No restrictions. No matter age, immigration status, education level, race or gender. Anyone, anytime, may approach the Costa Rican legislature and propose a new bill, a reform of an existing law or even a request to change the constitution. Even expats can submit their proposals!
Everybody is welcome at the Oficina de Gestión de Propuestas Ciudadanas, a legislative department created in 1999 to give a voice to anyone who has got something to say about public affairs. Here, any idea is welcomed and heard, no matter what it is.
Making Costa Rica the 51 state of the United States of America is one of them. Filed by Luis Campos Quesada last year, his proposal consists in organizing a referendum and asking the citizens if they want to give up independence to become Gringos.
Perhaps not taken into consideration by Quesada was also that expats would suddenly find themselves repatriated.
“Our dependency on the United States is so big that we better join them. It benefits both sides. The U.S could set up a strategic military base and make up for the loss of the Panama Canal. In exchange, we Ticos would get federal funding and turn any undocumented Costa Rican living there into a lawful citizen,” said the 17-year old college student who lives in Pérez Zeledón.
“No, I’ve never lived in the U.S. but I got family over there. See, that’s another advantage. We could go visit our relatives anytime we want with no worries,” he added.
The office was created with one main objective: to encourage people to take part in public decisions and by doing so, strengthen the concept of participative democracy over the representative one, according to Xinia Jiménez, the coordinator of the office.
“Legislative proposals can be written, e-mailed and by telephone. If someone is illiterate, we’ll write his ideas. Same case if the person is blind or has a disability. Even if they struggle with Spanish, we’ll do our best to help that person out,” she said.
That means Spanish-challenged expats have no need to fear that their proposals cannot be sent in. In her time, Ms. Jiménez has witnessed all sorts of ideas.
A few examples are file numbers 742 and 629, that seek to establish a death penalty in Costa Rica and another proposal numbered 1215 filed by Beto Rodríguez.
This one wants to authorize liquor manufacturers to sponsor sports teams because of the “big amount of money they may input in the sports industry.”
Another case is the proposal 2235 from José González, who states the need of overseas congressmen with one in each country that has a significant Costa Rican expat community.
All ideas are sent to the congressmen. If a lawmaker considers it interesting enough, he or she will study it and decide whether it worth it is for legislative discussion and a possible approval, according to the coordinator.
“In 18 years, we have processed 2,317 proposals. Out of that amount, 1,013 have been studied by congressmen and 123 were fully discussed by all 57 lawmakers. Today, we have 19 laws of the republic that had its humble origins in this office,” said Ms. Jiménez.
Thanks to the citizens initiatives the Colegio de Profesionales en Orientación was created, a law to identify medicines for blind people was approved, the national students day was established and a national program to protect children against gambling was set up.
“It is quite satisfactory, especially if you take into consideration that from time to time there are political parties that do not get a single law approved in its four years.” added Ms. Jiménez.