Concessions, Caldera highway come under legislative fire

Legislators who once were in the opposition are wasting no time in trying to change some of the policies they do not like.

The general concept of concessions and specifically the concession for the San José Caldera highway are among the policies under fire. Also targeted is the approval of private insurance companies to sell riesgo de trabajo or workmen’s compensation insurance.

José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, the sole legislator from the leftist Frente Amplio, presented his 54-page study on the Caldera highway. He presented it to a special commission studying concessions that have been granted in the country, although he is not a member of that group.

His report seeks political sanctions against those public officials involved in the highway project. Among these is former president Óscar Arias Sánchez.

The legislator said that the highway concession will cost the Costa Rican public $400 million, which basically comes from the tolls the private concessionaire is levying. He also said that Arias pushed the highway project even though the Costa Rican state was not prepared institutionally to guarantee the success and oversee the project. He also noted that Arias inaugurated the highway just 10 days before the 2010 general elections. The project has been in the works for 30 years.

The highway has been plagued by landslides, including one that killed a woman motorcycle passenger. Villalta produced a litany of names of present and former officials that he wanted to be barred from public service.

Villalta also said that the Ministerio Público, the independent prosecutorial agency, should investigate the highway concession for possible corruption.
He also said that he recommends to the Asamblea Legislativa that the concession law be revised and that the executive branch immediately begin collecting fines from the concession holder, Autopista del Sol.

He also recommended that the process of concessions be halted until changes are made.

The executive branch has promoted concessions because it says it does not have the money to construct needed public works. A major issue now is the $1 billion concession awarded to a Dutch firm to build a modern port facility in Moín. That project is strongly opposed by the dockworkers union there.

Villalta also figured in another criticism. He said in another session that some unions have given him their support for an action of unconstitutionality directed at an article in the Free Trade Treaty with the United States that allows private insurance firms to sell workmen’s compensation insurance.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros was the monopoly insurance provider until the free trade treaty went into effect. Representatives from that agency’s union and also from the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados supported the idea of a constitutional challenge. Some members of the Partido Acción Ciudadana also joined in the call.

The critics basically said that social rights should not be subject to the marketplace. The Sala IV constitutional court already reviewed the free trade treaty before it went into effect.

Villalta and Acción Ciudadana lawmakers were among the coalition that managed to win leadership positions at the start of the new legislative session this month. They are attempting to make the changes that they have promoted for the last year without success because they did not have legislative control.

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