On April 20th, the municipality of Santa Cruz sued its own mayor, María Rosa López, in the Administrative Disputes Court for collecting bonuses that, allegedly, were not hers to collect.
The suit comes two years after the municipal auditor, Alvaro Moreno, informed that the mayor received exclusivity pay without fulfilling the requirements to receive it when she was deputy mayor.
Exclusivity pay is a 65% increase over the base salary. This bonus is defined in article 14 of the Law Against Corruption and Illicit Enrichment of Public Functionaries so that leaders do not work outside of the entity to which they pertain.
Now the Municipality is charging the mayor ¢115 million ($200.000): ¢83 million ($148.000) received over four years for exclusivity and ¢32 million ($57,000) in lost interest are estimated as damages.
According to the law, the only functionaries that can receive the exclusivity bonus are those who have degrees in liberal professions and pertain to a professional guild. The regulations define liberal professions as those that are performed in the “service market.”
During this time, the mayor only had a degree in education. Moreno alleged that that degree was not considered liberal. His argument was based on a ruling by Attorney General in 2014 related to the then-mayor of Nandaure, Carlos Arias.
“The prohibition in article 14 of the Law Against Corruption and Illicit Enrichment of Public Functionaries does not apply to the teachers,” says the document in one of its conclusions.
The Voice of Guanacaste contacted the mayor by telephone, but she refused to provide any details.
“The case is in the judges’ hands. We are in a country of laws and I have nothing to say. Good afternoon,” said López before cutting off the call.
In previous reports, the mayor had assured The Voice of Guanacaste that she had not received this bonus since May of 2015.
Although the suit was filed this year, the Comptroller General’s office has asked the Municipal Council to begin legal proceedings in the Administrative Dispute Court since May, 2016.
The process was postponed until April, when council members agreed to hire the lawyer Rafael Guillén for ¢8 million. Guillén is currently handling the legal process against the mayor.
How Does a Municipality Sue its Own Leader?
Guillén explained that although ex-mayor Jorge Chavarría had authorized López’s bonus, the council made a declaration of harmfulness.
This declaration is made when an administrative action is considered harmful to the entity’s public interests – in spite of having been approved by the same organization.
In order to force the mayor to return the money, the Administrative Dispute Court also must make a declaration of harmfulness.
The municipality’s defender said that although Chavarría approved the payment, the mayor cannot argue ignorance of the law.
The Court’s press office confirmed that the process is in the notification phase. After being notified, María Rosa López will have three business days to present her defense.