May 21, 2019 / 6:26 PM / a month ago

Mexican health service chief quits over spending cuts

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The head of Mexico’s social security institute has stepped down, citing budget cuts that he said would harm health services for the poor, in one of the first major resignations in the administration of leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

German Martinez, head of the institute known as IMSS, issued his resignation in a letter on the government’s website on Tuesday. In it, he took a swipe at the finance ministry, blaming it for pressure on the IMSS to make savings and cut staff.

“Excessive savings and controls in health spending is inhumane,” Martinez said in the letter, saying the country’s poor were worst hit.

The finance ministry under Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, has made major spending cuts in the government’s first budget, trying to balance the president’s promises to help the poor with commitments to run a 1% primary budget surplus.

Lopez Obrador told reporters he regretted Martinez’s decision but that a replacement for him would be found. He urged IMSS and the finance ministry to reach agreement going forward.

IMSS runs hospitals as well as pensions and social services and is one of the country’s biggest government spending dependencies.

Martinez is a former chairman of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), a longstanding adversary of Lopez Obrador.

Martinez’s decision to switch sides and join the campaign of the former Mexico City mayor had helped to broaden Lopez Obrador’s base of support in the run-up to his landslide election win last July.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said it had no immediate comment about Martinez’s letter.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Ana Isabel Martinez; Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bernadette Baum

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