Annoying questions keep popping up on Chinese deal

Politicians keep asking troubling questions about the central government’s deal with a Chinese firm to widen Ruta 32 from Río Frio to Limón.

However, President Laura Chinchilla said on a visit to the area that the appropriate place for answers is in the Asamblea Legislativa where lawmakers will discuss the proposal and vote on it.

She also said that those who were asking the questions were not from Limón.

A lawmaker from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Manrique Oviedo Guzmán, was the first to say in a legislative committee that the Chinese contractor has had trouble with corruption.

The contractor is China Harbour Engineering Co. and its subsidiary,  China Communications Construccion Co., has been blacklisted by the World Bank due to corruption allegations in The Phillipines, Oviedo noted.

The latest to raise the issue is Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, the presidential candidate from the same party. He asked in a news release for President Chinchilla to clear up what he called some reasonable doubts.

He followed with a list of 11 questions.

Among these was why has the central government decided to continue with the $465 million deal after discovering the allegations against the firm.

He also wanted to know why the Contraloría General de la República and other financial watchdogs have been excluded from consideration of the contract.

The politician also wanted to know if the price tag covers additional costs such as expropriation of land and exactly what type of tolls are planned by the government when the job is done.

Both Solís and Oviedo have raised the issue of a clause in the contract that seems to have Costa Rica renouncing any claims to sovereignty over the job. The deal seems to follow Chinese law.

The 107 kilometers, about 66 miles, will be widened to four lanes, and there is additional work involved, including bridges and intersections. The route is the main one between the Central Valley and the Caribbean coast.

The Chinese have a special interest because the country plans a major free trade zone in the Limón vicinity.

The deal also seems to give the Chinese firm leave to import materials without paying custom duty.

This is the same deal that the Chinese received after the government offered to build a sports stadium. Contractors also were exempt from Costa Rica’s labor laws, and some of the materials brought into the country without duty appears to have been diverted.

President Chinchilla’s Partido Liberación Nacional controls the legislature, so the measure may face stiff questioning from opposition lawmakers, but a final vote seems certain to approve the agreement.

The Chinchilla administration has not been lucky with road building. A contract for the San José–San Ramón highway collapsed over public outcry about the tolls, and the roadway along the Río San Juan was pushed through as an emergency due to Nicaragua incursions in the area. Now it is mired in a corruption investigation.

Ms. Chinchilla told Limón residents on her visit there over the weekend that the Ruta 32 job also was needed as soon as possible.

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