San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Riteve Monopoly at Heart of Controversy

WHEN Riteve SyC last month begancharging for re-inspection of vehicles thatfail to meet national standards on brakes,lights and emissions, it apparently was thelast straw for truck and taxi drivers.The private Spanish-Costa Rican firmhas been unpopular among drivers since itwas awarded the government contract in2001. However, since the July 15 change,that unpopularity has turned into an outcrythat culminated in this week’s protests androadblocks.Legislators, union leaders and the generalpublic are echoing accusations thatRiteve is violating the Constitution and thetransit law.They all cite article 46 of theConstitution, which reads, “Privatemonopolies, as well as any act, even iforiginated by virtue of law, which maythreaten to restrict freedom of trade, agricultureor industry, are prohibited.”SEMI-TRUCK drivers blockingmajor highways and paralyzing the country’sinternational shipping sector andinterregional traffic this week demandedRiteve be opened to competition.Public Works and Transport MinisterJavier Chaves this week said Riteve is nota monopoly, rather a provider of a governmentservice. He says the Riteve contractstipulates it is the only provider of vehicleinspections.Chaves and President Abel Pachecohave repeatedly insisted the ExecutiveBranch does not have the legal ability tobreak the contract.However, in response to this week’spublic unrest, they announced Wednesdaythey have submitted the contract to theComptroller General for legal review.Based on what the comptroller says, thepossibility of opening up the technicalinspection of vehicles to other entities willbe considered, Chaves said.“The transit law says you should consideras a possibility professional associationsfor the technical review of vehicles,”he said.SIMILAR promises have been madebefore.Legislative Assembly presidentGerardo González, of the ruling SocialChristian Unity Party (PUSC), signed anagreement May 1 stating that if he wereelected assembly president he would present“initiatives that, without violating thecontract, would make it possible for privategarages and national companies toconduct vehicular technical inspections”(TT, May 14). That has not happened.Chaves said past challenges of theRiteve contract have been unsuccessful.Riteve opponents “have twice putrequests for the annulment of the contractbefore the Comptroller General, and thecomptroller has written why the contract isnot annullable. They also say it is unconstitutional,but the Supreme Court has alsomanifested that the contract is not unconstitutional,”he said.While these entities have been able toreview copies of the contract, the originalcontract, which expires in eight years, ismissing.CHAVES and Pacheco have invitedrepresentatives of the truck drivers back tothe negotiating table to discuss aspects ofvehicle inspections in which MOPT doeshave some authority, such as tariffs andinspection standards.However, in a nationally televisedaddress to the nation Wednesday night,Pacheco said he would not negotiateinspection standards of lights or brakes,“which could be the difference betweenlife and death.”MOPT released statistics this weekshowing 85% of heavy-load trailers do notpass their first technical inspection, halfbecause of problems with their brakes.MOPT statistics also indicate tractor trailersare second only to buses in involvementin fatal accidents.However, Eddy González, representativeof the Costa Rican Association ofIntegrated Works (ATICOS), responded tothese numbers saying statistics show transitaccidents for mechanical failure arebarely 1-2% of all accidents.“The rest is for irresponsible drivingand for bad roads,” he said.González and others also stress they arenot against inspection, just the monopoly.“Who is inspecting Riteve?” askedHernan Araya, of the Costa RicanChamber of Transport Drivers.In his Wednesday-night address,Pacheco conceded strike negotiationsshould include tougher oversight of Riteveby MOPT.GOVERNMENT efforts to regulateRiteve prices have in the past proved difficult.Riteve charges $20 for an annual carinspection, more for trucks and 50% of theprice for re-inspection if a vehicle fails.Taxis must be inspected twice a year.In June, Riteve announced it is suingthe Costa Rican government for $3.5 millionbefore a national arbitration panel.Riteve officials would like to raise carinspection prices to $30 to account forinflation, but say they have not beenallowed – against their contract.Riteve representatives could not bereached for comment all week.RITEVE was first granted the controversialcontract in 2001. Similar vehicleinspections were previously conducted forfree at one of three MOPT stations, wheredrivers often had to wait for hours in longlines. Privately owned mechanic shopswere authorized to conduct mandatoryemissions tests, which had to be passed toobtain circulation permits. Both inspectionswere combined into the currentRiteve inspection.The new inspections promised to bemuch more strict, something that angeredand worried farmers, who often use oldfarm vehicles they claim would be incapableof passing the strict revisions.IN late May 2002, some 1,000 taxi drivers,auto-shop owners, farmers and citizens,led by ATICOS representatives,protested the new inspections (TT, May 31,2002).MOPT officials, fearing a revolt amongangry drivers, announced that they wouldease restrictions on 91 of 474 individualpoints of the new inspections to make themeasier to pass.July 15 of that same year wasannounced as the new start date for theinspections. On July 15-16, angry protestorsused vehicles, a burning bus chassis,trees, earth, sand and debris to blockadeseveral points along the Inter-AmericanHighway and other main roads.Riot police used tear gas to clear theroadblocks, and during the process confiscatedhomemade firebombs. Police blameda “Molotov cocktail” for a fire thatdestroyed a thatched-roofed roadside barnear San Isidro (TT, July 19, 2002).

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