The mayor of Liberia and candidate for reelection for the Unidos Podemos (United We Can) party, Luis Gerardo “Pipo” Castañeda, was sanctioned by the Supreme Election Court in 2022 for “offenses against the Public Treasury’s control and audit regulations” with gross negligence in his role as mayor during the 2011-2016 term.
According to the Comptroller General of the Republic, Castañeda authorized payroll payments through 12 official letters throughout the 2011 budget period, knowing that there was not enough budget for the expenditures.
When I became mayor on February 7, 2011, the mayor who was leaving paid in the red. Logically, coming in as mayor, I found myself in that situation. They caught me ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ without knowing what the situation was like,” said Castañeda when consulted by The Voice of Guanacaste.
According to the Comptroller’s Office in their resolution 10344-2015, this is a situation that began in 2010 when the Municipal Council of Liberia approved the Autonomous Regulation of Services and the agreement with the Union of Municipal Workers of the Province of Guanacaste. At that time, Carlos Marín Muñoz was the mayor (2007-2010).
According to the regulation and the agreement, the local government would give an annual raise of 3% on the base salary of all of the municipality’s employees. This payment would begin on January 1, 2011, one month before “Pipo” took over as mayor.
However, within the budget allocated for 2011, these raises weren’t taken into account, so there wasn’t enough money for the payroll payments.
“They don’t inform me of anything,” added Castañeda, who was officially notified on May 2 of that year. However, according to the Comptroller’s Office, the end-of-term report from former mayor Marín Muñoz already showed this beforehand and the person in charge of budget, Laura Moronga, warned that there was no money every time she sent the payroll for approval.
Even with warnings, the Comptroller’s Office highlighted that most of the payments were approved by Mayor Castañeda, which resulted in an overdraft of 44,600,000 colones (about $85,700) by December 12, 2011.
“The sanction was imposed on me because I was the administrator at the time I took office,” indicated the current mayor of Liberia. But the controlling body insisted that his sanction isn’t related to the decisions made during the previous term, but rather to the authorization to make the corresponding payments without having money in the budget.
During 2011, the municipality made several modifications to the budget to address the situation. They approved 71,500,000 colones ($137,500) that, according to the Comptroller’s Office, would be used “exclusively to take care of future obligations.” However, they were earmarked to “correct items that had negative balances.”
The Municipality of Liberia’s audit report AI-03-2012 recognizes that the only way to modify the budget in this case was through an extraordinary budget. The local government failed because it didn’t make the request until the end of 2011 and, in addition, once approved, they used the funds “incorrectly.”