San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Enviro Referendum Bill To be Vetoed by Arias

President Oscar Arias will veto a recently approved bill that would have allowed for binding public votes on the government’s environmental decisions.

Rodrigo Arias, the president’s brother and minister of the presidency, announced this week that the bill would be sent back to the Legislative Assembly, which approved it in late October.

“We are vetoing this (bill) for reasons of unconstitutionality,” Arias said.

Though the legislature approved the bill unanimously and could override a veto with a two-thirds vote, the bill is likely doomed because Arias’ party, the National Liberation Party (PLN), has withdrawn its support.

“Now we are listening to the executive branch and we think (President Arias’) legal reasoning is correct,” said PLN lawmaker Jorge Méndez.

The bill would reform Costa Rica’s Environment Law to allow for, among other things, binding votes on administrative decisions made by the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET).

This would occur when the ministry decided to put a matter to a vote, or when at least 10 percent of the population in an electoral district signed a petition.

Some in the business community worry that the reforms would allow small groups of motivated citizens the ability to halt construction projects or public works, based on emotion rather than legal or technical criteria (TT, Nov. 7).

Supporters heralded the legislation as an expansion of democracy.

The bill would grant citizens broad rights, including increased access to environmental information and more participation in government “matters that affect the environment,” according to the text of the law.

“We consider it a clear invasion of legal jurisdiction,” Rodrigo Arias said.

In Costa Rica, elections and referendums are handled by the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE). Arias said it was unconstitutional to give MINAET the responsibility of overseeing popular votes.

Arias also said the constitution prohibits deciding “administrative acts” by referendum.

“We recognize the importance of citizen participation, but with limits and duly ordered and authorized by the Constitution,” Arias said.

José Merino, the Broad Front Party legislator that pushed the bill, said he would “defend the constitutionality” of the reforms because he “does not believe that decisions on environmental matters should only be in the hands of the experts and businessmen,” according to a statement released by his office this week.

–Tico Times Staff


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