Argentina’s Milei accused of double standards in a scandal over a 48% pay raise

Argentina’s President Javier Milei gestures while delivering his first policy speech to parliament during the inauguration of the 142nd ordinary session of Congress in Buenos Aires on March 1, 2024.

Juan Mabromata | Afp | Getty Images

Argentina’s Javier Milei has been accused of hypocrisy for orchestrating a substantial increase in presidential pay while pushing through an austerity package, in a scandal that has rocked the right-wing populist’s government.

Opposition lawmakers hit out at Milei over the weekend, sharing details on social media that showed his gross monthly salary rising to just over 6 million Argentinian pesos ($7,073 with Argentina’s official exchange rate) last month. It reflected a 48% increase in presidential pay from January.

Milei said during a televised interview on Monday that he had ordered the dismissal of Labor Secretary Omar Yasin over the scandal, reportedly saying a salary increase for himself and top government officials was “an error that should not have been made.”

The libertarian economist, who has often been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump, sought to defend the pay increase by claiming it was automatically triggered by a decree signed by former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner 14 years ago.

Opposition lawmakers, however, said the president’s own signature was used on a February decree that enabled the pay increase.

“I have just been informed that as a result of a decree signed by former president Cristina Kirchner in 2010, which established that political officials should always earn more than public administration employees, an automatic increase was granted to the political staff of this government,” Milei said Saturday in a post via social media platform X, according to a Google translation.

“In a time of crisis like the current one in which Argentine society is making a heroic effort, politicians have to be the first to lend a helping hand,” he added. “The political joke is over.”

In this aerial view members of social organizations gather outside the Ministry of Human Capital to protest against food scarcity at soup kitchens and President Javier Milei’s government’s austerity plan in Buenos Aires on February 23, 2024.

Tomas Cuesta | Afp | Getty Images

The scandal comes shortly after a major setback to Milei’s sweeping economic reform bill, although the president has since reaffirmed his determination to push ahead with divisive austerity measures.

Milei, who won a presidential runoff vote late last year, has said there is no alternative to his proposed “shock therapy” if the government is to get a grip on Argentina’s profound economic crisis.

The purchasing power of Argentinians has been ravaged by an annual inflation rate of more than 250%, the highest level in over three decades, while two in five citizens now live in poverty after decades of financial mismanagement.

Among some of his proposed policies, Milei has pledged to dollarize the economy, abolish the country’s central bank and privatize the pension system.

‘You signed, got paid and got caught’

Victoria Tolosa Paz, an Argentinian lawmaker who had previously served in the cabinet of leftist President Alberto Fernandez, accused Milei of double standards.

“With the flag of austerity, Milei lies to us,” Tolosa Paz said Saturday via social media, according to a Google translation.

Argentina’s Fernandez de Kirchner also criticized Milei, saying the decree she had signed in 2010 had “nothing to do” with the current government’s salary scandal.

“Oh President … you want to fight with me so that we don’t talk about the decree you signed giving a 48% increase to you and your officials while destroying the pensions and salaries of Argentinians … and Argentine women too,” Fernandez de Kirchner said Saturday via X, according to a Google translation.

“Admit that you signed, got paid and got caught,” she added.

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