A CNN investigation reveals irregularities in the purchase of food from Casa Rosada

(CNN Spanish) — The number of visits to the Casa Rosada this year decreased by 17.6% if we compare the period between January 1 and April 17, 2022 and the same days in 2023, but at the same time the amount of food and drink is increased in the open purchase orders of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, according to the analysis of official documents by CNN.

For example, the number of full-fat croissants (savory croissants) grew by 61%, the number of soft drinks in 2.25-litre bottles doubled, as well as sharp increases in other foods such as “premium” bananas (117.3 %).

A Presidency source familiar with these trials admitted overestimations with respect to those agreed under the Pricing Policy and breaches of contract within the payment deadline by the state.

CNN has consulted the office of the presidential spokesperson, but so far we have not received a response.

“It would be important for this to go to the courts so that we can investigate if there is an overcharge and if there is a dissonance between the number of people and the amount of food, so that Casa Rosada responds,” said the executive director of Citizen powerArgentine chapter of Transparency International, Pablo Secchi.

What is happening inside the Casa Rosada? Knowing who enters is one way to investigate it. Name, location, date and time. This is what is logged in the Military Home system every time someone enters the Executive Branch.

CNN obtained that database through a public information access request. The range of dates composing it starts on 12 July 2019 and ends on 17 April 2023, the latest data available at the time of the request for information.

This is the Casa Rosada inside

“Empty, literally, empty. Physically. No one is coming,” described the journalist accredited by Ámbito Financiero a Casa Rosada, Liliana Franco, about what she is currently observing.

“You don’t see that movement, that activity, that bustle of carrying things. There is a lot of tranquility, I would say,” said Télam-accredited journalist Raúl Berneri.

“We can say that there has been little activity for several months,” said Jaime Rosenberg, a journalist accredited by La Nación.

Croissants and soft drinks

In the purchase orders, the purchases of croissants and soft drinks stand out. These are for the exclusive consumption of the Presidency sector, the Chief of Staff and special events, as the Presidency source explains. People who don’t belong to those groups have to pay for those products, the source said.

The analysis of the awarded amounts shows a 49.1% premium in butter croissants compared to the purchase order dated March 28, 2023 with respect to the State Fair Prices program, which includes products at prices agreed between the Ministry of Economy and companies . A 59.5% premium was also noted in cans and 25.1%, on average, in beverages from the May 12, 2023 purchase order over supermarket retail values.

When asked about a possible surcharge, the Presidency source familiar with the purchases replied: “It has to be and it is because it is not feasible to maintain the price for 6 months.”

Six months is the duration of open purchase orders. It is a mechanism used by the Government to guarantee a certain quantity of products at a price which is blocked at the start of the contract. To the extent you request your supply, the food is received and paid for. The purchase order opened between September 30, 2022 and March 30, 2023 was the first to not run out of croissant stock. According to the presidency source, this is because at the end of last year they were no longer free. Furthermore, this period coincides with the decline in visits to the Casa Rosada.

As for the activity in the presidential sector, the number of hearings for the president decreased by 41.6% in the analyzed period. This is demonstrated by the Unified Public Registry.

“There are no cabinet meetings. Power has moved to the Palacio de Hacienda, the Ministry of Economy,” said Liliana Franco, also a journalist accredited in that ministry.

This view is also shared by the presidential official consulted, who also considered the resignation of Minister Martín Guzmán, on July 2, 2022, as the date on which the movement began to decline within the Casa Rosada.

On 24 January 2022, the Government authorized a purchase order open for 6 months for 9 bakery products: frozen pre-cooked mignon, Arab bread, hamburger bread, butter and fat croissants, baguettes and figazze.

On March 28, 2023, another purchase order was authorized, but for higher amounts. On average, units grew by 56.5%.

