Officials Deny Wrongdoing in Road Scandals
DAILY trips down unpaved roads orpaved ones filled with potholes ofteninspire communities to lose faith in thecompetence of municipal governments andthe Ministry of Public Works andTransportation (MOPT), the two agenciesresponsible for road repair in Costa Rica.Now, the same problems have causedresidents of at least two communities to losefaith – and allegedly thousands of dollars –in the legislators meant to represent them.Reports were released last month accusingSocial Christian Unity Party legislatorMario Calderón and former Unity Party legislatorBelisario Solano of accepting thousandsof dollars from their respective communitiesfor road repairs that were nevermade, or made later with public funds.AN investigation by a MOPT auditorconcluded residents in Oreamuno,Cartago, east of San José, gave Solano,who is now president of the state-runNational Radio and Television System(SINART), ¢600,000 ($1,304) to repave astreet that was subsequently repaved withgovernment resources.A committee of residents of the CarlosGamboa urbanization contacted Solanowhen he was a legislator to arrange therepair of 585 meters of the road known asLa Trocha, according to the MOPT report.A representative of the group, ManuelGómez, told the daily La Nación thatSolano asked residents for ¢600,000 to buythe gravel MOPT uses in paving.Gómez allegedly gave the money collectedfrom the community to Solano’s formersecretary, Maribel Calvo, in Solano’sCartago law firm. She signed two receiptsupon receiving the payments March 13 and14, 2003, according to Gómez.Calvo told La Nación she received themoney and left it in Solano’s office so itcould later be withdrawn by the residentsto purchase the gravel. Gómez claims noone ever made such a withdrawal.The director of MOPT in Cartago,Edwin Aguilar, told La Nación MOPT madethe repairs with its own resources and adonation of asphalt from the National OilRefinery (RECOPE). Aguilar said he knewnothing of the residents’ contribution.SOLANO has denied the charges, callingthem lies. He has attended the pressconferences that follow President AbelPacheco’s weekly Cabinet meetings withoutfail since the charges surfaced, and, onthe two occasions during which questionswere asked about his case, sprang to thenearest microphone to defend himself.“If they want to investigate me, rightdown to the underwear I’m wearing, youcan be sure I’ll be able to respond,” he saidlast month. As president of SINART, Solanois the head of Channel 13, which televisesthe press conferences, and Radio Nacional.He also emphasized the moneyallegedly was given to him when he wasnot a public functionary, between his timeas a legislator (1998-2002) and before hebecame vice-minister of Ministry of PublicSecurity and the Interior (June 2003 toMay 2004). He said he would start his owninvestigation to find out what happenedwith the money.THIS week, Solano waved a manilafolder filled with receipts and clippingsfrom La Nación articles he said are unfair.“I don’t understand why they attack afellow journalist,” he said.Asked how he viewed Solano’sdefense, Pacheco said, “I’m not a lawyer,but it seems to me he has offered manyproofs.” He said there are no immediateplans to dismiss the SINART head.Transport Minister Randall Quirós hassaid he would send the MOPT audit to theProsecutor’s Office for an investigation.As of this week, however, neither theprosecutor of corruption nor the regionalprosecutor in Cartago had received thereport, according to Judicial Branchspokeswoman Sandra Castro.NO complaint has been brought beforethe Prosecutor’s Office in the case of legislatorCalderón, either. However, theMunicipal Council of Alajuela – the cantonnorthwest of San José the legislator partiallyrepresents – is investigating accusationsthat residents have given Calderón a total of¢15 million ($32,600) intended for roadrepairs that allegedly have not been investedin that use, La Nación reported.Since 2003, residents of various communitieshave allegedly given Calderónmoney for repairs to their local roadswhich have been made or are budgeted tobe made with municipal or MOPT funds.The communities’ funds were raisedthrough donations and fairs, bingos andother activities.Calderón has already returned ¢2.5million to one community, after holding itfor 15 months, according to La Nación.The legislator denied any wrongdoingand has said he will return the remainingfunds or contract the jobs that have notbeen done. He also said he will neveraccept funds from residents again.SUCH a promise is as it should be,according to Social Christian Unity Partylegislator Gloria Valerín.“A legislator should never be acceptingmoney from communities. It is not ourjob,” Valerín said.An ethics committee of the Unity Partywill investigate Calderón’s case. A hearingwas scheduled for last night, and a resolutionis expected within 15 days, accordingto party headquarters.Valerín said she understands why communityresidents would take matters intotheir own hands when it comes to infrastructurerepairs, and turn to their legislativerepresentative for help.“We are talking about necessities of acommunity. Without roads, people cannotget to work. They cannot get to school. Theycannot get to health clinics,” she said.IRONICALLY, the “right to transit on adecent street” was the same reason Valeríngave last year when she herself was caughtin a controversy regarding road repairs.In July 2004, Patriotic Bloc legislatorJuan José Vargas accused Valerín of receivingpreferential treatment from MOPT whena road near her house was paved at an acceleratedpace, according to Vargas.The 2.6-km road helped 16 families inCarrizal de Alajuela, while hundreds ofresidents of other neighborhoods waityears for paved roads, he claimed.At the time, Valerín denied that she, orher fellow Alajuela legislator Calderón, intervenedto hasten the road’s improvement.WHEN making road repairs, municipalitiesoften ask for community support,Alajuela Mayor Fabio Molina told LaNación. However, municipal officials areprohibited from personally receivingmoney for a project.Often, the municipality will fundrepairs to a portion of a road and the communitywill contribute to extend thoserepairs further, he said.
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