Community, Liberia

Liberia: Why is Mario Cañas Park still closed?

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

Mario Cañas Ruiz central park in Liberia wasn’t open for July 25, and it won’t be for Christmas, either. Now no one is sure if it will reopen in time for the next civic festivals.

On Tuesday, December 13, Mayor Luis Gerardo Castañeda signed an order to suspend the contract with the company in charge of the work, Remodelaciones y Construcciones Sym S.A, justifying it because “the company has committed an alleged breach of contract.”

Now, the municipality has to wait for a resolution from the Contentious Administrative Court, an entity that must rule on the process of finalizing the contract.

For the people of Liberian and even for the Municipal Council of Liberia, understanding what is happening in the municipal corridors has been a dilemma, since Mayor Luis Gerardo Castañeda has only given brief explanations, both during municipal sessions and in front of the media. 

After the order to suspend the contract was signed, one of the engineers who was working on the park, David Campos, attended the last extraordinary council session on behalf of the company on Wednesday, December 14.

What is the company’s side of the story, what is the mayor’s side and what will happen now? At The Voice, we put together six points that you should know to understand the conflict.

  1. The contract

In October of 2021, the Municipality of Liberia opened the bidding process for remodeling the park. According to the bids presented, Sym S.A. was the company that met the requirements of the project notice. Both parties signed the contract at the end of 2021, for an amount of ¢197 million colones (about $330,000 USD).

The municipality had ¢200 million (about $335,000) available for this project, money that the local government receives from the departure tax from Danial Oduber Airport, according to Law 9156. These funds were to be spent no later than June 2022, according to the municipality’s budgetary commitments with the Comptroller General of the Republic.

The company had the order to start work on January 31, 2022 and it should have finished in 120 calendar days, on June 30, also in 2022, which was also the deadline for the municipality to transfer funds to the company. However, the project’s promised completion date was gradually postponed.

  1. Delays

According to the company’s engineer at the council meeting, when work on the park began, they ran into unexpected situations. When beginning demolition of the cement slabs, they found two other old “layers” that weren’t specified in the plans and details of the work.

The municipal engineer, Renan Zamora, said in a municipal council session that at some point, the company also had delays due to rain.

However, both parties have affirmed that progress on the work has already reached 80%.

Why did they stop the work? Sym S.A. alleged in the council session on Wednesday, December 14, that work was halted because the municipality owed the company payment of an invoice of ¢31 million (about $52,000) that, according to the contract, should be paid within 30 business days after it was issued.

This investment was a budgetary commitment that the municipality had to conclude in June of 2022. However, they didn’t do so due to delays in the work and therefore in paying the company. “The company was aware that after June 30, as this was a commitment project for the year 2021, the financial transfers would stop and would resume on November 30,” said engineer Renan Zamora.

  1. Extensions

According to municipal documents, the local government authorized one single extension so that the work could be extended until July 31, 2022. The company requested five more extensions that, according to the mayor and the municipal engineer, Renan Zamora, they never approved. 

Some council members, and even Vice Mayor Arianna Badilla, have said in council sessions and on social media that the mayor granted the extensions verbally, without documentary support, in meetings that he and other municipal officials held with the construction company.

“It seems that the extensions were given because they said ‘young lady’ [referring to the company’s legal representative], keep being, keep working, keep doing that. That’s what is commented, that with a pat on the back, they were told to continue because I give them the extension,” said council member Ricardo Quiros during the November 28 session.

The company’s engineer, David Campos, affirmed during the December 14th session that “although they didn’t respond to our requests for extensions, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t approved them.” According to him, they proceeded with work because the municipality continued to schedule appointments with them to see progress and to negotiate the date of pending payment.

“On [Wednesday,] November 2 of this year, we met with the engineering department and the mayor in his office and that day, they told us that they already had the financial resources again, with the budget to reactivate the project’s cash flow,” the engineer said.

In that meeting, the engineer said, they reached an agreement that they would be paid on Friday, November 11.

“That day, [Wednesday, November 2,] when they told us that they were going to pay us, they asked us not to wait for the money to come in, but rather for us to send personnel to the park on Monday, [November 7], which we complied with. We took the staff payroll to the park, and they started working again, all week and half of the following [week]. And when we saw that the agreement to pay the invoice [agreed upon for Friday, the 11th] was not fulfilled, we couldn’t continue supporting the payroll,” he explained.

The company submitted one last extension request on December 9, which the municipality did respond to by rejecting it.

  1. The money

In an interview with The Voice, Mayor Luis Gerardo Castañeda affirmed that the municipality has transferred a little more than ¢140 million colones (about $235,000) to the company Sym S.A. However, the company and other municipal officials provided evidence that the municipality has only paid about ¢80 million colones (about $134,000), in six payments. The seventh payment of ¢31 million (about $52,000) is still pending.

It is precisely this seventh remission that started the discord between the parties. Due to budgetary issues, the municipality had to pay for this project no later than June 30, 2022. However, according to the Sym S.A. employee, the agreement between the company and the local government was that they would continue working and in a couple of months, when the municipality could transfer funds again, they would pay that pending invoice. But that never happened.

“Due to the contract resolution process, the administration decided not to make that payment,” said engineer Renan Zamora at the council session on December 6.

However, according to statements made by the engineer, Campos, from Sym S.A., in meetings in the municipality with the construction, legal and procurement departments and the mayor’s office, they promised that they would pay the invoice that they owed.

“We did not abandon the project, but rather, we did a technical pause because we could no longer sustain the financial commitments required to finish the park,” he added.

  1. The work

The municipal engineer agreed with the company engineer that 80% progress has been made. “The excavation of the removal of the slab was achieved, building the modular base and pouring 75% of the concrete slabs.” He added that a section of the park’s internal sidewalk and behind the pavilion are still left.

He also said that the internal islands, which were fractured, have been rebuilt, that a new automated irrigation system has been installed and that just a few stone benches remain to be painted.

  1. Now what’s next?

The mayor told The Voice that now he’ll wait for the response of the Contentious Administrative Court regarding the contract suspension process. And that, until then, he won’t continue to comment on the case.

During the session in which engineer David Campos participated, the mayor even said that he would leave the session. However, the president of the municipal council, Alejandro Morales, told him that he could not do so, although he could abstain from participating.

Castañeda remained seated without giving any explanation in the face of the statements and discomfort of council members and Sym S.A.’s engineer.

The contract termination document indicates that the municipality will pay for private security to watch the property. The mayor didn’t specify where those funds would come from.

Members of the municipal council even expressed their disagreement with the municipality investing those resources.

“Are you going to hire a company for 24 hours, which you didn’t even do for Camilo Reyes or for the Government, and now you’ll hire it to preserve some grass?… Who is going to incur this expense? The municipality, Mr. Mayor”, complained council member Quiros.

The municipal engineer and the mayor have told the media and said in council sessions that the municipality will take charge of the work or that they could award it to another company. The company engineer proposed that the municipality pay the pending payment and they will continue with completing the work under the same conditions stipulated in the initial contract: that the municipality pay the invoices 30 days after they are issued.