Government presents judicial reforms, tax amnesty bills for special sessions debates

The list of 27 bills includes hotly debated issues that the opposition’s planned boycott could stymie

by Lucía Cholakian Herrera
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Yesterday evening, President Alberto Fernández formally announced that lawmakers would be called to special congressional sessions from January 23 to February 28 in order to debate 27 bills, including several politically charged issues such as the bid to impeach the Supreme Court.

Four of the bills are about judicial issues the Fernández administration has committed to pushing in Congress during the last year of his mandate. Two of them involve restructuring the judiciary: the bills to expand the Supreme Court from five justices to 15 and to cut the Council of Magistrates from 20 to 17 members. 

Both projects have been repeatedly criticized by the opposition, which blocked them in 2022 in the Lower House after they had been approved by the Senate. Details of possible alliances that would give the ruling Frende de Todos coalition the numbers it needs to pass the bills in 2023 have yet to emerge.

But, the most controversial item on the President’s list for the special sessions is the impeachment of the Supreme Court’s justices after the Court ruled in favor of Buenos Aires city government in the dispute about shares of federal tax revenues. 

The President has already filed the impeachment request with a special Impeachment Commission in the Lower House, which is expected to approve the bill for debate in the Lower House. 

Juntos por el Cambio lawmakers have warned that they will boycott congressional sessions for as long as the impeachment bill is debated, which could block this and the other debates.

In the lower house, the session requires a quorum of at least 129 of Congress’s 257 deputies. 

At present, FdT only has 118 deputies, so would have to negotiate with its allies to ensure enough deputies were present for the sessions to proceed. In theory, these negotiations could bring the numbers up to 132, but many allied blocks have not yet said what they plan to do. Even if the session is quorate, FdT is highly unlikely to secure the two-thirds majority it would need for the impeachment to proceed to the senate. 

Lastly, the list includes the bill to appoint Judge Daniel Rafecas as Attorney General, something that the administration has been boosting since 2019. This, too, requires a two-thirds majority vote in both upper and lower chambers to be approved.

Also on the list are some of economy minister Massa’s long-awaited projects. The tax amnesty bill, known formally as the “Voluntary Declaration of Non-Externalized Argentine Savings” bill, will allow tax evaders to formalize undeclared wealth without facing prosecution or fines.

The amnesty will have three stages: for those who bring the money to Argentina, the aliquot will be 2.5%; for those who make the declaration from the law’s entry into force until March 31th 2023 it will be 5%; and for those who declare between April 1 2023 and June 30, 2023; and, finally, 7.5% for those who declare between July 1, 2023 up to September 30, 2023. Aliquots will be doubled if holders choose not to repatriate the goods.

It also creates a “simplified tax code” which creates a special aliquot of 1.5% for individuals who declare national or foreign currency, whose amount is lower than 35% of their annual income and than US$50,000.

The bill goes hand in hand with the tax information sharing agreement between the United States and Argentina, signed last month by Sergio Massa and US Ambassador Marc Stanley. 

Massa is also trying to create a “tech monotributo” to allow technology workers to earn their salaries in US dollars and pay taxes in Argentina without having to convert those earnings into pesos. In a recent interview with Ámbito Financiero, Secretary for Knowledge Economy Ariel Sujarchuk said that he expects this policy to increase export revenue by US$9 billion. 

A senior source from the Economy Ministry told The Buenos Aires Herald they expect the bills to be passed, but will not intervene in the political disputes between parties. 

Only seven months from the primary election, with presidential campaigns gearing up across the country and increasing disputes within and between parties, it is hard to say how many of these bills will prosper.

So long as the opposition boycotts congress, the government will struggle to pass laws. Whether alliances will be formed that provide these bills with a path through congress remains to be seen.

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