Increased US Pressure Pushes through P3 Law in Legislative Assembly
On Monday, May 20th, the proposed Public Private Partnership (P3) law came up for debate in the Treasury Commission of the National Legislative Assembly in the wake of a mounting pressure campaign from the US government. As the Salvadoran labor movement gathered to protest the law outside, the FMLN was able to push through amendments to exclude all public healthcare, education (including higher-education), water, public security and prison services from concession. This morning, commission members voted to send the new version of the law to the full legislative plenary on Thursday where it is expected to pass.
In addition to the exclusion of essential public services, the FMLN’s proposal to establish a body within the Ministry of Economy called the Public Private Partnership Directorate to oversee the contracts was accepted, rather than granting that oversight to the Agency for the Promotion of Investment and Exports (PROESA) of the Presidency, as stipulated in the Executive’s draft. Furthermore, the time limit on Legislative decisions on each concession was eliminated, as was with the payment of state funds to the bidding company for violating the deadline.
Outside the Legislative Assembly, Estela Ramírez of the Private Sector Workers’ Union Federation (FUERSA) addressed her fellow labor activists: “We are here from the private sector to accompany public sector workers in their opposition to the P3 law, not only out of solidarity for those workers’ rights, but because of the impact that this law would have on private sector workers by raising the costs of social services and further bankrupting the state.” Ramírez insisted that fiscal reform, not privatizations and concessions, was the path to increasing economic growth in El Salvador.
The passage of the law in commission comes following a heightened effort from the US to push the law to a vote. Over the last two weeks, US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte has appeared in headlines across El Salvador calling on the FMLN to support the bill and emphasizing its importance to future Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) infrastructure funding for El Salvador. Then, on May 13th, the right-wing Salvadoran newspaper the Diario de Hoy published a letter from US Congressmen Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) of the Western Hemisphere Foreign Relations subcommittee to the Director of the MCC. The letter congratulated the MCC for postponing the decision around a second compact with El Salvador pending US Embassy conversations with the Salvadoran government around public private partnerships and corruption. The US Embassy responded with a statement clarifying that the MCC process was not suspended but in fact proceeding according to schedule, and the Diario de Hoy was forced to issue a correction. National media, however, jumped on the opportunity to further blame the FMLN for blocking El Salvador’s access to $300 million in MCC infrastructure funding.