Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Chile’s billionaire leader vows to end ‘stagnation’


Chilean President Sebastian Pinera waves at onlookers in front of La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera on Sunday vowed to combat economic “stagnation” from years of center-left rule as he started a new term as Chile’s president, calling for austerity and support for the shrinking middle class in one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations.

After receiving the presidential sash from outgoing Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Pinera, who served as Chilean president for four years before Bachelet, promised to help eradicate poverty and transform Chile into a developed nation within a decade.

He said in a speech that his government would perform “major surgery” on the public healthcare system while strengthening welfare programs and trading the country’s “bulldozer” approach to policymaking for one based on gradual change and consensus.

“To make progress on all these goals, it is fundamental we counter the stagnation of recent years, restoring fiscal equilibrium as well as our leadership, dynamism and ability to grow,” Pinera said in a speech from a balcony at the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago.

Pinera, 68, was elected in December last year with a strong mandate, becoming the newest member of a group of conservative leaders who have risen to power in South America in the past few years — all of whom attended his inauguration.

A Harvard-trained economist and the son of a prominent centrist politician, Pinera made his fortune introducing credit cards to Chile in the 1980s.

“The state must be austere and efficient in the use of public resources ... and must never be captured by bureaucracy, corruption or political operators,” Pinera said.

Incoming Chilean Minister of Finance Felipe Larrain said he would rein in government spending this year, after Bachelet’s government left a bigger-than-expected fiscal deficit of 2.1 percent of GDP instead of 1.7 as targeted.

“Without a doubt, it’s bad news,” Larrain told journalists at the inauguration. “We’re going to have to get to work to examine and understand how this deficit increase happened.”

As a candidate, Pinera said he would gradually balance the budget over six to eight years.

To revive growth in the world’s top copper producer, incoming Chilean Minister of Mining Baldo Prokurica said Pinera’s government would seek to rescue US$50 billion in mining investments from bureaucratic red tape.

However, Pinera will have to govern with a divided Chilean Congress and a prickly leftist coalition that has vowed to fight his plans to lower taxes and “correct” Bachelet’s progressive policies.

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