President Mauricio Macri Wednesday doled out US$4.5 million in taxpayer money to gas utility provicers in Argentina , while consumers face gas bills that are as much as 400 percent higher than they were before Macri took office just eight months ago.
The bulk of the funds went to two gas distribution corporations, Camuzzi Gas Pampeana and Metrogas, Argentina’s La Nacion reported.
According to official government newsletters, a payment of over US$2.9 million to Metrogas and over US$1.7 million to Camuzzi constitutes a form of “interim financial assistance” to cover “expenses and investments associated with the normal operation of the provision of the public service of natural gas distribution.”
Smaller sums were handed over to a handful of other gas distributors.
According to La Nacion, the payments originates from a financial assistance plan initiated last June by former President Cristina Fernandez. But that plan was before Macri’s austerity program sparked triple digits spikes in prices and inflation.
In a recent interview with teleSUR, Fernandez criticized Macri’s policies, arguing that conflicts of interest and “collusion” between gas company executives and owners and government officials is one of the problems underlying the utility hikes.
She also expressed concern that the consumers are in a situation of not knowing how much their gas bills will be or how much they have to pay, which can be a cause for stress, especially among families impacted by massive job losses in the public and private sectors under Macri.
The payments to the gas corporations comes amid a broad debate over the price increases, particularly the hikes in electricity fees by up to 700 percent.
Protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets to slam the Macri government over his policies and demand the price increases be overturned.