P3 law passes amidst protest from social movement
On Thursday, May 23, amidst a renewed push by the US government for its approval, the Legislative Assembly passed the controversial Public-Private Partnership (P3) law with support from all political parties. The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which had previously raised concerns that the law would effectively privatize all basic State services, successfully pushed for the final law to exclude public healthcare, education (including higher education), water, public security and prison administration from P3s.
legislative commission debates on Tuesday, May 21, during Thursday’s full plenary, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), National Conciliation (PCN) and Christian Democrat (PDC) parties argued to remove the exclusions on water, the public University of El Salvador and prison administration. With the FMLN, the Grand National Alliance (GANA) party and the group of now-independent legislators that defected from ARENA all opposed, they were not successful; nevertheless, ARENA legislators are already discussing possibilities for reforming the law to include the excluded services. “All laws can be perfected,” said ARENA legislator Donato Vaquerano
The five-hour plenary debate of the P3 law took place as hundreds of public and private sector workers along with university organizations gathered outside to call on legislators to not approve the law, insisting it would worsen conditions for workers while making public services more expensive.
The P3 law, which was originally drafted with US Treasury Department advisors, is a key element of the Partnership for Growth, a US-El Salvador economic initiative in line with the renewed focus on “economic development” in the region that President Barack Obama emphasized during a 3-day visit to Mexico and Central America in early May. Unfortunately, most of the concrete policies attached to this renewed focus, like the P3 law, are aimed more at opening new markets and increasing profits for US corporations rather than improving the economic situations of the Mexican and Central American people.
US Embassy pressure to approve the P3 law had mounted in the weeks before its approval. Just one week after 80,000 workers and members of social movement organizations marched on May Day to voice their rejection of the law, US Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte made a renewed push in the media for its approval, publicly urging FMLN legislators to give their votes.
Aponte’s comments were followed by the publication of a letter from US Congressmen Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ) that implied $300 million in development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation was at risk because the law had not been approved, a threat that had been previously made by the Embassy. El Salvador’s right-wing media used the news to publicly shame the FMLN for delaying the P3 law’s approval.
While the the right-wing legislative groups alone could have approved the law, the FMLN’s participation was the only means to reform the original bill to mitigate the private sector takeover of all public services. These reforms also shortened the time limit for private concessions from renewable 40-year contracts to a maximum total of 40 years, guaranteed that all concessions over $10 million continue to require legislative approval, created an autonomous P3 Directorate to oversee all concessions, rather than the executive office and formed a P3 Auditor to issue sanctions for contract violations.