San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

High Court Gives Green Light To Concessions Reform

The Supreme Court has ruled that proposed reforms to the country’s Public Works Concessions Law don’t violate the Constitution, allowing the bill to return to the Legislative Assembly for another vote.

In July, the Legislative Assembly approved these reforms in first debate, 46-1 – a major victory for the administration of President Oscar Arias, who maintains the bill is essential for infrastructure improvement, tourism and foreign investment.

However, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), when consulted by a group of legislators after the vote, ruled that the assembly had erred by not submitting the legislation for its consideration sooner because of potential constitutional problems with the law.

Sala IV spokeswoman Sonia Villegas told The Tico Times legislators must consult the Supreme Court before voting on a bill whenever the legislation involves changes to autonomous government institutions – in this case, the Judicial Branch. (Legislator José Merino, the only person to vote against the bill and the leader of the group that submitted it to the Sala IV after the vote, said its arbitration measures for concessions interfere with government powers.)

The Supreme Court, made up of the 22 justices from all the court’s chambers, took the matter under advisement, eventually ruling that the bill does not contain constitutional flaws.

However, because of the original procedural error outlined in the earlier Sala IV ruling, legislators must now start first debate all over again.

The Sala IV procedural ruling caused a flurry of legislative finger-pointing, with minority parties blaming assembly leadership for rushing the bill and not following proper procedure (TT, Sept. 1).

If approved again in first debate, then in second and final debate, the law will simplify aspects of the public works law, making it easier for private companies to get concessions.


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