The Costa Rican Institute of Sports and Recreation (ICODER for the Spanish acronym) accused the Municipality of Nicoya of using a donation of ₡400 million (about $617,000) on work that wasn’t authorized. Both parties signed an agreement in December of 2020 to invest the money in repairs to the canton’s sports center.
Documents that the head of ICODER’s facilities management department, Marcela Centeno Leal, provided to The Voice of Guanacaste.
That’s why on December 14, the institution requested that the money be returned. This could halt improvements to the sports center that Nicoyans have been waiting for for years.
The municipality has until December 27 to return the money. Otherwise the institution will begin a legal process against the local government.
The official document ICODER-DGI-386-12-2021 from file No. 372-12-2020 specifies the following:
This Administration maintains the request to the Municipality of Nicoya for the return of resources in the amount of ₡400 million. It is requested that a proposal for the return be presented within ten business days. After this period, given that no request for repeal was submitted within the corresponding period, if there is no response, the file will be transferred to the Legal Department for the corresponding judicial collection to be done.”
Municipality’s Plan Showed Irregularities
In December of 2020, the municipality and ICODER signed an agreement to repair the canton’s sports center facilities. Both institutions had been working on the alliance since the middle of that year.
The repairs agreed upon included: resurfacing the running track, replacing the track’s drains, drainage improvements, replacing the soccer field turf, placing grass on the field, putting up chain link fencing and roofing on the bleachers, building a rock and wire retaining wall for the running track, several repairs to the swimming pool and several repairs to the gymnasium.
However, the documents show that the local government invoiced items that were not taken into account in the agreement, such as spending ₡123 million (about $189,800) to place synthetic material on the sports center’s running track, which is different from the resurfacing that was included.
In addition, according to an evaluation by ICODER, that work didn’t show “real progress” regarding the municipality’s charge.
A year after the agreement was signed, the municipality also hadn’t designated bidding for contracts for rebuilding the running track’s internal and external drains or for buying and installing a new pump for the main swimming pool. In this way, the Nicoyan administration failed to comply with the repairs schedule initially approved by ICODER.
ICODER also accused the local government of failing to comply with the construction processes according to the institution’s parameters. The mayor’s office authorized building a rock and wire retaining wall, but permits for the work weren’t approved by the building department until November.
The process of building this wall wasn’t approved by ICODER officials either nor were they notified, according to the file.
That’s why ICODER is requesting full repayment of the agreement. This is specified in ICODER’s procurement regulations in article 16:
“When the opinion of the review of progress reports or the settlement report identifies expenses that were not authorized by ICODER, that are not reflected in the approved Work Plan and Budget…, the public or private entity must reimburse ICODER for the amount corresponding to that line item, which must be done within ten business days after the official communication. In the event that the public or private entity does not take care of the refund, administrative means will be exhausted and if the refund amount is not recovered, judicial means will be resorted to.”
The head of ICODER’s facilities management department, Marcela Centeno Leal, stated that she can’t comment further on the subject due to the status of the process.
My work as a public official was fulfilled by issuing the corresponding documentation and following up on the audit through the Works Unit,” Centeno indicated.
Mayor Denies ICODER’s Accusations
The Voice of Guanacaste wanted to talk with the canton’s mayor, Carlos Armando Martinez, about ICODER’s documentation. However, we only received a press release referring to the matter as “rumors” and “biased information.”
“The [sports center] remodeling project is still in full swing… As for some inconsistencies that may have been found in the process of carrying out the work, this is part of the very nature of every construction process,” the mayor stated in the statement.
“We deny all rumors, insinuations and biased information that has been circulated among the population to try to tarnish the work,” he continued.
On the contrary, the documents from ICODER specify that for now, the municipality must return the agreement’s full amount of money without further appeal. In a document dated December 14, the head of ICODER’s works unit, Kenneth Sevilla, stressed to Mayor Martinez that he could have appealed the request for returning the money but the municipality didn’t carry out this process properly.
“It was emphasized to the municipality that it had the opportunity, as a constitutional guarantee of due process, to present a request for repeal before this instance and to appeal before the National Sports and Recreation Directorate. However, the municipality did not do so in a timely manner,” the document stated.
The Voice of Guanacaste requested comments on this matter from the president of the Nicoya Cantonal Sports Committee (CCDRN for the Spanish acronym), Julio Briceño. Briceño also worked as an advisor to the sports center project, the mayor indicated in an official letter to ICODER on October 20.
Under that understanding [of the budget return] and seeing what the municipality is doing, well, there’s nothing left but to continue with the works [that are already being worked on]. Hopefully waiting for them to resolve things soon and at least finish the contracts that are already in force,” Briceño said.
Briceño also said that it’s possible “to continue using the donation for the repairs” because, according to him, the sports institution “recommended the return” and didn’t require it. However, ICODER’s press department stated to this media on December 16 that the request for the money is “final and irrevocable.”
Municipality with Investigation Underway
In the press release, Mayor Martinez said that “there’s a disciplinary body open against some officials” regarding the irregularities in the work, but since it’s an active cause, he said that he can’t give more details on the matter.
This was also mentioned by the mayor in an official letter sent to ICODER on October 20. Martinez acknowledged that his institution committed “technical errors” in some of the work at the sports center, but that the company in charge of the projects, Superficies de Centroamerica, and the coordinator of Construction Control and Public Works, Josue Ruiz, are also being investigated for said irregularities.
“A contractual responsibility proceeding is being instituted for the company Superficies de Centroamerica, since it was determined that the payments received don’t correspond to the work progress…. Upon being made aware of these irregularities, we are proceeding to exercise disciplinary authority, in which we have separated the Engineer, Ruiz, from technical knowledge,” the mayor said.
The Voice of Guanacaste contacted the engineer, Ruiz, to hear his version of the accusations. However, he stated that because he is in the midst of an investigation process, he can’t give statements on the matter.