Uruguay: President Lacalle Pou Demands Resignation of Housing Minister Moreira Over “Direct Award” Scandal

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Uruguay is experiencing a crisis in the government cabinet formed by a coalition of conservative parties. President Luis Lacalle Pou requested the resignation of Housing Minister Irene Moreira after a controversial direct awarding of a house to a militant of her party, Cabildo Abierto, without a lottery, as reported by Montevideo media on Friday.

In the coming hours, Moreira’s party, led by her husband and senator Guido Manini Ríos, is expected to evaluate Lacalle’s decision and decide whether to take any action. The situation has caused uneasiness among the party’s militants and could provoke the group led by Manini Ríos to leave the government coalition.

The resignation request came 48 hours after an email was leaked from the Minister’s secretariat requesting the direct awarding of a house to a Cabildo Abierto party member. The Ministry had previously drawn lots for two-and-three bedroom houses under the rental modality in a building in the capital, to which 258 applicants applied for 12 vacancies. Although the drawing of lots was reportedly made “by notary public and recorded in minutes,” Moreira decided to assign one of the houses to a person who had not presented themselves, a decision that her secretary warned to another office by email.

After the scandal was known, Moreira and Lacalle met at Presidency’s HQ. “They understand me perfectly,” said the minister as she left the meeting at a press conference, in which she assured that as secretary of state in these house draws: “There is a quota that is my reserve and many times I have not used it.”

These statements caused discomfort in the government and, as the norm that enabled her to award housing on a discretionary basis without going through a lottery like the rest of the applicants for the rent-to-own program did not appear, led to the request for her resignation.

Both the Ministry of Housing and Cabildo Abierto acknowledge that the regulation enabling the minister to award housing on a discretionary basis within this program does not appear, as reconstructed by El Observador.

Moreira, a lawyer by profession and the wife of Cabildo Abierto leader Manini Ríos was elected as senator in the 2019 elections and became housing minister on March 1, 2020. Her departure would be the ninth change in the cabinet over the last three years.

During a call on Friday morning, Lacalle asked Senator Manini to replace Moreira as Minister, but the legislator refused. Lacalle assured Manini that no regulation had been found to justify Moreira’s direct award, and when the senator refused to replace her, the president requested Moreira’s resignation.

Sources close to the president indicate that Lacalle faced a difficult decision: the departure of Minister Irene Moreira from the cabinet and the probable rupture of the government coalition or the continuation of the wife of Manini Ríos in the position despite the apparently irregular situation regarding the awarding of a house directly to a militant of her party, Montevideo Portal informed.

After the call was cut off, Manini contacted Cabildo Abierto leaders to discuss the situation. It was decided to announce Moreira’s departure at 12:00 noon in a press conference.

Tension rises as Cabildo Abierto asks Lacalle to step back

At a midday press conference this Friday, in which Manini Ríos did not accept questions from the press, he stated: “We expect the president to analyze” Moreira’s resignation request.

The leader of Cabildo Abierto, together with other legislators of his party, said that he expects President Lacalle Pou to “analyze the situation” of the resignation request to Irene Moreira after he presented the norm that, according to Cabildo, enables Moreira to award the housing. Manini added that once the president communicates the decision, they will take the next steps.

“What bothers are the attitudes of Cabildo Abierto, the social security thing, what he has done for the financial situation of Uruguayans, and that we are going to go all out. It has to do with some of that. I hope that we all stick directly to the facts and that the facts show that there was no mistake. They want to blame Cabildo”, Manini continued in the conference, in reference to different episodes that have been taking place around bills in which the coalition had not reached unanimity due to the position of Cabildo Abierto, as in the much-discussed pension reform.

The senator and number two of Cabildo Abierto, Guillermo Domenech, indicated in a radio interview with Radio Carve’s Así nos va that he was personally willing to withdraw from the coalition, as he believed that the President’s measure was a “direct attack” on his party.

Source: Mercopress