Ombudswoman Denounces Women’s Affairs Minister

March 10, 2006

Just in time for International Women’s Day Wednesday, two of Costa Rica’s highest-profile women had it out this week.

Ombudswoman Lisbeth Quesada has asked President Abel Pacheco to fire Minister of Women’s Affairs Georgina Vargas as well as various board members of the National Women’s Institute (INAMU), citing serious deficiencies in the government agency.

Quesada last week presented a 110-page report criticizing the work of Vargas and other leaders, particularly regarding labor and financial issues. The report, compiled by employees of the Ombudsman’s Office from interviews and public documents, was submitted to the Legislative Assembly’s Commission on Women’s Affairs.

As evidence of the financial issues, INAMU had a surplus in funds last year of ¢1 billion ($1.99 million) despite owing rent on their building and running shelters in poor condition, Quesada said.

In addition, poor leadership and a declining work environment has led to 254 requests for sick leave in 2005, compared with 46 in 2004, the majority because of insomnia, gastritis and stress, according to the report.

Furthermore, the Ombudsman’s Office alleges, INAMU has failed to increase opportunities for the participation of women’s groups in society.

The president of the legislative commission, independent legislator Gloría Valerín, said the report would be incorporated into a report being complied by the commission regarding INAMU’s work, which she expects to be done in two weeks.

Vargas responded to the criticisms at the press conference following President Abel Pacheco’s weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

She said she, along with INAMU’s Board of Directors, will review the Ombudsman’s Office report and make a formal response. However, she implied the report is vague.

“I want them (the report’s authors) to specify,” she said. “There’s not one single case of ideological persecution… We have done the right things, sticking to the law.”

She added that allegations that she has disobeyed rulings by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) are unfounded and that “what the Sala IV says is an order.”

Asked for his response to the conflict, Pacheco said he is reviewing the published reports and awaiting the legislative commission’s contribution.

“For me, doña Georgina has done an excellent job,” he said. “We all have faults. She’s a human being.”

 

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