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Colombia Government to Honor Its Ecopetrol Debt, Official Says

(Bloomberg) -- Colombia’s Finance Ministry is planning to pay off in full its $5.8 billion debt with state-controlled oil producer Ecopetrol SA, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.

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The debt stems from the government’s decision to subsidize fuel prices to curb inflation as the economy rebounded from the pandemic.

The current government of President Gustavo Petro had already agreed to pay 18 trillion pesos ($4 billion) of the debt in its 2023 budget. But the ministry wants to go further and pay down the entire amount owed for 2022 subsidies, said the person, who asked not to be named since the discussions were private. The new proposals will accelerate the process, the person said, without giving a date.

The Finance Ministry’s original plan was for Ecopetrol to retain the dividend it would have paid the government, which has an 88.5% stake in the company. However, the government would need to pass a bill for that to happen, and members of congress are running low on time.

Ordinary congressional sessions end June 20, and lawmakers are snowed under debating major bills to overhaul the pension and health systems, and the labor market.

The government has been gradually phasing out the subsidies in recent months. Even so, it will run up a new debt of about 22 trillion pesos with the company this year, according to the committee that monitors implementation of the fiscal rule, or balanced-budget act.

Ecopetrol declined to comment, and the Finance Ministry didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.

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