Report on democracy suggest big changes for the country

Report cover features a graphic of Monumento Nacional
that depicts the Central American states in the persona of
women driving out filibusterer Williams Walker, who tried
to take over the region.

A committee of six long-time politicians has come out with 97 recommendations designed to improve democracy in Costa Rica. The group also identified what it said were 32 problems with the structure and legislation of the country.

A controversial one already has been leaked to the public. The group suggested increasing the number of legislators from the current 57 to 75 or 87 to compensation for the increase in population.

Another proposal is that lawmakers be able to serve consecutive terms. Now they must leave office after one four-year term but can serve again later.

President Laura Chinchilla set up the committee last May after the Estado de Nación report outlined what it said were problems with democracy here. The public’s low opinion of lawmakers and politicians in general also was a factor in creating the committee.

One of the proposals is to eliminate filibusters in the Asamblea Legislativa. Another allows the president to present priority bills to the legislature, who would then have to take a vote within three months.

Among those on the committee is Francisco Antonio Pacheco, a former president of the legislature.

Ms. Chinchilla said Thursday that members of her administration would be working to turn the recommendations into solid legislative bills.

Ms. Chinchilla was frustrated in trying to get a major tax package passed. It eventually was derailed by the Sala IV constitutional court, which did not address the specifics of the bill but rather the way the legislature handled it. Some of the suggestions released Thursday pertain to the courts.

The panel suggested a new court other than the Sala IV constitutional court to hear routine constitutional appeals and habeas corpus cases. This would allow the constitutional court to concentrate on issues of conflicts between the governmental branches and matters of liberties and fundamental rights. The panel also suggested eliminating a lawmaker’s right to get an opinion on a bill from the court while the legislative process still is going on.

In addition, the panel suggested that in certain cases a constitutional court appeal should not freeze the issue until a decision is rendered.

The panel also urged the use of oral arguments in all court proceedings. This approach is being introduced gradually.

The committee said in its report that it labored for six months with more than 40 meetings with many lasting more than four hours.

The proposed reforms are inspired by the idea to permit the functioning of democracy of the majority, facilitating the exercise of the authority that the public has placed in officials, said the panel. That is why the panel said that legislative filibuster must be ended or at least not rewarded. Filibuster is the way that a minority can halt the legislative process by lengthy speeches.

A lot of the suggestions are technical and relate to the rules of the legislature or to the budget.

But the panel also tried to give more power to the executive branch. At the same time it would vest certain executive powers in the legislature

For example, the panel called for the minister of the Presidencia, basically the president’s chief of staff, to be confirmed by the legislature. And lawmakers also could fire the person in this job along with all the government ministers by a two-thirds vote.

In turn, the president would be given the power to dissolve the legislature and order new elections if it appeared to be ineffective. The president also would be allowed to appear at the legislature and lobby for executive proposals.

The proposals also suggested that the president could stand for re-election to consecutive terms.

The proposals also would speed up expropriation of land for government purposes and streamline electronically government contracting. Some contracts already are offered online. The panel also said that fighting corruption was necessary as was fighting poverty.

Municipalities were not spared suggestions. The panel called for streamlining local procedures.

It also called for joint efforts to eliminate prison over population and suggested that the public should be able to recall the president or lawmakers.

Other members of the panel were Constantino Urcuyo Fournier, an academic and former lawmaker; Fabián Volio Echeverría, a former minister of Justicia;  Vladimir de la Cruz, a former ambassador and presidential candidate;  Manrique Jiménez, a former replacement magistrate; and Rudolfo Piza, former executive president of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social.

Not all the members agreed with each recommendation, but the report allows the members of the panel to reject or suggest alternatives to recommendations. President Chinchilla’s made a point that the document is available for anyone who seeks it online. It is HERE!

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