More reforms are coming. The government is now drafting a new public ethics bill aimed at preventing public officials from taking advantage of public office to make a profit personally or through family members. Led by former Cambiemos Deputy Laura Alonso, the Anti-Corruption Office (known as OA, from it’s Spanish name ‘Oficina Anticorrupción’) is in charge of the bill, and its more relevant aspects would imply serious changes to the current system.
To begin with, the bill determines more thorough controls for public officials’ tax returns. It includes the need to disclose all assets, credits and debts, both in the country and overseas, not only from the officials, but also from their spouses or partners, as well as their children who are under 18 years old. Moreover, public officials will have to detail all income from other sources, as well as whether they have stakes in any public/private companies.
In regards to potential conflicts of interest, the bill establishes that whoever holds public office is banned from involvement in areas in the private sector that relate to this post, regardless of whether they have the ability to make final decisions or not. “Should the official be reached by any of these situations, he or she will have to resign from their activities in the private sector in order to take office,” an article from the bill reads.
During the Macri administration, different officials have been involved in controversy precisely as a result of this issue. Among them was the so-called “Post Office Scandal”, when a prosecutor accused the government of condoning a AR $70 billion debt to the post office, owned by President Mauricio Macri’s father, Franco. The case is still being investigated by the judiciary.
Another article of the bill is destined to crack down on nepotism, an activity that is more than usual in the Argentine government. It establishes that officials must not appoint friends or relatives if their qualifications are not dutifully proven. The last high-profile case regarding this issue took place in early December, when Mariana Triaca, sister of Labor Minister Jorge Triaca, was appointed to the board of the Banco Nación (National Bank).
Even though Mariana Triaca was previously working as a board adviser, her case drew inevitable comparisons to Delfina Rossi’s, who in 2015 was appointed to the same post when her father, Agustín, was Defense Minister under then-President Cristina Kirchner. Back then, the news resulted in widespread accusations of nepotism, especially from the detractors of the Kirchner administration. It should be noted that to this day, Mariana Triaca still holds her post at the Banco Nación.
Finally, another article establishes the need for those high-ranking officials from organizations that administer health insurance systems to present their tax returns in order to be able to stay in their posts. This article seems to be mainly aimed at union members, as most of the organizations they represent provide health insurance to their members.
Taking into account that many high-profile union leaders are currently in hot water as a result of accusations of money laundering and defrauding their organizations, this article would make it easier to detect whether they have effectively been carrying out illegal activities by forcing them to clear their financial situation with the state.
In fact, Marcelo Balcedo, head of the SOEME union (the union that represents workers and employees who execute tasks related with education and in direct contact with minors) and the editor of the Hoy newspaper, was arrested on January 4 in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Along with his wife Paola Fliege, he was detained in relation to a money-laundering investigation lead by Federal Judge Ernesto Kreplak.
In essence, it sounds like good news, since the bill aims for more transparency and a clear view of the public official’s position when in office. If it passes, we’ll just have to wait and see if it’s really as good as it sounds.