San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Additional Crime Budget In President’s Hands

Funding for an omnibus crime bill and other law-enforcement initiatives sits in the hands of President Oscar Arias. If passed, the bill, proposed two weeks ago, would be a significant overhaul of the criminal laws.

The Finance Ministry submitted what they said was a $28.3 million supplemental appropriations budget to the president’s office on March 13. But staff declined to provide a copy, saying it is not a public document until the executive branch submits it to the Legislative Assembly for approval.

Arias’ staff also declined to provide a copy but the president’s spokesman and brother, Rodrigo Arias, said they planned to submit a supplemental appropriations bill to lawmakers as soon as Monday.

After submitting its budget to the president, the Finance Ministry held a press conference, claiming the budget represented all the money needed to fund the bill as well as other law enforcement initiatives, such as adding 559 Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) officers and creating a 24-hour criminal court to deliver verdicts within 48 hours on misdemeanor cases and cases involving criminals caught red-handed by police. The latter project would employ an additional 66 judicial staff, including judges.

Finance Minister Guillermo Zúñiga said $21.6 million would go to the judicial branch, to be shared among the OIJ, the  Chief Prosecutor’s Office and the public defender’s office.With the funding, the prosecutor’s office would create 152 new positions and the public defender’s office 50.

The Justice Ministry,which runs the country’s prisons, and the Public Security Ministry, which manages the majority of the country’s police,would receive the relatively paltry sums of $3.9 million and $2.7 million, respectively.

The Justice Ministry money would fund the construction of a corrections facility to house 600 inmates – only those who have been ordered to be in preventive prison while awaiting their trials. Under the country’s laws, the accused are not allowed to be housed with the convicted, but they often are.

Zúñiga said no new positions would be created for the Public Security Ministry, but he said they could procure computers, cars, weapons, bulletproof jackets and surveillance equipment with their extra resources.

To fund the supplemental budget, Zúñiga said $8.7 million could be acquired from issuing debt securities, another $16.7 million from renegotiating the country’s debt and $2.9 million by dedicating $0.03 from each banana exported from the Caribbean province of Limón.


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