(Recasts with Maduro, more details)
By Corina Pons and Diego Oré
CARACAS, Oct 20 (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro’s government predicted on Tuesday that Venezuela’s inflation, already the world’s highest, would be 85 percent in 2015 and 60 percent next year.
Though high, those figures are conservative compared to estimates by international economic organizations who believe the South American OPEC member’s inflation is already well into a three-digit annual rate.
Critics say Venezuela’s runaway price rises - together with product shortages and a shrinking economy - are evidence of a failed socialist model of price and currency controls combined with hostility towards the private sector.
But Maduro, who took over from Hugo Chavez after winning a 2013 election, blames political foes and businessmen for waging an “economic war” to try and subvert his government.
The oil price plunge has exacerbated Venezuela’s problems.
Maduro’s forecast of approximately 85 percent inflation this year came as he announced measures intended to help Venezuelans cope with the current economic crisis.
The 2016 prediction of 60 percent came in the government’s projected budget, presented to parliament earlier in the day.
Prices rose 68.5 percent last year.
Maduro’s measures, announced during an evening TV show, included a 30 percent wage rise for government employees and armed forces members, and an extension of a law limiting business’ profit margins to “all prices and all products.”
He also promised stiffer sanctions for price-gougers, and people using the currency black market as a price guide.
A 2013 drive to force prices down helped the ruling Socialist Party win gubernatorial election, and Maduro may be thinking a similar campaign could help the government ahead of a December parliamentary vote.
Polls have been predicting an opposition win in December thanks largely to public anger over economic problems.
The budget document, seen by Reuters, also foresees the maintenance of the nation’s strongest official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar into 2016.
Earlier, presenting the proposed budget to parliament, Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco said it was based on an estimate of $40 per barrel of oil for Venezuela’s exports - a sign the government is not expecting a quick price recovery.
The budget calls for spending of 1.55 trillion bolivars, Marco said, equivalent to $247 billion at the strongest official exchange rate and more than double the amount budgeted for 2015.
“This budget will allow us to return to the path of economic growth,” said Marco.
The central bank this year has not published any official inflation or economic growth figures, which has spurred investor concerns of a potential default on foreign debt.
Marco dismissed such concerns as rumor mongering by foes.
He sought to assure lawmakers the government has resources to pay state oil company PDVSA’s $1.41 billion 2015 bond , which matures on Oct. 28, and to pay a $2.05 billion amortization on the PDVSA 2017 bond.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles scoffed at Maduro’s announcements on Tuesday, saying they were further evidence why Venezuelans should vote against his candidates at the Dec. 6 parliamentary poll.
“Today Nicolas ratifies his incapacity for resolving the chaos his government has generated,” he tweeted. (Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Kim Coghill)