Finance ministry officials say the government is acting to help boost stagnant social development in the country’s southern zone, much of which is entrenched in poverty. Officials say the committee designed to support growth in this area, the Junta de Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur, known as Judesur, did not spend a large amount of its 70 billion colon budget from 2007 to 2013.
Along with the Ministerio de Presidencia and the Ministerio de Planificación Nacional, the Ministerio de Hacienda began the takeover Tuesday through the introduction of executive decree No. 38575. They say more than 30 billion colons, or more than $55 million, is unaccounted for. The decree calls for a team to conduct studies into the organization and economic accountability of the development agency.
Hacienda Vice Minister José Francisco Pacheco outlined the government’s objectives Tuesday, saying they will analyze paperwork problems that may be getting in the way of effectively placing this money at its intended destinations. He said the government will also improve its monitoring of the financial administration at the agency to make sure the budget money is being allocated towards developing social programs.
“We see an opportunity to be able to generate announcements, signs, and anything else we can do to create development in this area,” Pacheco said.
Of the 15 poorest cantons in Costa Rica, five of them belong in Zona Sur de Puntarenas, according to a Planificación index. Those counties are Golfito, Osa, Corredores, Coto Brus, and Buenos Aires. The country’s census institute says 35 of every 100 people in the Zona Sur are considered to be living below the poverty line.
“For 30 billion colons, you have to be able to do something with this investment,” Pacheco said.
He added that it’s obvious the money is not getting to where its supposed to go and that this new decree aims to support these communities with a temporary board provided by the central government. However, the current junta officials will not be removed from their positions.
The Junta de Desarrollo Regional de la Zona Sur was established in 1997 as an agency made to prevent poverty in Costa Rica’s south, but ever since its creation it has been the subject of financial complaints. Lawmaker Jorge Angulo Mora was accused of extorting money from the agency and demanding money from the building contractors of a school in San Vito de Coto Brus, as the contractors claimed he told them he would block the construction if they did not pay him. In 2011, prosecutors accused him of committing seven offenses, including four for extortion. He has not yet come to trial.
Vice Minister Ana Gabriela Zúñiga said that the finance ministry and other governmental bodies would look into investigating the problems and taking up possible judicial action in the next few years.
The Depósito Libre Comercial in Golfito, a tax-free commercial operation under the junta that was meant to stimulate the region’s economy, has been receiving far less visitors since the committee’s creation. According to a Hacienda report, the visitation numbers dipped from 239,000 people in 1997 to 173,000 expected in all of 2014.