Vice Minister of Public Works and Transportation Alejandro Guillen affirmed that construction on the Barranca-Limonal highway is “in a state of standstill” due to the construction company H. Solis’ involvement in the Cochinilla corruption case. The leader said so on July 4 in the Special Commission of Guanacaste session.
According to Guillen, the country has paid the consortium in charge of the work, H. Solis-La Estrella, more than $51 million of the $182 million that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has earmarked to finance the work. Of that, he claimed, they have only performed $18 million worth.
The Voice of Guanacaste visited the site and confirmed that construction continues to advance on the project. We asked MOPT’s press department which road operations are at a standstill, as stated by the vice minister, but we didn’t receive a response as of the deadline for publishing this article.
Two years after work began, construction is less than 40% complete compared to what was promised by this date. That’s why Vice Minister Guillen believes that it’ll be very difficult to complete the work by February of 2023, as stipulated.
The main delays arose due to H. Solis’ involvement in the Cochinilla case. For several months, the consortium stopped receiving income due to internal IDB investigations. Later, the company demanded that the ministry pay them in compensation.
In the Barranca-Limonal case, we see that the contractor (H. Solis-La Estrella) has no intention of returning to work. We can’t penalize them, but we are trying to get to the bottom of it,” said Guillen. “To a certain point, what’s happening [with this highway] is an embarrassment for the country,” he added.
MOPT can’t penalize the consortium for stopping work, because the company requested an extension period in the first quarter of 2021 due to “force majeure” (a greater force).
The vice minister thinks that the department should never have granted this extension and stated that they will investigate the reasons why it was granted under the previous administration. When this period ends in January of 2024, MOPT will be able to take other actions against the construction company.
“We’re forming a work group with [MOPT’s] executing unit to find out exactly what the avenues are to reach an agreement once and for all, whether it’s transferring the contract or another [option]. There has to be movement because we can’t continue like this with a work of this caliber at a standstill,” the vice minister told the legislators on the commission.
The Voice of Guanacaste called H. Solis’ management, but by the deadline for this article, we hadn’t received a response.
About a week after the vice minister’s statements, on July 9, H. Solis told CRHoy that they’re looking for 250 construction workers for the work in Guanacaste.
The Barranca-Limonal project includes widening from two to four lanes and repairing the bridges over the San Miguel, Naranjo, Ciruelas, Seco, Aranjuez, Sardinal, Guacimal, Lagarto, Cañamazo, Congo and Abangares rivers. It also includes 16 pedestrian crossings and 39 wildlife crossings.
Construction on the Barranca-Limonal highway began to experience delays in May of 2021, eight months after work began. What slowed down construction at that time were difficulties in expropriating the land adjacent to the construction. This is specified in an internal audit report from MOPT in August of last year.
Later, in March of 2021, the Prosecutor’s Office initiated investigations against the company H. Solis, under suspicion of participating in acts of corruption in infrastructure contracts for the State, in the Cochinilla case. At that time, IDB ordered that any type of payments to the company be detained. Of their own accord, they also began to investigate whether the projects that the bank financed were also involved in the case.
After its inquiries, the institution concluded that the project was not among the cases with alleged irregularities and gave the green light to continue with the work, specified the project engineer in the MOPT-IDB Advisory Unit, Cristian Sandoval Espinoza, at the Guanacaste commission session.
However, in April of 2022, in a letter to the former MOPT minister, Rodolfo Mendez Mata, H. Solis warned that the company would stop work on this stretch and two others around the country. According to the company, they were going through financial problems after delays in payments of more than $24 million that held them back during the months of investigation. Only $5 million of that debt is from this work.
In the letter, they also requested that MOPT pay interest for the unpaid invoices in compensation for damages and that they restore the financial balance of the affected projects.
At that time, former minister Mendez Mata assured La Nación that “there is no reason to suspend the work,” since he thought H. Solis’ arguments had no economic or technical support.
Legislators promise to audit projects in Limonal
The legislators on the commission questioned the leaders about lack of interest in the lack of progress on this and other routes in Guanacaste, such as Route 160.
Melina Ajoy, a legislator from the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC for the Spanish acronym) and member of the commission for Guanacaste, assured The Voice that although this meeting was “a good first approach to the problems with the roads,” she said that her office will continue to insist that these works be carried out until “the results are really seen.”
Ajoy believes that the Barranca-Limonal situation is just a symptom of the failures in other national roads throughout the province.
The legislators of this commission will act as auditors for this type of work…. These delays really were a disappointment to me. We can make approaches, but the ministry must have a roadmap and focus on the budget,” said the legislator.
The vice minister affirmed that his work group is still trying to “give any kind of response” to the Barranca-Limonal section, but he continued to justify that MOPT feels that there is a “complete lack of interest” in finishing the work on the part of H. Solis.