Public Works and Transport Minister Carlos Segnini Villalobos defended the government’s progress on major infrastructure projects Thursday. Segnini took the hot seat before the Legislative Committee on Public Income and Spending Control to field questions from lawmakers, some of whom have criticized what they say is MOPT‘s minimal progress on major infrastructure projects, mainly highways.
Segnini told lawmakers that most projects are not stalled, despite suggestions to the contrary. “I believe we are moving forward with all of them, even though progress on some is not clearly visible. I can assure that there is advancement on all our projects,” he said.
Severe criticism for the agency has also come from Comptroller General Marta Acosta, who earlier this month said the backlog in public infrastructure projects “is caused by the improvisation, negligence, and lack of commitment and supervision by MOPT officials.”
Segnini has been blasted particularly for the alleged lack of progress on expanding Route 32, the main highway connecting the Central Valley with the Caribbean province of Limón. The route is key for trade: approximately 70 percent of Costa Rican exports leave the country through Caribbean docks, according to the Costa Rican Chamber of Exporters.
Critics also say MOPT hasn’t made progress on the highway improvement project between the capital San José and the Alajuela canton of San Ramón.
Segnini said the government has been slowed down mainly by the red tape involved with approving projects and expropriating land for the highways.
National Liberation lawmaker Antonio Álvarez Desanti asked Segnini whether the government has sufficient resources to carry out the projects. The minister said MOPT currently doesn’t have the equipment or staff to move any faster.
“We have a reduced staff to manage all expropriations. In the specific case of Route 32, we’ve faced delays caused by the relocation of families from the Triángulo de la Solidaridad,” he said.
The minister said most residents of the slum, located northwest of San José, have rejected the Housing Ministry’s offer to build new homes in a different location.
Spending committee chairman Mario Redondo, from the Christian Democratic Alliance (ADC), also questioned Segnini for failing to draft a bill to close the National Roadway Council, set to be replaced by a new agency called the National Infrastructure Institute.
Criticism of Segnini in recent days prompted lawmakers from various parties to call on President Luis Guillermo Solís to remove him from office.
Petitions even came from the ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) in late October. Legislators Javier Cambronero, Henry Mora and Víctor Morales sent the president a letter calling for the immediate dismissal of Segnini.
At the time, Solís ruled out taking any action against the minister and said Segnini had already addressed every claim issued by lawmakers. The president even offered to set up a meeting between Segnini and the lawmakers to “clear their differences.”