Community, Special Stories, Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Municipality awards multi-million contracts to former candidate for councilor from the ruling party

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español

The Santa Cruz Municipality has disbursed more than 400 million colones to produce cultural events for retired teacher and former 2020 councilor candidate from the Authentic Santacruz Ruling Party (spanish acronym: PASC), Sully María Gómez Loáiciga.

Six of those contracts, totaling ¢56.1 million colones (around $106,800), were awarded when the provider did not have a commercial license, a legal requirement for any individual or company engaging in profit-making activities. Additionally, she lacked experience in producing these artistic and cultural events.

Gómez Loáiciga, a retired physical education teacher, shared ballot in 2020 with three other educators: Jorge Arturo Alfaro Orias, known as “The Rooster,” who was the director of the Liceo de Santa Cruz and won the mayoralty; professor Dixabeth Matarrita Mendoza, was elected as first deputy mayor; and Mitzy Salazar Morales, elected as a councilor in 2020 and later as the first vice mayor in the most recent elections.

Although Gómez Loáiciga was not elected as a councilor, a year after her former colleagues took public office, she began winning municipal contracts as a producer of cultural activities.

La Voz de Guanacaste initiated this journalistic investigation based on alerts from GuanaData, a computer system developed by this outlet in partnership with the Latin American Center for Journalistic Research (spanish acronym: CLIP). GuanaData uses artificial intelligence to analyze bids processed through Sicop and monitors potential irregularities in public purchases in the municipalities of Guanacaste.

In the case of Gómez Loáiciga, the GuanaData system generated alerts due to the concentration of contracts, winning bids with higher offers, and the processing of bids in record time. Using this as a starting point, a team of journalists verified and investigated the alerts.

One hundred percent effectiveness 

According to data from the General Directorate of Taxation, Sully Gómez registered for the provision of services in musical and artistic activities on July 16, 2021.

In that same month she registered, she won her first bid at the municipality governed by her former party colleagues. This is what the documents registered in the Integrated System of Public Purchases (spanish acronym: SICOP) report.

Since then, until May 2024, the local government has awarded her all the bids in which she participates. In nine of these tenders, she participated without competition from any other bidder.

The 16 contracts awarded by the Santa Cruz Municipality to the former councilor candidate total more than ¢410 million ($782,280), according to Sicop data.

This amount includes ¢116 million ($221,000) from the initial awards won by Sully Gómez since 2021, extensions totaling ¢44 million ($83950) approved by the municipality in six of those contracts, and ¢250 million ($477,000) in purchase orders issued as part of a bidding under a “on-demand” modality she won in January 2023 and renewed in January of this year. (Read separate note for details).

Questions about budget allocations and execution

The municipal budget allocated to culture and the need for controls on how that money was spent was a concern raised by councilor Elías Espinoza Gamboa during the 2020-2024 term, as recorded in municipal council minutes.

Espinoza joined the council with the Authentic Santacruz Party and was the one who invited Sully Gómez to join the political group’s ballot. He separated from the party a few months later, stating that he did so “because the mayor’s actions did not align with what we had preached.”


When asked about his motivations for requesting the report, Espinoza said it arose “due to the priorities that this government (the mayoralty) gives to this cultural campaign despite many needs.”

The amounts are very high. I believe in culture, I believe in investing in culture, but in an orderly manner. Not in disorder. We need to know where we are going, with a cultural manager, and in a very organized way, and that order was nonexistent,” he added.

As he explained, the lack of information on spending for cultural and recreational activities was such that the total amount allocated was unknown. When the municipal council persisted in requesting this information from the mayor’s office, they were referred to Sicop.

Given the lack of clarity on the part of the mayor’s office, on September 17, 2023, the municipal council requested the Public Ministry to investigate the alleged failure to fulfill duties by the mayor, both for the lack of response to questions regarding investments in culture and for eight other agreements that were not fulfilled.

The document, of which La Voz de Guanacaste has a copy, was also sent to the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the Office of the Ethics Prosecutor.

