San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

C.R. StrugglesWith Arias Goals

As President Oscar Arias nears the middle of his term, his administration is far from completing many of its stated goals.

A study published this month by the Planning Ministry shows mixed progress on promises Arias made in his National Development Plan, presented 14 months ago.

The study, based on data from December, measures progress on nearly 500 goals in education, poverty, the economy, foreign affairs and government reform.

The report is a call to attention, Minister Roberto Gallardo said. The government must move more quickly in the next two years to achieve many of its goals.

Arias promised that in four years, 95% of elementary schools would teach English. But coverage currently at 80% increased only slightly during the first 19 months of his administration.

Arias has not yet made good on his campaign promise to increase the Education Ministry s budget from 6% to 8% of gross domestic product (GDP) a move that would require lawmakers’ approval. Education Minister Leonardo Garnier said the government must first pass fiscal reform to beef up state coffers.

Bridges also remain in poor shape. The government pledged to repair more than 6,700 meters of bridges by 2010, but just 570 meters, or a mere 9% of the goal, had been repaired by December, when the data was collected. Just 10 bridges have been constructed, although the government promised to build 49 in four years.

Since Arias took office, fatal traffic accidents increased by 19%, controlling for population growth, despite his promise to reduce that figure by about 15%.

The government has also made limited progress on goals to increase Internet access, landline phone coverage, and access to drinking water in rural areas.

Other projects have met with more success.

The government greatly expanded a cash-transfer program for poor high school students, as well as a pension program for low-income seniors.

Arias’ administration also signed a freetrade agreement with Panama, as promised, and landed a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

When progress is slow, ministries and other state institutions blame trámites, or red tape, referring to onerous rules that tend to bog down initiatives, Gallardo said.

“The country made norms and laws designed to check public conduct, based on an unjust premise that the public sector is prone to corruption,” he said. “These checks on public conduct have become absolutely suffocating.”

The Ministry of Planning gave the press a summary of the report and promised to put the full report online two weeks ago. But the full report was not posted by press time, despite repeated requests from The Tico Times.



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