In a high-profile move that drew attention both local and international, President Mauricio Macri announced on Monday that he was issuing a decree that banned relatives of ministers from serving in the national government. The move after a wave of criticism over actions taken by Labour Minister Jorge Triaca.
In addition, Executive branch employees will receive no pay raises this year, Macri announced, adding that his administration will cut one out of every four “political positions” appointed by ministers. The firings are expected to save US$77 million a year, the government claims.
“I hope that this is an example for Argentine politics in its entirety. I invite all jurisdictions in the country to do the same,” Macri said at a press conference.
The change will apply to relatives linked to ministers by blood or marriage to the second degree, Perfil reported. The measure will affect at least five ministers to varying degrees. The decree will hit Triaca the hardest, with four relatives eligible for removal under such conditions.
The Labour minister became the focus of a massive scandal on January 17 when voice messages he sent to his former housekeeper and assistant Sandra Heredia went viral. In the messages Triaca raises his voice in anger and calls Heredia a “pelotuda” (roughly translation: “dumbass.”)
Heredia also said Triaca paid her under the table up until 20 days before Macri won the 2015 election. Triaca apologised for the language and denied paying Heredia without a contract, but Heredia is suing for damages.
As the scandal refused to drop out of the media cycle, the government came out to defend the minister. Two days after the news first broke, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña publicly stood by Triaca, saying the messages were not “something that should cost him his job” and praising his performance as Labour minister so far. Macri later publicly supported Triaca as well.
However, in the following days, Triaca found himself repeatedly on the nation’s frontpages, with the minister facing alleged nepotism claims over number of his relatives employed in state positions.
Triaca, tasked with leading the charge to pass a controversial labour reform in the coming months, has a tough job ahead of him, scandal or no.
In the face of intense lobbying from union leaders and following the violent protests late last year that erupted amid a complicated pension reform, Macri said this week scale back the proposed legislation, splitting it into two or three bills the administration will present to Congress in March once it reaches an agreement with union leadership.
Triaca isn’t the only minister fighting against personal scandal. In October 2017, Macri appointed Luis Miguel Etchevehere to be the new agro-industry minister.
In December, Perfil reported that Etchevehere had asked the Rural Society of Argentina (SRA), where he had previously been president, for a bonus of 500,000 pesos before he left the job for public office.
Amid intense public pressure and an Office of Corruption (OA) investigation, Etchevehere announced he would return the money to the SRA on Thursday, hoping to draw a line under the scandal.