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Monday, February 16, 2009

Ecuador's Correa considers firing finance minister

QUITO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on Saturday he is considering whether to dismiss Finance Minister Elsa Viteri after her ministry gave him wrong data on public salaries, causing him public embarrassment.

Correa had accused state universities of refusing to participate in a new joint-account arrangement aimed at providing transparency to spending, and named some professors he said were paid more than $10,000 a month.

It turned out the professors mentioned on state television made less than that. The finance ministry later admitted it had miscalculated their salaries.

"The (finance) minister has placed her post at my disposal and I have to seriously consider it. My apologies to my fellow professors," Correa said during his weekly media address. "I'm really mad about this. How can the finance ministry make this sort of mistake?"

Staff and students at public universities are demanding that the government return money taken from their original, individual accounts and abandon the joint system.

Earlier this week, Viteri, who has been key in the government's decision to default on $3.2 billion in foreign debt, repeated that she held her position at Correa's discretion.

Viteri, who is one of Correa's most loyal cabinet members and like him a former economics professor, said she has not handed in her resignation, but was taking responsibility for her ministry's mistake.

She is drafting a plan with foreign advisers to negotiate a restructuring of bonds the government has refused to repay, saying they were issued illegally by previous administrations.

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