That criminal investigation for apparent misconduct in public office is being pursued by the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office for Probity, Transparency, and Anti-Corruption of Santa Cruz under file number 23-001755-0412-PE, according to documents in possession of this media outlet.

The Public Ministry confirmed that it has five investigations open against Mayor Alfaro Orias for alleged crimes including abuse of authority, prevarication, influence peddling, and legislation or administration for personal gain. These cases are currently in the stage of collecting and analyzing evidence.

The former councilor was also asked about how his former running mate, Sully Gómez, became a contractor with substantial awards from the municipality. He responded, “It’s difficult because it’s true that Sully hadn’t been seen in these [large cultural event organization].”

On her part, Gómez stated that she decided to compete to provide services to the municipality as a cultural producer on the suggestion of an acquaintance. She also denied any benefits derived from her participation on the ballot that led “The Rooster” to the mayoralty of Santa Cruz.

Someone who previously had contracts (with the municipality) told me, ‘Sully, since you organize events, why don’t you do it?’ So, I started participating in bids. People think it’s because I was on a ballot with Mr. Jorge (the mayor)… That’s why people question and say things that are not true,” she asserted.

She acknowledged that her experience as a micro-entrepreneur is related to decorating for graduations, birthdays, baby showers, weddings, recreational events, as well as renting tablecloths and furniture, not specifically cultural production.

[Read here an excerpt of the interview with Sully Gómez on this topic].

La Voz de Guanacaste wanted to talk to Mayor Jorge Arturo Alfaro about this issue, but he indicated that he would only answer questions in writing. This media sent the inquiries on May 17 and, almost a month later, last Wednesday, June 19, he informed via mail that the contracts awarded to Sully Gómez were made within the framework of the General Law of Public Contracting, which establishes a set of prohibitions to participate in public contracting procedures. 

“My opinion [on why the awards to Gómez coincide with the arrival of PASC to the mayor’s office] has no legal or juridical transcendence,” Alfaro said. 

The undersigned reiterates that he does not perform technical specifications or participate in evaluation processes. Therefore, the undersigned did not favor the aforementioned lady in any way,” he added. 

Regarding the record bidding times, Mayor Alfaro Orias said that although the periods may seem short, “they were in accordance with the demands and needs of the communities favored with the services provided by the supplier”. 

[Read the mayor’s full response here (document in Spanish)].

Sully Gómez is in charge of the production of the Cultural Week, the prelude to the National Typical Festivities of Santa Cruz. In the photo, masquerades during the last cultural week, in January 2024, produced by Gómez.Photo: Semana Cultural Facebook page

More expensive offers and in record time 

Gómez Loáiciga has been awarded more expensive tenders than others and with record-fast processing times.

For example, in the bidding process 2022 CD-000080-0021000001, a contract for cultural event production services from July 2022, Sully Gómez was awarded the contract with an offer that was ¢2.4 million ($4,500) more expensive than that of her competitors.

She offered the service at ¢13 million ($24,800), while Three Visions S.R.L bid ¢10.6 million ($20,225). Both offers met the requirements and were evaluated accordingly. However, the evaluation criteria for this purchase assigned 60 points to the lower-priced offer and 40 points to the offer with the closest physical location to Santa Cruz.

Thus, although Three Visions S.R.L. scored 60 points for a lower price, it only achieved 5 points for location because it is a company from the Central Valley. This company competed with Sully Gómez in three other procedures and never won. In one instance where it met the requirements and offered the lowest price, it was also not selected.

The municipal supplier, Keylor Jaén, explained that simply by being a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise (Pyme) and located within the canton, an offering company is accredited with 10 points.

Some of the bids won by Sully Gómez entered into competition at record times from when the notice was published, offers were received and the reception closed. 

