San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

President Unveils 4-Year Plan

Only four in 10 Costa Ricans are giving their president a thumbs-up as she rounds the 100-day mark in office.

That grade is worse than those of the last two presidents, Abel Pacheco and Oscar Arias, and hovers only slightly above those of former presidents Rafael Angel Calderón and Miguel Angel Rodríguez after their first 100 days in office.

Even while President Laura Chinchilla may not be making the “most popular” lists, she also hasn’t made as many enemies.

According to a Unimer poll, published last week in Costa Rica’s daily La Nación, a mere 10 percent of the population was “dissatisfied” with her performance; as opposed to 20 percent dissatisfied with Arias and 13 percent unhappy with former President José María Figueres.

The 51-year-old mother, who was vice president under Arias, said the study was “good  news,” as most supported her leadership skills (only 20 percent believe she lacks leadership) and her priorities (the majority believe she is heading in the right direction).

“I deeply appreciate the recognition of leadership,” she told La Nación. “Here is how we see it: We have been here a few days up to now and I think it is good to admit there is room for growth.”


Four-Year Goals

With that comment, this week she unveiled her priorities for the next four years, presenting benchmarks in the four areas in which she is most hoping to advance. In the area of citizen security, she wants to graduate 4,000 new police officers and add 3,000 berths to the country’s prison system.

Regarding the environment, she wants to address the country’s energy crisis, improve management of the country’s water resources, and upgrade public transportation services. In the commercial sphere, she is looking to attract $9 billion in foreign direct investment, finalize trade agreements with China, Singapore and Europe, and increase exports by $17 billion.

And to address social issues, she wants to decrease unemployment from 7.8 percent to 5 percent, boost the number of state-sponsored daycare spaces by 75 percent for  students and 50 percent for seniors, reduce extreme poverty by 10 percent, connect 85 percent of public schools to the Internet (a 50 percent increase), and create 150 additional local health care clinics.

Some, including independent political analyst Carlos Denton, praised the plan. ThoughDenton, co-founder of the market research firm CID-Gallup, questioned why it hadn’t come sooner.

“When you vote someone into office, you usually presume that they have a plan or a program,” he said. “But it became apparent to me a few months ago that she planned to use the first 100 days to make a plan.”

“You might think, what’s 100 days?” he continued, “But that’s 10 percent of what will be her presidency, as the last year often goes to political campaigning.”

Víctor Borge, president of the polling and research firm Borge and Asociados, agreed that the first 100 days could have been put to better use.

He said, “What is interesting here is that Chinchilla is not presenting a list of accomplishments after her first 100 days, she is presenting a list of challenges. The first 100 days weren’t very productive.”

Instead, the period, which has been traditionally used to judge the immediate impact of heads of state, was “100 days of small errors,” Borge said. There was the attempt in the legislature to raise salaries by 72 percent; the failure (or unwillingness) to stop the open-pit gold mine in Crucitas; the squabble over conditions in the Legislative Assembly’s facilities that pitted the Health Ministry against the congress; and the controversy over public university budgets.

“What has most characterized the first 100 days have been small errors in coordination,” Borge said. “Taken one at a time, none is serious; but each shows that the administration is lacking direction.”

But if Chinchilla did anything in her presentation to legislators, media, and cabinet members on Monday night, it was to show that her administration does have a clear direction.

“I don’t come here to just to talk about the last 100 days,” she said, as she flipped through a PowerPoint presentation from the stage at the Children’s Museum. “I want to talk about the four years to come.”

Her goals are straightforward and measurable, and as Borge indicated, “very doable.”

“They are not very ambitious,” he said. “In fact, her government can do much more if she continues to have consensus.”


Paying the Bills

The main lynchpin in the proposal is that the success of many of the initiatives will depend on her ability to collect more taxes, which is a tall order in Costa Rica.

“We’ve watched two administrations fail to achieve tax reform,” said Denton. “While her plan looks great, it all depends on her getting more money, which means a reform to the tax structure.”

Chinchilla has thus far proposed a casino tax to regulate online sportsbooks, an annual fee of $200 applied to all sociedades anónimas (the legal framework for businesses) and a crack down on perpetual delinquents, but she also intends to pass a substantial reform of the tax system as a whole.

“If we want to continue to move forward as a country, if we want to invest in the infrastructure in which we should be investing, we can’t do so with the tax system we have today,” Chinchilla said at a press conference Wednesday.

“We are moving forward with a plan that is very simple,” she said. “And in this sense,  we are confident that the process won’t take too much time.”

But whatever happens, she added, “We are going to continue to do what we can to ensure that our plan doesn’t fail because of the lack of fiscal reform.”

Chinchilla’s plan spanned education, infrastructure, citizen safety, exports, poverty, employment, transportation and the environment, and Denton said she was hitting all the right areas to ensure the country moves closer to putting its name on the list of developed nations.

“I think all the things they touched upon are vitally important for the country as it tries to develop,” he said.

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