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ARGENTINA | 29-12-2022 00:10

Argentina's lawmakers head for early recess, leaving a host of pending bills

With little chance of congressional activity resuming in the immediate future, Argentina's lawmakers are heading off for recess, leaving a host of bills pending.

As a result of the hostile climate that has broken down dialogue between the government and the opposition, the Chamber of Deputies has gone into an early recess and left an extensive catalogue of bills pending approval.

Both parties confess that there are no political conditions that would allow for a resumption of the congressional agenda in extraordinary sessions in the short term. Activity could resume in February, but only if President Alberto Fernandez calls for a specific treatment of legislation, which could include the 'blanqueo' whitewashing bill, whose drafting is being finalised by the Economy Ministry.

After a fateful double session of December 1, in which the controversy over the appointment of members to the Magistrates' Council tainted the dynamics of the lower house and put the chamber's leader Cecilia Moreau in the eye of a storm, any hint of coexistence has dissolved, and the Frente de Todos' attempts to approve pending bills has collided with cold reality.

Last Wednesday, the chamber failed to reach quorum again at a session called, among other reasons, to approve bills to regularise social security contributions and the creation of eight new national universities. The ruling party was initially counting on the help of a handful of lawmakers from Juntos por el Cambio (from the Evolución Radical bloc) to achieve the magic number of 129 deputies, but the inclusion "through the window" of the Rent Law bill gave the opposition the perfect excuse to cut off quorum at the last minute, despite the fact that there was prior agreement to hold court.

The law to regulate rental prices for housing properties has been a longheld opposition demand, but the absence of the majority of Juntos por el Cambio deputies in the chamber was always going to lead to an undesired outcome: that a version promoted by the Frente de Todos would be approved to the detriment of their own offering. The bill has been stuck since the middle of the year – because neither has enough votes to impose their own bill. In any case, a loophole remains open since congressional opinions will retain parliamentary status until the end of next year.

And so, for the third time in a row, an opportunity to move forward with part of the lower house's truncated agenda was lost. The agenda of the session adjourned last Wednesday also included healthcare bills and another supporting the computerisation and digitalisation of medical records.

There are many more bills that have been left pending. For example, reforms to laws on money-laundering and the financing of terrorism. The main reform has to do with turning the Financial Information Unit (UIF) into a decentralised body of the National Public Administration, under the jurisdiction of the Economy Ministry, with its own legal status and functional, administrative, economic and financial autonomy. The urgency for the law is associated with the fact that next year a new technical review of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is scheduled, which requires Argentina to update its regulations as a condition to remaining part of that entity.

La Ley de Humedales, or Wetlands Law, which has already been debated, is another issue that has been put on hold due to the lack of agreement. The government's proposal establishes land-use planning and an inventory of wetland areas throughout the country. It regulates the activity of productive enterprises in such ecosystems and guarantees their preservation with environmental impact assessments in order to avoid "ecocide." It establishes a fund of no less than 0.3 percent of GDP for this cause. The opposition is seeking to adjust restrictions on productive activity and promotes a more "balanced" equation between economic exploitation and preservation.

An obstetrics bill, unlike its previous incarnation, has a high level of consensus, but is still pending approval in the Chamber of Deputies. This law establishes a general framework and expands the competencies of midwifery professionals, who are dedicated to assisting the pregnant woman throughout her fertile period during pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum stages. 

The Agro-industry Promotion and Buy Argentine bills, both promoted by the Economy Ministry, are also pending, as was another proposing creation of the National Fund for the Cancellation of the Debt with the IMF, an initiative that has been approved by the Senate. The latter project, whose author is the Kirchnerite Senator Oscar Parrilli, has little chance of moving forward, but there are expectations for the money-laundering proposal that Sergio Massa's economic portfolio will present in the coming days. This initiative stipulates that 20 percent of proceeds from money-laundering be used to pay debt obligations with the IMF.

The government's judicial agenda will also be postponed for the rest of the year, and there is not much chance of resuscitation. A bill to reform the Public Prosecutor's Office will lose parliamentary status on December 31, while proposed reforms to the Supreme Court and the Magistrates' Council, which were passed by the Senate this year, will remain possible for another year, although expectations are practically nil.

by Sebastián Hadida, Noticias Argentinas

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