Challenging critical Kirchnerite voices, sources close to the Presidency said this week that any public official that opposes rises in utility prices “will not be able to continue in the government.”
"This is a political decision and if someone is unable to take the political decision, they will not be able to continue in the government," sources in the presidential entourage told the Noticias Argentinas news agency.
The comments, delivered from Europe during President Alberto Fernández’s week-long tour, confirm that the prices of utilities such as gas and electricity will rise in the coming months, despite fierce opposition from the Kirchnerite sector of the Frente de Todos coalition.
Public hearings regarding hikes, which began on Wednesday, got off to an auspicious start when Energy Secretary Darío Martínez decided not to preside over the meeting and instead tasked his deputy with overseeing videoconference hearings.
Regarding the trimming of subsidies, the presidential sources argued that it is necessary to move ahead with a new segmentation plan in order to improve the economic outlook. “Common sense says that it is not possible" to continue with the status quo, they continued, underlining that the decision to raise prices was taken by the president.
In this context, the sources explained that this week’s hearings "are not binding," given that they must be signed off by the head of the ENRE national electricity regulator, Soledad Marín. She answers to the Energy Undersecretary Federico Basualdo, an official seen as close to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who has previously spoken out against upcoming hikes and challenged Economy Minister Martín Guzmán’s authority.
In hearings, the Energy Secretariat confirmed that electricity rates would rise by an average of 42.72 percent this year, with the average household bill reaching 1,876 pesos as of next month. The news, delivered in a virtual hearing, also arrived with confirmation that low-income users with so-called "social tariffs'' will see lower hikes.
The government has proposed a 20-percent hike in gas prices, which will take effect in June's bills. On average users will see increases of between 18 and 25 percent, with subsidies removed more dramatically for those with high purchasing power.
The Energy Secretariat said Tuesday that any rises would be "below the evolution of salaries," with "less expensive bills for families."