Public Works Minister Resigns, Cites Troubles

October 29, 2004

MINISTER of Public Works andTransport Ovidio Pacheco resigned thisweek, citing personal health problemsaggravated by myriad problems in thegovernment agency he headed for barelysix weeks.In a press conference Mondayannouncing his resignation, he denied thedecision had anything to do with accusationshe is involved in a company thatoffers high interest loans to struggling coffeegrowers, using their land as collateral,published that same day in the daily LaNación.Pacheco said the Ministry of PublicWorks and Transport (MOPT) is facing afinancial crisis in its efforts to manage thecountry’s roads, the poor condition ofwhich inspires seemingly endless complaintsand lawsuits from the public and“difficult” relations with municipal governments.HE added that the ministry’s controversialcontracts with the private firmsAlterra Partners, responsible for the operationand renovation of Juan SantamariaInternational Airport, and Riteve SyC,which holds a monopoly on mandatory,periodic vehicle inspections, requireurgent attention.These, along with other problems facingMOPT, have caused the 61-year-oldminister to suffer from hypertension,chronic gastritis and weight loss, he toldthe press.President Abel Pacheco on Tuesdaydesignated Randall Quirós, who was viceministerof the presidency, as the newMOPT minister.MINISTERPacheco, who isnot related to PresidentPacheco,said he told thePresident 15 daysago of his decisionto resign, and thatit has nothing todo with informationpublishedMonday in LaNación.The newspaperarticle cites Minister Pacheco as thefounder of Compañía Agropecuaria LaPradera S.A., which since the 1970s hasbeen lending money to residents ofTurrialba, on the Caribbean slope, at interestrates as high as 5% monthly, or 60%annually.In the national banking system, theaverage annual interest rate for the mostexpensive credit is 28%, according to LaNación.The publication reports that La Praderacurrently has 129 mortgages in its favorand, since 1993, has taken at least 43debtors to mortgage court for failure topay.Families have lost their homes andfarms because they were unable to repaythe loans, in some cases because of fallingcoffee prices, according to the report.MINISTER Pacheco said this weekhe is neither an associate nor a representativeof the company. He said that as anattorney, he served as a “resident agent”for the company, which, until 2002, operatedwhere the minister’s law firm waslocated, according to La Nación.“(The company) is there in the public.This is nothing new,” he said.“People are not taken there by force, aloan contract is a contract,” he added.“People put themselves in agreement, theyagree to the time, the terms, the interestrates, in every aspect. Nobody is obligated.There are thousands of financiers inthis country… This is done in a completelylegal form.”President Pacheco confirmed thatMinister Pacheco told him of his desire toresign prior to the La Nación report,adding that his resignation is a great loss,but he understood his reasons.REGARDING the La Pradera issue,the President said, “There is no law thatsays it is not permitted to lend money.”“Who is right? I don’t know. And Idon’t judge don Ovidio, because this is notmy role, nor do I judge La Nación. Theyhave their journalist ethics, and all myrespect,” he said.Minister Pacheco was named MOPTminister in mid-September, after formerMinister Javier Chaves resigned amidcontroversy surrounding a deal struckwith labor unions and others protestingthe government’s contract with Riteve,which sparked a week of road blocks andcivil unrest throughout the country (TT,Sept. 3, 10).Minister Pacheco previously served asLabor Minister since May 2002.WHILE new Minister Quirós, 40, saidhis new position would take some time toadjust, he assured the press he is ready tomeet the challenge. He, as well as MinisterPacheco and President Pacheco, used theopportunity to press the LegislativeAssembly to approve the fiscal reformplan to help MOPT face its financialstraits.Quirós said in order to find a solution,triangulation is necessary between MOPT,the Finance Ministry and the LegislativeAssembly.During his resignation announcement,Minister Pacheco said MOPT is currentlyslated to receive enough asphalt next yearto last two months, enough money to buytires for 50 of their more than 250machines, no money for machine repairs,and, overall, a fraction of the budget thatthey received this year.“If there is no money, Costa Rica isgoing to live a very difficult crisis. And wewill continue with highways with holes,because I cannot hand over money withoutfunds, which would later provoke an inflationthat will bring disaster to the country,”President Pacheco warned.Also Tuesday, the President announcedLuis Madrigal, who previously worked withthe President’s Cabinet, will replace Quirósas the vice-minister of the presidency.

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