Chilean minister steps down in fresh setback for Bachelet

  • World
  • Monday, 08 Jun 2015

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The Chilean minister tasked with liaising between President Michelle Bachelet and congress stepped down on Sunday amid a wave of criticism by lawmakers about past counsel he provided mining companies while a congressman.

Bachelet had named Jorge Insunza secretary general minister only a month earlier, in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle aimed at helping her push key labour and ethics reforms through Congress.

His abrupt departure is a setback for left-leaning Bachelet, whose popularity has sunk to an all-time low amid scandals involving money in politics.

At an event announcing his resignation, Insunza said he was stepping down to help restore faith in public institutions.

"Chilean society demands a much higher standard from us and I take responsibility for that," Insunza said, reading from a statement. He did not take questions from journalists.

Bachelet, who led Chile, the world's top copper producer, from 2006-2010 and took office for a second term in March 2014, was on an official visit to France.

Lawmakers from the left and right had attacked Insunza for his work as an adviser to state-run copper giant Codelco and Antofagasta Plc last year while he also headed the mining committee in the lower chamber of congress.

While his dual roles did not break any laws, his detractors said they made him the wrong person to help Bachelet work with congress on pending reforms aimed at curbing corruption and bolstering ethics.

Members of Insuza's own party, the centre-bit Party for Democracy (PPD), had demanded his resignation.

Congressman Jorge Tarud with the PPD described Insunza's tenure as minister as "unsustainable" given the public's faltering trust in politics.

The business and political establishment has been rocked by a tax and campaign financing scandal, while there also have been accusations that Bachelet's son used his political connections to help his wife gain preferential access to a $10 million loan.

The opposition cheered Insunza's departure and urged Bachelet to better vet her officials in order to focus on shoring up flagging economic growth and needed reforms.

"Hopefully this serves as a lesson for taking up the reform agenda," opposition lawmaker Cristian Monckeberg said.

(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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