those sectors which have obtained benefits so that other sectors of the population do not sink deeper into poverty and destitution.
Alberto Fernández showed off that he had appointed three ministers (all ladies) without consulting Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or Massa. Do you feel that he has the support of the entire coalition?
I’m the Social Development minister proposed by the president and I could communicate with Massa as soon as I learned of the proposal, I could have a dialogue with Máximo Kirchner prior to accepting the post and I could speak with Alicia Kirchner and with [La Cámpora referential figure Andrés] ‘Cuervo’ Larroque. I feel that I have the support of Máximo, Sergio and Alberto because I did not talk to Cristina but I imagine that if she has something to say to me, Cristina has always said it.
Do you have time to make changes so that you can reach the elections with competitive proposals?
We have 14 months left. Regarding the electoral question, I’m not thinking of how our Frente is going to reach the elections. The only thing I know is that in these 14 months we have to resolve Argentina’s problems and sort out the lives of those with work and those without. If we do that, we will be competitive and may be recognised as a government which listens and attends to problems.
Although still united, Frente de Todos is shattered. Will 2023 find you competing together?
The president said and I repeat: unity is necessary but not enough...
Unity was enough in 2019 but not now.
That was an agreement we wanted to make but in putting it together, we found points of disagreement, of which the biggest was the agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Now we have to try and make the Frente take decisions in unison, seeking points of synthesis. There is a unity which will not be broken in the run-up to 2023 and which will be synthesised in a political expression yet to be defined.