The first three months of the Luis Guillermo Solís administration are causing some political opponents and even some allies to shake their heads.
They are not sure if the president is just naive or displaying an authoritarian bent. The question is important for expats in Costa Rica. too, because they recognize that the law is fragile even under the best of circumstances.
First there was the revelation that Solís appointed Melvin Jiménez as his chief of staff or minister of the Presidencia. Almost immediately, critics pointed out that the Costa Rican Constitution specifically prohibits naming clergy as government ministers, and Jiménez is a Methodist bishop.
The Solís administration argued without any evidence at all that the constitutional prohibition refers only to Catholic clergymen. Even the Procuraduría General, the government’s own lawyer, said last month that the appointment was unconstitutional. There also is a case in the constitutional court on this point.
Yet Jiménez continues in his job under conditions that are clearly illegal.
Such an appointment might be chalked up as an accident, but not so the president’s visit last week to the Mercado de Artesanía at Plaza de la Democracía. The merchants who sell tourism items there are under pressure to leave from the Municipalidad de San José. The location is a public street.
Yet Solís said he was undoing a veto that had been made by Óscar Arias Sánchez when the Nobel laureate was president in 2009. Arias vetoed a legislative bill that would have allowed the merchants to remain. Lawmakers and jurists were stunned by the claim by Solis. The matter certainly will result in a court case that Solís will lose.
Tuesday lawmakers from the rival Partido Liberación Nacional listed specific after specific as to why the presidential action was illegal and outside the ground rules of law making.
Juan Luis Jiménez Succar, head of the Liberación delegation, called the action by Solís null and irresponsible. He noted that legislative rules put a four-year life on proposed legislation.
Also Tuesday Victor Morales Mora, the labor minister, announced Tuesday that pensions for 910 former public officials will be limited to 10 times the lowest public base salary. This is supposed to be a
money-saving measure for the government. The decision certainly
has a money-losing effect on the 910 pensioners. Legal action is certain to challenge this arbitrary government decision.
Then there is the sales tax on admission to national parks and other protected areas. The initial decree was by former president Laura Chinchilla, who issued the measure nine days before leaving office.
However, it was the Ministerio de Hacienda, headed by Vice President Helio Fallas, that decided that the tax also should cover tourism activities within the parks and also cover such activities for the last six years.
There is a certain amount of boldness or arrogance required to expand activities covered by the tax and to assess taxes for six years in arrears. And this, too, probably is unconstitutional.
This is the president who promised not to create new taxes during the first two years of his administration. Yet, a recent description of a bill being presented to prevent evasion contains a change that will result in taxes of company dividends. The administration is now arguing that the tax is not a tax. The change is just the removal of an exoneration, said Fernando Rodríguez, vice minister of Ingresos in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
In a country where the leaders do not feel restricted by the laws, anything can happen. And what happens is not usually very good for the citizens and residents.