Community, Special Stories, Santa Cruz

Contract from the Municipality of Santa Cruz was won for $14,100 but final collection rose to more than $477,000

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Arianna Hernández

Sully María Gómez Loáiciga, a former candidate for council member with the party in power, Authentic Santacruceño, won a contract bid in January of 2023 with a price of ¢7.4 million ($14,100), but that same contract became “inflated” and after 16 months, the contract winner has collected ¢250 million ($477,000).

This is stated in the contract bid file 2023 LE-000001-0021000001, available in the Integrated Public Procurement System (Spanish acronym: SICOP). That same file documents that the process had the approval of supplier Keylor Jaén, the person in charge of local development, Shirley Molina, the legal director, Allan Gerardo Viales, and has as “final approver” the mayor and former colleague on the same ballot of the beneficiary, Jorge Arturo Alfaro.

It was a minor contract bid process – as awards that range between ¢66.1 million ($126,100) and ¢264.5 million ($504,700) are called – that was agreed upon under the “on demand” modality.

The purpose of this contract was to produce cultural and festive events in the canton. According to the information available in SICOP, the bid notice consists of 20 lines, including, among other things, hiring: philharmonic groups, clowns, marimba, orchestra, motivational speakers, entertainers, sound rental, stages, zumba groups, decorations and presentation of awards.

In this type of on-demand contracts, the institution doesn’t request a specific amount for the service to be purchased but rather establishes a type of “line of credit” where the supplier agrees to deliver the goods or services periodically, according to the use needs of the contracting party.

This contract bid was agreed upon for a maximum period of 48 months and a maximum amount of ¢264.5 million ($504,700). However, in the first 16 months of validity, the municipality already authorized the contract holder to disburse 95% of the entire budget content.

Knowing that our canton is the cradle of national folklore and in order to collaborate with different cultural activities and economic revitalization, the service of contracting production services and organization of cultural, social and Christmas events is required,” the municipality justified in the bid notice.

The amount of the municipal budget dedicated to festive or cultural events and the lack of controls was questioned in the municipal council by a council member during the 2020-2024 term, Elías Espinoza. Also, other bidders point out a kind of favoritism because sometimes the bid notice granted only 24 hours to present offers so competition was unfeasible in practice.

“The information was already handled by other people and they made that pre-contract beforehand, which is the only way to have that requirement signed in less than 24 hours,” Diana Marisa Quispe, who presented an offer for another contract, complained on one occasion.

When consulted by The Voice, the contract winner, Sully Gómez, alleged that “no one else participated in this on-demand contract, only me. That’s what people don’t know and that’s why people question and say things that aren’t real.”

The mayor of Santa Cruz, Jorge Arturo Alfaro, stated in writing that “Mrs. Gómez has been awarded repeatedly since this has been her participation, since the Sicop algorithm, every time an institution publishes a tender, automatically sends all the suppliers registered in said platform to participate in those that are of interest to them according to their registration.

He added that the final determination of the award “is based on a thorough and objective analysis of all the technical and legal aspects involved in the contracting process”.

The Santa Cruz Municipality has disbursed more than 400 million colones to produce cultural events for retired teacher and former 2020 councilor candidate from the Authentic Santacruz Ruling Party (spanish acronym: PASC), Sully María Gómez Loáiciga. Six of those contracts, totaling ¢56.1 million colones (around $106,800), were awarded when the provider did not have a commercial license.


Cultural week in Lagunilla

The first order under this contract was issued on January 27, 2023 and totaled ¢6.4 million ($12,200). The purchase included hiring cimarrona bands or philharmonic groups, masquerades and clowns, a marimba, an orchestra, a popular dance group and a folkloric dance group to perform during the Cultural Week of Lagunilla of Santa Cruz.

The hiring lasted throughout 2023 and the contract was renewed in January of this year, 25 days before the municipal elections in which the party in power, Authentic Santacruceño, won again.

Precisely at the beginning of 2024, the municipality gave Sully Gómez the largest payment in the time that the contract has been valid. It was a disbursement of ¢21.7 million ($41,400) for hiring 8 musical groups, 5 folkloric ensembles and 14 dance groups to perform during the Santa Cruz Cultural Week held from January 5 to 12.

The last requests before the final balance of the contract is used up were processed between June 4 and 11 for ¢11.2 million ($21,400) and are in the approval process. If these orders are approved, the total amount of the contract would be practically used up.

This contract bid that Sully Gómez won is in addition to another 15 contracts that the Municipality of Santa Cruz has awarded her since mid-2021 that amount to more than ¢400 million ($763,000) in total.

