Uruguay Agriculture Minister Defends Receipt of Grants
Uruguay’s Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries Tabaré Aguerre continued to defend himself against conflict of interest accusations at a press conference on February 1. The accusations, which center around the $180,000 payment from the Ministry that Aguerre received as a rice farmer, came to light in late January following the release of a list of grant recipients.
Following the 2002 export crisis, the government set up a fund that helps rice producers finance existing loans. Aguerre, who has been a rice farmer for nearly twenty years, has been a beneficiary of previous payments of the fund. This, however, is the first time he has received a payment while acting in his current capacity.
Opposition politicians have argued that while Aguerre is a competent minister, the ethical problems of administering funding while also being a beneficiary are numerous. Aguerre has maintained that he faces no ethical dilemma, as he plays no part in the choosing of beneficiaries. The trust is funded by private contributions from rice producers as opposed to with government expenditures.
The private funding for the payments comes from an export tax levied on all rice producers in Uruguay. Aguerre has defended himself based on the fact that the payment involves no public funds and that he has never attempted to hide his rice business, thus maintaining complete transparency with the public.
In response to questions about his possible resignation, Aguerre made it clear that he does not intend to resign until the end of his term as Minister or until President Tabaré Vazquez wishes for him to do so. The President and his government have yet to officially comment on the situation.
While the legality of Aguerre’s actions remains unclear, the scandal has raised questions on conflicts of interests facing members of Uruguay’s government who remain attached to their private sector investments.