San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Legislators seek no-confidence vote against health minister


Legislators appear to be lashing out against Health Minister María Luisa Avila after she moved to dislodge them from their offices in San José for health code violations.
On Tuesday, a handful of congressmen undertook an initiative for a vote of no confidence against Avila, who has held the Health Ministry post for five years.
Backers of the motion say they aren’t motivated by retaliation, but rather by the wish to call attention to serious missteps such as an “unreasonable delay in the administration of milk within CEN-CINAIs (local child care centers and nutrition clinics).”
“The vote of no confidence is not an act of political revenge,” said Legislator Walter Céspedes. “We propose this vote in response to unconstitutional and illegal acts, and serious errors by the health minister that cause direct harm to public interests.”
He also said Avila showed disrespect “for the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution” by ordering the assembly to move.
The proposed vote comes several months after Avila first ordered the immediate evacuation of the Legislative Assembly for health and safety reasons.
She said the buildings are structurally unsafe for occupants and that legislators needed to find another location. The Health Ministry had issued a warning in 2005, giving the Legislative Assembly five years to make improvements. But the assembly’s former leadership failed to take remedial steps.
President Laura Chinchilla defended Avila, saying that her cabinet member is looking out for the interests of legislators.
But legislators have seemed unwilling to make any move in haste. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration has offered to help finance a new building in San José, and former President Oscar Arias did a symbolic groundbreaking for the project in May. But construction will take too long, said Legislative Assembly President Luis Gerardo Villanueva, and the health minister wants immediate action.
“The health minister’s urgency and the responsibility of the legislative leadership has prompted us to search for new alternatives,” he said. One of those alternatives is buying a building in Zapote, near the Executive Branch offices in Casa Presidencial, in southeastern San José.
“A commission has been working to find an immediate solution, but one that follows due process and that offers transparency to citizens,” Villanueva said. “At present, various schemes are being evaluated for acquisition (of the building), both with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Central Bank, with the oversight of the comptroller general.”
Discussion over the no-confidence vote is expected to resume on Thursday.

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