San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mayor: Political Interests Are Behind Corruption Allegations

SAN José Mayor Johnny Araya has agreed toappear before a congressional commission nextThursday to answer questions about allegations thathe accepted payments totaling $65,000 in connectionwith a multimillion-dollar contract with a privatewaste-management firm.State prosecutors are also investigating the accusations.Araya, who returned from an official visit to Chinathis week, has denied accepting payments from thefirm, Berthier EBI de Costa Rica, which manages thecapital’s only landfill in La Carpio, in western San José.“Behind this criminal complaint, which was submittedby a lottery vendor, are people who in the pasthave been connected to actions clearly directed ataffecting my honor, my image and my politicalcareer,” Araya told The Tico Times this week.He said he believes those behind the accusations,which La Nación made public last week, arehis political enemies from the past who are nowconnected to potential mayoral candidates for theupcoming February 2006 elections.IN its top story July 18, La Nación reproduced adocument detailing alleged payments made between1999 and 2001, totaling $112,800, from Berthier EBI to nine people, including Araya, MunicipalAdvisor Carlos Villalobos, AdministrativeContracting Director Mario Vargas and sixof the nine members of the MunicipalCouncil who voted to approve the contractwith EBI (TT, July 22).La Nación did not mention how itobtained a copy of the document, titled“Agreement with Johnny Araya” andallegedly signed by former EBI de CostaRica financial manager Normande Héroux,who now lives in Canada.In an interview with The Tico TimesWednesday, Araya reiterated that hebelieves the document La Nación used forits report is false, and said a notarized letterfrom Héroux shows as much.“I never even had the pleasure of meetingher because she was financial officerfor EBI during a time when I was notmayor. A good part of the occurrencesdescribed by La Nación happened when Iwas not mayor,” he said.Araya took a leave of absence inFebruary 2001 to join his brother RolandoAraya’s presidential campaign, returned towork June 19, 2001, and resigned from thepost July 2 of that year. He was re-electedmayor in December 2002. Héroux wasfinancial director of EBI from June 14,2001, to December 2001, according to LaNación.“If you refer to this famous documentpublished in La Nación, there’s a reportfrom December 1999. Why would thiswoman, who wasn’t here at that time, signsomething that has nothing to do with heradministration?” the mayor asked, pointingto the La Nación report.LEGISLATORS from the PublicSpending Commission also plan to askAraya about a series of irregularities relatedto the city’s oversight of the EBI contract,contained in a recent report from theComptroller General’s Office, SocialChristian Unity Party legislator and commissionmember Federico Vargas told thedaily La Nación.In the June 30 report, the comptroller’soffice says a study shows city officials’oversight “has not been ideal” and hasallowed the company to shirk some of itsobligations.The report mentions a lack of therequired monthly environmentalmonitoring reports, lack of an alternateaccess route to the landfill as required by abranch of the Environment and EnergyMinistry (MINAE), and EBI receiving solidwaste from other municipalities at its LaCarpio landfill in violation of a 2001MINAE resolution, among other problems.EBI representatives did not return TicoTimes’ requests for information this week.The mayor said the main aspects of thereport have more to do with the EnvironmentMinistry’s National Technical Secretariat(SETENA) than with the municipality,but as the contractor, “of course we are followingup on the recommendations, which Idon’t believe are difficult to attend to.”His office sent a response to the comptroller’soffice July 18, addressing each ofthe complaints and stating that the municipality’sdepartment of human resources hasbeen given 30 days to determine whetherany city officials can be held responsibleand face administrative procedures.MEANWHILE, National LiberationParty presidential candidate and formerPresident Oscar Arias, who last weekjoined calls for Araya – also a member ofLiberation – to step down from his postuntil state prosecutors finish investigatingthe allegations against him, has told thepress he will not ask his brother to resignas Liberation’s campaign manager,despite calls from several other presidentialcandidates.The calls for Rodrigo Arias’ head cameJuly 22, when La Nación’s top story reportedthat he and another lawyer from the SanJosé-based firm Facio & Cañas were hiredby an EBI consultant to convince the comptrollerthat the contract between theMunicipality of San José and EBI did notrequire a public bidding process.Oscar Arias said his brother was merelydoing his job as a private attorney.The comptroller’s office had rejectedthe contract on two occasions before itgave its stamp of approval in July 2001 –just 12 days after Rodrigo Arias phonedthen-Comptroller General Luis FernandoVargas to discuss the contract’s legality,according to La Nación.Mario Vargas, the municipal directorof administrative contracting who is alsoaccused of accepting payments from EBI,told The Tico Times earlier this monththere are several reasons why the contractwas awarded to EBI without a public biddingprocess.“The most obvious is because (EBI’sproperty in La Carpio) is the only siteavailable in the central canton of San José.It was the only offer (received by themunicipality). The Law of AdministrativeContracting establishes the possibility thatwhen there is only one offer, a direct contractcan be established,” Vargas said.HE said the contract, and the entireprocess leading up to it, was absolutelynormal and completely legal, as evidencedby the fact that the Comptroller General’sOffice approved it.The fact that EBI purchased the LaCarpio property before city officialsbegan seeking landfill space was just agood business maneuver on the part ofcompany representatives, he added.“They were very smart,” he said.“They were visionaries who bought theland and presented all the requirements toall the proper authorities… The companyspent 28 months investing time and seekingthe necessary permits to make the (LaCarpio) project viable.”He said the same scenario exists atAserrí, south of San José, where EBI haspurchased property and begun planning alandfill to serve as an alternative restingplace for the 750 metric tons of trash nowbeing sent to the soon-to-be-closed Río Azullandfill, east of San José (TT, July 22).

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