Without beating around the bush, the vice mayor of Santa Cruz, Maria Rosa Lopez, agreed to speak with The Voice of Guanacaste about the ¢70 million ($132,000) that she should allegedly pay to the municipality due to receiving exclusivity bonus payments.
Lopez currently receives a teacher’s pension for her role as an educator, but at the same time she gets a salary as a municipal leader.
In addition to receiving the pension payment, the vice mayor takes the extra “prohibition” amount, which is a bonus established by Law Against Corruption and Illicit Enrichment in Public Service so people don’t work outside of the institution to which they belong. This benefit equates to an extra 65% of the base salary.
According to Lopez, who is running for mayor as the National Liberation Party candidate in the upcoming elections on February 7th, she prefers to have a judge decide what the final resolution will be since the mayor Jorge Chavarria himself was the one who authorized payment of the bonus.
In addition, she claimed that, with regards to the payment of both salary and pension, she has a ruling from the Constitutional Court that approves the reimbursement.
Why do you receive a salary and a pension at the same time?
I have a constitutional appeal that allowed me to work as someone who receives a pension. I started collecting a pension 19 years ago but with a very bad pension and the only thing that has gone up for me is the cost of living. It’s not like the pension I have is an exaggerated amount. I completed the time with my payments and when I started here, I have this verdict and you know that it is obligatory to comply with all of the verdicts from the Constitutional Court. That’s why it catches my attention that there are people here who say otherwise.
If you are elected as mayor, would you give up your pension?
Look! We would analyze the matter. If me having this pension is affecting people… look, this is something else that is important, if I give up my pension, Santa Cruz does not have a benefit. This money goes to the Board of Pensions. So if this is affecting citizens and, if necessary I have to give it up, I have no problem.
A letter from the mayor was read to the municipal council at the end of August that said that you need to pay ¢70 million ($132,000) to the municipality for payment of the exclusivity bonus. Are you going to pay it?
He (the mayor Santa of Cruz, Jorge Chavarria) says that it is for the exclusivity payment, but he himself authorized it for me. I have a resolution from the mayor in which he authorizes human resources to pay me for exclusivity.
Do you think that you did meet the requirements for the exclusivity payment?
Of course! Because it says you have to be a professional…
But the requirement is to be a liberal arts professional and education is not considered a liberal arts career…
Yes, it strikes me that we educators are classified as second or third rate. We are just as much professionals. I think this issue has been a political persecution. This is what I am paying for having gotten up the courage to run for mayor.
Why persecution? What would be the purpose of attacking Maria Rosa Lopez?
The purpose of attacking Maria Rosa Lopez is because they saw that Maria Rosa was going to win.
Then it is people from your party (National Liberation Party)?
Unfortunately it has been people from my own party. They did not have anything else of which to charge me. My life, thanks to God, has been unblemished. They looked into the issue of the pension, telling people that I owe ¢70 million and on the other hand the exclusivity payment, which was authorized by the mayor himself. I do not authorize my salary.
But what is the process you are undergoing now since, according to the letter that was read in the council, you need to pay this ¢70 million?
I don’t know. Very good question. It turns out that it was taken before the council and I did not know about it. See for yourself the lack of respect, taking a document to the council without me knowing about it.
They didn’t give you the document?
No! Never! Imagine, I was on vacation time and they didn’t even wait for me to finish my vacation. I think it is disrespectful of a chief like a mayor to do that just for the purpose of benefiting himself or benefiting a group that was on his side.
So you’re not going to pay?
He (the mayor) has not given it to me and there is no receipt that says the 15 days are being counted down now. Moreover, he gave me 15 days and in the same document he told me that he was going to give it to the courts and I’m waiting. I’m waiting for a judge to be the one to decide on the situation of the ¢70 million. “The judge will see that the resolution was written and signed by the mayor, so how can it be that he authorizes it and then files a lawsuit about it? I don’t understand that. “
There seems to be a rivalry between Sir Jorge and you…
I have no rivalry or anything like that. The issue is that he was the one who started to go after me when he realized I was going to participate in the mayoral race. He really thought it was a position that belonged to him and that no one else could participate. That is not how it is. In a democracy, we all have the right to elect and to be elected, as stated in the Constitution. This has been a persecution and they make it known to the people that I owe them money and that’s not how it is. With much pain, they have played with my honor and that of my family.
Are you still receiving the exclusivity bonus?
No! They took it away from me in May.
How much is your salary?
¢2.4 million ($4500).
And you still receive the pension?
Yes, but my pension isn’t much.
How much is your pension?
I retired with ¢400,000 ($750) 19 years ago, right now it could be between ¢600,000 and ¢700,000 ($1100-1300), around that.
Beyond the law, do you believe it is all right to receive a salary and a pension at the same time?
It is a matter of time. If you worked for a time, made all of the payments, each year of service and earned a pension, I think it is in due time. Then you go to work, so it is a job that you are doing… At this time, what I have done is adhere to the court decision and it turns out there are other people in the same situation, but they don’t go after anyone. I feel that if the Constitutional Court, which is the highest authority, has told me that it is perfectly fine for us to work and receive a pension, then I don’t see anything wrong.