Bypassing congress, Maduro decrees Venezuela budget


President Nicolas Maduro issued the government’s 2017 budget by decree Friday, bypassing the opposition-held legislature in a move that could deepen Venezuela’s economic crisis.

“Here is the 2017 budget and debt law. May it be fulfilled. I ask for the support of the people, the military and the street,” Maduro said at a signing ceremony in Caracas attended by hundreds of supporters.

The move came a day after Venezuela’s Supreme Court — which the opposition accuses of backing Maduro — ruled the leftist leader did not have to submit his budget to the National Assembly, despite a constitutional requirement to do so.

The court said the ruling aimed to “maintain the functioning of the state, the guarantee of fundamental rights and constitutional order.”

Maduro and the National Assembly have been locked in battle since the center-right opposition took control of the legislature in January, ending the left’s 17-year monopoly on power.

Economists warned the new budget would only generate more international mistrust of Venezuela, which is already struggling to get to grips with a crushing economic crisis.

The South American OPEC member’s oil-dependent economy has plunged in tandem with global crude prices in the past two years.

The budget-by-decree is “an attack on constitutional order in a domain that is so important for the functioning of the economy,” said the National Academy of Economic Sciences in a statement.

The new budget is based on an oil price of $30 a barrel, which Maduro called a conservative estimate.

It allocates 73.6 percent of spending to social programs and comes with a law to limit new government debt.

But it stands on legally shaky ground, which could scare off foreign banks and contractors, some experts warned.

“This budget has no legal validity, and expenses, commitments and contracts made under it could be disregarded,” said constitutional law expert Jose Ignacio Hernandez.

The latest battle between the executive and the legislature comes as Maduro’s opponents seek to call a referendum on removing him from office.

Fed up with shortages of food and basic goods, spiraling inflation and rampant crime, seven in 10 Venezuelans want a change in government, according to a recent opinion poll.

© 2016 AFP

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