In cases like the procedure 2021 CD-000049-0021000001, the local government allowed only 24 hours and 15 minutes for interested parties to prepare and submit their bids. The competition was for the hiring of a producer for virtual cultural activities during the year 2021, at a time when the country was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the notice, within those 24 hours, bidders were required to contact representatives of 27 selected artistic groups by the municipality and request a certificate or pre-contract for the performances. Additionally, they had to offer sound, decoration, and souvenirs to some of the attendees.  

Diana Marisa Quispe, who competed with Sully Gómez in this bidding process, alleged that when she approached the artists to request their quotations, she was informed that days before the competition was published on Sicop, other individuals had already signed the pre-contract. “This creates an unfair advantage,” she complained in a letter sent to the municipality.

She also questioned the allocation of 20 points to bidders located within a 20-kilometer radius of the city of Santa Cruz, as it restricted the participation of other artistic producers from the same canton who lived farther away or from other communities in Guanacaste.

“My intention is for contracts to be awarded in a transparent manner for all of us working in this sector,” detailed the Liberian anthropologist, specialized in socio-cultural management and production.

Quispe managed to submit her bid on time, but Sully Gómez won the competition.

Without paying taxes

The law requires having a business license and being up to date with the payment of municipal taxes to participate in a public bidding process. Despite this, the Santa Cruz Municipality overlooked this requirement in contracts totaling ¢56.1 million (around $106,800) awarded to the former councilor candidate.

Sully Gómez won six procedures between July and December 2021 without having a commercial license to provide services, as required by the Municipal Code and the internal regulations of the municipality itself.

The irregularities have not gone unnoticed within the corridors of the local government. A report sent by the Internal Audit to Mayor Jorge Arturo Alfaro on March 14, 2021, details that they have been closely monitored. The audit was conducted in response to a complaint.

The document details that during those six months, Gómez Loáiciga won four direct contracts as an artistic producer of cultural events and two for the purchase of flags. In March 2022, she processed and obtained a commercial license.

The aforementioned clearly indicates non-compliance with regulations regarding the requirement to possess a commercial license to engage in commercial activities,” states the report.

The Audit requested the mayor to calculate the amount of revenue lost due to missing business licenses during the period when Gómez Loáiciga won those contracts, and to charge her.

This media outlet asked the mayor whether or not he collected the money and what amount was received by the municipality, but they have not yet responded via email as they affirmed they would.

On her part, the contractor explained that the bidding requirements did not include municipal tax payments, yet she was fined over one million colones for not having a business license. “I sent a letter questioning why as it wasn’t specified in the contracts. But they told me you can’t disregard the law, so I had to pay it,” she said. This media outlet verified the omission of this requirement in the bidding notices.

Consulted about why this detail was not verified, the municipal supplier, Keylor Jaén, argued that it is the legal counsel, and not the supplier, responsible for ensuring that bids meet legal requirements.

The Voice of Guanacaste consulted with the municipality and the audit department regarding whether sanctions were imposed on responsible officials for this non-compliance.

The Mayor’s Office informed in writing that Mrs. Sully Gómez was fined ¢1.3 million ($2,480), which has already been paid. It also attached the set of actions carried out by the administration to comply with the recommendations made by the audit. 

Auditor Luis Bernardo Barrantes informed that the officials involved were issued a “warning letter.” He added that the revenue department and the municipality provided information supporting compliance with recommendations and actions taken regarding the contractor’s payment of the business license fee.


These articles are also part of this investigation: 

GuanaData is a project of The Voice of Guanacaste since 2016 that has investigated the administration of public funds in the municipalities of the province. We delve into the budgets of local governments in order to make public functions transparent and combat corruption. In 2020, we also investigated municipalities outside of Guanacaste: San Carlos, Puntarenas, Talamanca and Limón. Since 2022, we’ve been working on developing an artificial intelligence (AI) tool to streamline and automate the identification of irregularities in public procurement through the Integrated Public Procurement System (Spanish acronym: SICOP). The engineering behind the AI tool has been developed by the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (Spanish acronym: CLIP) and journalists Andrea Rodríguez and Angélica Castro, who were also the database analysts who identified this and other cases of irregularities in public administration.