When the approval process runs into lack of accountability

We are Americans who like many others have chosen to make our home in Costa Rica. To start, let me be clear, we love this place and the people. It offers so much and is a grand adventure. But . . . .

Workers have to truck in water for concrete because a tap still has not been approved. Photo: Steve Doyle

We are experiencing, to say the least, a most perplexing and aggravating situation. You see, we purchased 10 acres of land with one of those to-die-for vistas in Volio (a small village located five minutes outside of San Ramón in the Central Valley). This land is one source of our love for this country, the enthusiasm we have for living here, but also the source of the greatest aggravation I personally have ever faced.

Retaining wall is going up, thanks to trucked water. Photo: Steve Doyle

The plan is to build and develop our little slice of paradise, keeping about three acres for ourselves and selling the remaining seven acres to folks like ourselves as neighbors. We won’t get rich on this scheme by any stretch but hope to clear enough to help offset the costs of the land and building the needed infrastructure.

The infrastructure is where the aggravation comes into play.

Last year, we initiated the process in earnest to get the infrastructure on the land completed. This includes building a road, installing electricity poles with street lights, transformer, etc, and laying and connecting the water lines.

All has progressed better than planned except for the water. The local water concession is an ASADA (similar to a locally owned coop like we have in the States). The full name is an asociación operadora de sistemas de acueductos y alcantarillado sanitario. The Volio ASADA consists of selected local citizens serving as a board of directors making decisions on the management of their water lines and sources.

They are by no means professionals, nor do they necessarily have expertise in running a coop or any other business enterprise for that matter. There begins the basis for problems.

When we bought the property approximately three years ago, everyone, including the ASADA board at that time, assured us that water was no problem and would merely require us setting a time and date to begin laying pipe and hook up. Well aware that water can be an issue, we made what we thought was more than adequate inquiry and investigation as to water availability prior to closing on the property.

When we started in February 2009, the first thing we did was seek construction of the water lines. An engineering analysis provided the specifications for installing adequate water to the 10 acres. We would need to install water lines connecting to the ASADA water mains located near our property. The installation includes a pump and tanks, etc., that will provide the necessary volume and pressures for our lines (for brevity I will spare all of the technical detail). The key detail is that we know what is needed, it is within reason (expense and time) and we are willing to do it. So far so good.

We approached the ASADA. They initially gave us encouragement, then there was hesitancy, then out of the blue they decided to consult the Instituto Nacional de Acuductos y Alcatarillados for guidance. Somewhere in here, our 10 acres and six water meters became complicated beyond reason. The ASADA could not make a move without the national water company providing their advice and counsel. The AyA advice and counsel became a 10-point process of studies, volumes, stresses, 10-year water usage, and more. Our application and addition to the water system of Volio promises significant benefits to the community beyond additional income for the ASADA. Yet the Volio ASADA has NEVER offered to help us by guiding us through the process, or partnering with us on the application to AyA. They have done NOTHING. Great future neighbors we have to look forward to living with in Volio.

Our project now rivals any of the most controversial projects you have read about by the major developers in Costa Rica. But, we negotiated through this, hiring engineers with experience in obtaining infrastructure approvals and building of same. At significant cost to our limited budget, we have complied with all of the requested information and studies. This process started in October of 2009 and finally resulted in a presentation package in May of this year. In that eight month time frame the Volio ASADA was constantly a roadblock unable or unwilling to help or do anything that smacked of making a decision, being responsive, or having any responsibility (recall my comment about no business background? Add to that no common sense).

Our engineer presented the application package to the ASADA for its review and decision in June. In early July he was informed the board could not understand the technical detail of the application. This from the same folks who requested this information and had the AyA supposedly guiding them through the process. It just keeps getting better.

The application went to AyA in our canton where it languished for a week or so and then was forwarded to San José. There it was placed in the hands of the engineer (that’s the one and ONLY engineer in AyA Costa Rica, assigned to ASADA application reviews) who is responsible for reviewing and approving ASADA related applications. He went on a two-week vacation in the midst of this, so we lost that time to his job benefit. No one but him works these cases. He has absolutely no accountability nor obligation to anyone except himself. He works at his own pace, and if you ask about your project, he basically tells you to go . . . .

Our engineer has since June, made several attempts to obtain status on where we are in the queue. The response from this individual is stop calling and bothering them. They will get to it if and when they decide. We are at four months of waiting with no indication of where the application is in the process, nothing. The application is simple. I really feel for someone who has an application pending that is complicated or requires extensive analysis and review. There is no responsibility, no accountability, and no obligation to even communicate.

AyA and these related ASADA’s are the most dysfunctional and poorly run organizations I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with in my life. I know we are not the only ones facing this situation with this department of AyA, and that alone speaks volumes about AyA management. If AyA senior management is unaware of this individual and his performance, shame on them. If they ARE aware of his work ethic and poor performance, that is UNCONSCIONABLE, for they are just as incompetent if not more so, than their employee.

I need help. If anyone reading this has meaningful suggestions, I am open and ready to hear them. I am trying to do our project within the parameters of Costa Rica. This is not the U.S.A. and I have no illusions that those standards apply here. I do not believe paying graft to get this done is the way to go, though that has been the suggestion of several resources. I will not contribute to that sorry process.

Despite real estate sign at project entrance, occupance depends on water. Photo: Steve Doyle

Our little 10-acre project promises to employ through contractors, suppliers, and our eventual residency on the property several hundred local folks over a period of several years. The purchase of supplies alone for construction of the houses and infrastructure on the land, will amount to several hundred thousand dollars spent in the local community. We want to be part of the community and participate as good citizens. We may not be “citizens” of Costa Rica, but we have a significant economic interest here. Besides, our corporations facilitating the ownership of the land are citizens of Costa Rica. At this juncture we all are being treated shabbily, and Costa Rica is shooting itself in the foot, because of it.

To Laura Chincilla, I would not have her job at any cost. She has so much incompetence to deal with, it is near impossible to know where to start. One place I would take a close look is anywhere in the governing agencies where people and their poor management skills or capabilities directly affects the pocketbook of Costa Rica. This San José AyA engineer is one glaring example.

Some day sooner than later, I hope, we will get water. If not, what is for us a significant investment will not be worth spit, all because we tried to pursue a dream and live in a great place. We are not giving up, but we will not put up with this forever and we will make sure this stain on the Costa Rica way of doing things gets as much air time as possible. This has nothing to do with the “Pura Vida” mind-set, or the Latin vs. Gringo way of doing things. The issue is incompetence and lack of accountability. These are issues that differentiate functioning environments from potentially failing ones. That is a universal truth, regardless of the society.

AyA and the Volio ASADA are failing Costa Rica at this juncture. They can not manage the simple processes (ie.: our water infrastructure application), which exposes why the AyA in particular, have such a lousy track record managing the really critical issues.

*As he said, Mr. Doyle lives in Volio and is trying to develop a small residential project.

This entry was posted in Reader Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.