In downtown Liberia, dozens of men work under the sun at 11am on the remodeling of the Guanacaste Museum. The city of Liberia budgeted the money to do this in 2014, but it’s just now starting the job.
“I don’t think people even know that it’s a museum,” says Liberia resident Yamil Torres as he leans against a local business, watching the remodeling. “We’ve never seem them do anything until now.”
While the museum has been holding activities for two years, it’s not strange that Yamil feels that Liberians don’t know it’s a museum because there are few rooms adequate for holding activities.
With these improvements, the board of directors expects to hold more events and attract more people.
Every year from 2013 to 2017 the city budgeted an average of 50 projects (ranging between 37 and 66 projects), but only carried out 34 percent of them in the year that they were planned to be completed.
What happens with the projects that aren’t done? Some, like the museum, the dressing room at the Quebrada Grande sports complex and the money that was meant for patients with kidney problems, waited in line for years to be completed. Others that have more luck are done the year following their planning.
This is one of the findings of the second edition of GuanaData, a Voice of Guanacaste initiative that seeks to increase transparency in municipalities through budget analysis in order to benefit communities.
More and More Money
The ideas for these infrastructure projects come from the investment spending section of the budget, which are projects proposed collaboratively by city halls and representatives that each district has in the local government (see chart about how budget is divided).
In the last three years (2015, 2016 and 2017) this is the part of the budget that the city budgeted the most money for (40 percent of the total budget), more than administrative expenses (31 percent) and services (26 percent) and federal earmarked spending (two percent). In other cities, like Santa Cruz, administrative expenses are greater than investment.
Investment spending in Liberia has grown in the last three years, mainly because a good part of it has been mandated by different laws.
What hasn’t grown is the percent of completed works (see chart).
In 2017, for example, five billion colons ($8.85 million) were planned to be spent on these works, but only ¢1.6 billion ($2.83 million) were spent.
“The streets here in downtown look good, but the neighborhoods are really bad,” says Yamil, who has lived in the canton his whole life and who, because of his job as a private security guard, travels around all parts of Liberia everyday.
Few Hands on Deck
If you also wonder why fixing streets or community spaces is slow, the answer is in the administration of city hall. The mayor, budget chief and city advisor all agreed.
Mayor Julio Viales – who has been in office for two years – attributes the “fatal” management of investments to mistakes the city has made for years.
He is referring to bidding processes, hiring people for positions and, above all, collecting taxes.
According to Viales, the amount in arrears is five billion colons ($8.85 million)
“People from Liberia ask the city for first world projects and they aren’t paying their taxes,” Viales said. How can we build projects if they don’t pay?”
But collecting taxes is precisely the administrative responsibility of city hall. “Yes, of course. That’s what I’m getting at,” the mayor says. “Why are tax arrears so high? City workers have failed.”
Budget chief Donald Ibarra says that there are at least three other factors that explain the low level of execution of infrastructure projects: the poor planning of the projects that district councils present, problems in the bidding process and the approval of budgets.
Representatives tend to spend the first two years of their terms learning how to do their jobs, and this causes proposals and projects to get delayed. Community advisor Fabiola Leiva agreed, as did district representative Nacascolo, Ana Victoria Corder. They both said that now, two years later, they have found a better rhythm.
“The projects that councils present are viable, but city hall doesn’t have the personnel necessary to process the projects at a municipal level,” Leiva said.
City hall has created new positions in recent years to decrease the low level of project completion.
Leiva has been the the intermediary between district councils and the city technical team since 2016. She is in charge of making sure the projects representatives present have a higher level of completion.
Last year, Viales also hired a person to take charge of contracts related to road infrastructure and three engineers: two for roads and one for civil works.
According to Viales, due to the arrears, the city is analyzing the pending charges, like the cemetery, where Viales says that more than half of people responsible are not paying.
The auditor is also performing a financial study to find out how much money the city is receiving and how much it should receive in order to find voids on the city balance sheet.