Ever wondered if baby cribs could cause controversy? Turns out they can.
Yesterday, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio prosecuted former Health Ministers Juan Manzur and Daniel Gollán as well as former Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández for alleged irregularities in the bidding process — by which the government awards contract work to the most convenient bidder promising low project expenditures and high returns — regarding “Plan Qunita,” a social plan that handed out care packages to pregnant women. The bidding process and its implementation took place under the former Kirchner administration, when the prosecuted individuals were in office, and when Aníbal had a mustache.
According to Judge Bonadio, there is evidence to suggest that the State paid up to four times more than it should have for the products included in the packages (cribs, baby clothing, etc.) which obviously doesn’t make sense if the goal of having companies bid for contract work is to find the ones that will ask for a fair amount. Bonadio also suspects the way the bidding was conducted was illegal, since the government only held one bidding process for all package items instead of separate ones for cribs, baby clothing, etc.
As if this weren’t enough bad news for those involved in the plan, the Health Ministry — now under Minister Jorge Lemus — decided to suspend the packages’ delivery because a report conducted by the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) concluded the cribs are not safe for babies. And by dangerous, they mean they have sharp edges, no appropriate distances between bars and collapse when they hold anything weighing more than nine kilos. Yup, clearly not a good day for those who were in charge of the plan.
But as always, before getting into the political repercussions, let’s find out what the Qunita Plan is all about.
The Qunita Plan
The Qunita Plan was launched as part of the Universal Pregnancy Allowance welfare plan (AUE).
“Our goal is to take care of pregnant women and their newborns’ health, to guarantee all Argentines have the same opportunities to grow up healthy,” said former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner when she announced the plan in July last year.
To actually receive the packages, women had to undergo mandatory medical examinations along with their newborns. Approximately 140,000 beneficiaries received the kits, which included a wooden crib, clothing for the newborn, other “daily use” products and a basic care guide.
Shortly after the plan was announced, former Health Minister Graciela Ocaña pressed charges against 23 people — the most famous of which were Manzur, Gollán and Aníbal Fernández — involved in the bidding process, claiming there was some seriously shady business behind it. Ocaña presented a report from a website called Eliminando Variables, which revealed the government had allegedly contracted a company called Fasano S.A. to make most of the packages. Problem is, that company had never produced anything remotely similar to the products needed. In fact, the company is legally supposed to be in the real estate business. Not crib construction.
The report went on to explain that Fasano went from billing AR$6,000 in 2014 to scoring an AR$903 million government contract the following year. This meant a 15 million percent growth for the company. Not too shabby.
So Judge Bonadio is looking into whether the accused people embezzled State money or not. No one is surprised by this, considering Bonadio is known for being pretty anti-Kirchnerite.
Former Health Ministers Juan Manzur and Daniel Gollán are implicated because they headed the Health Ministry during the plan’s different stages. The mustache that was is implicated because he signed off on the bidding.
Ocaña said she conducted an investigation that found better quality cribs at a lower price than the one the State paid for: “In the neighborhood of Once, we spent AR$4,100 for a better quality care package, when the State spent more than AR$11,000,” she said.
In contrast, Aníbal Fernández did what he does best and quickly came out to deny any wrongdoing: “I don’t know what I’m being accused of. I wasn’t Cabinet Chief during the whole process.”
“So now they’re questioning only one signature? At the moment of signing there were no bureaucratic, legal or political reasons not to,” added Aníbal who didn’t say anything about whether the bidding process itself was legal or not.
Juan Manzur and Daniel Gollán haven’t made any statements yet.
With these new additions, there are now seven former Kirchnerite officials being prosecuted now that they no longer have political immunity. The others are:
- Aníbal Fernández, Juan Manzur and Daniel Gollán (embezzlement in Qunita plan)
- José Sbatella (breaking state secrecy in 2010 by leaking information to the press)
- Guillermo Moreno and Alejandro Vanoli (instigating violence and using State funds for personal purposes)
- Finally, how could he be left out of a list of this kind, former Vice President Amado Boudou (this time for allegedly taking plane and helicopter rides as bribes.)
To read more about the important cases to be on the lookout for in 2016, check out this article by The Bubble.