31 August 2008

Musketeers of redistribution: Ricardo Jaime

Continuing with the translation of the Crítica Digital article titled Los mosqueteros de la redistribución ("The Musketeers of Redistribution"), about the subsidies granted by the Kirchner administration.

The second musketeer of redistribution is the Secretary of Transport, Ricardo Jaime. During the first semester of the year, subsidies to transportation (urban buses, trains and subways) reached AR$2.66bn, up by 71% compared to the same period last year.
Néstor and Cristina Kirchner (for all practical purposes, it's all one open-ended presidential term) have channeled billions into subsidies for public and private companies, with almost complete freedom to alter the budget and without oversight, so these figures are important. They usually say they need freedom to redistribute the income collected by the state so that it reaches the poor, but in fact all that money and all that freedom gives a few people a huge amount of power. Unsurprisingly, they've been using it to benefit the companies.
Subsidizing public passenger transportation is not an Argentine invention. And there's a consensus that such subsidious mostly benefit the lower-income rung of society. However, here we have doubtful criteria for assignment of subsidies, [which are granted,] in the case of bus companies, on the basis of sworn statements without control over cost structures, and in the case of trains and subways, over cost structures that are inflated by companies linked [to the main ones] as suppliers.
If you've travelled by train in Buenos Aires, it should be obvious to you that the companies that provide the service aren't pouring money into it. I mean, people have set fire to train stations out of anger, due to how bad the services are. By giving money to private companies and not overseeing their investments or forcing them to give a reasonably good service, the government is an accomplice of fraud. If the Secretary of Transportation can't make sure that people aren't treated like cattle in buses and trains that he (using our money) is paying for, then he should resign.
Aerolíneas Argentinas is a completely different matter. The poor do not generally travel by plane. The decission of re-nationalizing is debatable, but valid if weight is conceded to arguments such as regional integration or economic development. What is not trivial from the point of view of redistribution is who will take on the cost. Jaime said that, if it were up to him, he would pay nothing to the Spaniards of [the Marsans group]. And he says they gutted the company, while he looked the other way for five years…
This is especially relevant now that Aerolíneas is being really nationalized. It certainly looks as if we'll be buying back a company laden with debt and with a dismal record of service, and we'll be taking care of fixing it.
There is not a successful precedent of redistribution, either, in the case of LAFSA, the state company that in 2003 took care of the employees of former companies LAPA and DINAR. LAFSA never flied and today it is in the process of dissolving itself. But in the budget there are still funds set aside to pay the salaries of 99 employees, about 10 of them with wages above AR$10,000 per month.
Empty shells masquerading as actual companies for accounting purposes are so common in Argentine history that this surprises no-one. "Enterprise ethics" is an oxymoron in Argentina. This case is also interesting because the state invokes the welfare of the workers to justify the intervention in the finances of failed companies. We're hearing this kind of thing in the debate about Aerolíneas Argentinas as well. At the risk of being accused of insensitivity, I think the state should decide whether it wants a serious company that works and can sustain itself as a flagship airline, or a mockery of an airline whose main purpose is to produce money for its workers, some of who have never done any actual work besides showing up at union meetings.

I'll be posting the last installment of this series in a few days.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.