Butter croissants (sweets) are a special case. The government paid for each of them 49.1% more than the value agreed by the Ministry of Economy in the Fair Prices program corresponding to June 2023. The same situation is repeated in the purchase of fat croissants but in 45.9%

“Fair prices sometimes make it difficult for us because no one will offer us that product at the same price for 6 months while the supermarket only keeps it for 30 days,” explained the Presidency source.

Greater quantities and more expensive prices are also observed in the purchase of mineral waters with and without gas, flavored and carbonated waters.

Comparing the purchase orders of July 20, 2022 with that of May 12, 2023, the batch of bottles and cans grew by an average of 22.6%. The 2.25 liter soft drink is the item with the largest increase in units: 598.1%.

In terms of unit cost, there is an average premium of 25.1% among the 21 items that make up the purchase order for Casa Rosada.

These data emerged by comparing the price assigned in the April 2023 purchase order with that of the same product, albeit of the more expensive brand, published in early June 2023 on the websites of the retail supermarkets Día, Coto, Disco and Carrefour.

An example is the following exercise: A 354 mL can of soda was offered for 323.45 pesos (US$1.3). The price of a 354 ml can of Coca Cola on the Disco page is 223.27 pesos (US$0.93), on the Day it is 211.50 pesos (US$0.88), on the Carrefour it is 208 pesos (US$0. 86) and al Coto at 222.96 pesos (US$0.86) $0.92).

These price differences, according to the official questioned, may be linked to the terms in which the State pays.

Although the particular clauses of the tenders to which each of the aforementioned open purchase orders pertains provide for a payment term of 30 days, “the average payment term is 75 days”, assured the source of the Presidency familiar with these processes.

In fact, this source assured, “this is documented in reports for internal use,” to which CNN has not had access.

When asked about the risk of being subject to lawsuits for late payments, he replied: “In these cases, the companies are hostage to the state”, even though he added that “in many cases, these are suppliers that have existed for years and know that the dynamic of the state is like this”.

On the other hand, the amount of income of accredited Casa Rosada employees grew by 13.8% in the same period analysed, according to the “Movimenti Generali” database obtained through the request for access to public information. This database corresponds to the “Digicard” system used in turnstiles and fingerprint access points.

These people, for the most part, do not belong to the spheres of the Presidency or the Chief of Staff, except for paying for croissants or soft drinks in cans or 500ml bottles. As explained by the government official consulted, the consumption of this group is more related to daily inputs from the dining room, such as fruit and vegetables.

The 13.8% increase contrasts with that of the volume of foods in open orders for the dining room menu, such as fruit and vegetables, which tripled.

According to the process authorized on April 12, 2023, the number of cases of “premium bananas” increased by 117.3%, pumpkins by 220.2%, mushrooms by 700%, among other foods.

On average, the growth in quantities was 210.1% compared to the open purchase order dated December 3, 2021.

Similarly, the Presidency source familiar with these contracts reported that the total number of dishes served in the dining room per day increased, on average, by 55.5% “between the beginning of 2022 and today”.

The official explained to CNN that these increases in quantities are due to an “expansion of the offer in the room”, which has added fruit for dessert and also supplies the office of the General Secretariat of the Presidency at 25 de Mayo street in downtown Buenos Aires, whose establishment is made up of “200 to 250 people”.

“Regardless of whether it’s 10 pesos or 500 million, the problem is ethical. The problem is whether public resources are used for what they really should be used for because that official has a responsibility in the use of assets that is sanctioned by the law on public ethics and must answer for this”. Secchi, from Citizen Power.

This paradoxical and disparate relationship between the increasing number of people entering the Casa Rosada and the ever-increasing amount of food contrasts with an image that is repeated every evening in the Plaza de Mayo. Solidarity organizations distribute plates of food for people in situations of social vulnerability.

In fact, in Argentina, according to the latest official data corresponding to the second half of 2022, 54.6% of children under the age of 17 are poor. And, as stated by the Catholic University of Argentina, 1 out of 4 Argentines suffer from nutritional and health deficiencies.

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