Advantage for nearby bidders

Sully Gómez won this contest as the sole bidder. In other words, no one else offered when the municipality went looking for someone to provide the service of organizer and producer of artistic, cultural, social and Christmas events in January of 2023.

Gómez explained that contractors from remote areas of Santa Cruz would have a hard time knowing or having contact with the small folkloric groups, marimba players or artists from the neighborhoods, as she does. In other bid contests, she said, her biggest competitor was a man from Heredia, but on this occasion, no one competed against her.

Being from Santa Cruz is also an advantage, both for Gómez and for other bidders in the area, due to the weight they give to geographical location in the bid notice scoring.

For example, the notice for this contract bid awards 80 points to the offer with the best price and 20 points for geographical location. “Preferably, a supplier from the area is required, since when the services are from very far away, it leads to an increase in the cost of everything, due to the distances of transporting the units,” the bid notice indicates.

So for bidders from Santa Cruz, the score due to geographic location is 20%, for those from Carrillo and Nicoya 10% and for the rest of the country 5%. “What I always told Coopeguanacaste when I contracted with them is why does someone from outside have to come to provide services when there is someone from here in Santa Cruz who can provide it,” Gómez justified.

Raquel Meza Prado, legal representative of Oxígeno Creativo S.A., a company that competed with Sully in a direct contracting the previous year, explained that by establishing  such a high score for geographical location in the bid notice, it practically leaves bidders who aren’t from Santa Cruz with no chance. 

That depends on each municipality. If the municipality wants someone from the area to end up with it, they set that [geographic location] percentage high. If they’re going to give the opportunity and someone from the area isn’t necessarily who will end up with it, they put 5%. Now we’re participating elsewhere and what they give is 5% due to geographic location,” she said.

Oxígeno is an SME dedicated to producing recreational and cultural events located in Moravia, but they provide services throughout the country. The company’s representative affirmed that they haven’t competed again in the Municipality of Santa Cruz’s contract bid processes because by giving such a high score to the geographical location, it’s obvious that they’re not going to be hired.

The only way to compete, she said, would be to make an offer at an extremely low price, which would leave them with losses.

Evaluation of the service and the provider

Who’s in charge of guaranteeing that the services contracted to Sully Gómez are delivered according to the bid notice? The municipal supplier of Santa Cruz, Keylor Jaén, stated that this responsibility falls on the official or department that makes the request. “The one who makes the request is responsible for ensuring that the service is carried out completely,” she emphasized.

In the case of this minor on-demand contract bid, the request was made by Shirley Molina Santana, the municipality’s coordinator of local development and SME promotion.

The continuity of the contracted service “has served as a mechanism of economic revitalization for the different groups of the population of the canton of Santa Cruz,

in vulnerable states,” Molina mentions in the request to extend the validity of the contract for one more year.

Regarding the service provided by Gómez, she specified in the same document that “the contract holder complies with what is stipulated in the bid specifications and has made efforts so that the service is provided optimally based on our requirements.”

To demonstrate her experience to the municipality before being hired, Sully Gómez provided three letters of recommendation. None of the documents credit her with experience in the production of artistic and cultural events.

A letter issued by Coopeguanacaste in November of 2021 indicates that Gómez has organized events for that cooperative since 2012. “All the services provided by Mrs. Zully (sic) María Gómez L. have been satisfactory for the purposes of the Cooperative,” reads the recommendation signed by the head of procurement, David José Villarreal Álvarez.

Asked by this news outlet about the type of events organized by Gómez, he indicated via email: “they would be decoration services, food, florist arrangements, furniture rental (chairs, tables) and tablecloths.”

In another letter dated November 30, 2021, the director of the school in Guaitil, Melissa Ramírez, states that Sully Gómez has provided professional services to the institution for several years “for the decoration of graduations and graduation dinners.”

The third recommendation was made by the head of the Caja de Ande branch in Santa Cruz, José Obando Angulo. The official highlighted the “professionalism and excellence” in decoration and furniture services provided by the company Het-Ziba, represented by Sully María Gómez.


These articles are also part of this investigation: 

GuanaData is a project of The Voice of Guanacaste since 2016 that has investigated the administration of public funds in the municipalities of the province. We delve into the budgets of local governments in order to make public functions transparent and combat corruption. In 2020, we also investigated municipalities outside of Guanacaste: San Carlos, Puntarenas, Talamanca and Limón. Since 2022, we’ve been working on developing an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to streamline and automate the identification of irregularities in public procurement through the Integrated Public Procurement System (Spanish acronym: SICOP). The engineering behind the AI tool has been developed by the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (Spanish acronym: CLIP) and journalists Andrea Rodríguez and Angélica Castro, who were also the database analysts who identified this and other cases of irregularities in public administration.