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Municipal Power Struggle Hinders Budget for 2012

By Arianna McKinney

The Municipality will likely have to work with an adjusted version of the 2011 budget this year, according to Municipal Code article 98, since the 2012 budget was not approved by the General Controller of the Republic (CGR) due to issues with the proper approval procedure.

This means less money will be available for use in the canton of Nicoya and some projects may not be executed this year due to funding issues. Franklin Sequeira, Finance Coordinator for the municipality, explained that the 2012 budget, if it were approved, included about 400,000,000 colones ($800,000) more than the 2011 budget. “If it’s not authorized, [the money] can’t be utilized. It remains in mere expectation.”

The Dispute Between the Mayor and Council Members

Representative Yolanda Acuña Castro, who serves as president of municipal issues for the national legislative assembly, overseeing all of the municipalities in the country, explained that the mayor of Nicoya is involved in a dispute with the municipal council members, manifested in when and how council sessions have been convened. “[The mayor] opposed a change in schedule approved and published and he supplanted the proprietary councilmen with supplements convening the council at his whim. The court of contentions ordered him to respect the change to 5 p.m. In this fight, he never wanted to present the budget to the Council so that the Finance and Budget Commission could analyze it and approve it, an indispensible requirement established by the Municipal Code.”

Although Mayor Marco Jimenez is still awaiting response to an appeal he submitted to the Controller’s office regarding the 2012 budget, the municipality is also working on getting an adjusted version of the 2011 budget approved by the CGR. 

Even though the Controller’s office has not yet emitted an official communication regarding the appeal presented by Jimenez, councilman Carlos Luis Medina Fernandez affirms that it won’t be approved. Medina Fernandez told VON that on January 27 he visited the Controller’s office in San Jose in order to inquire about the budget issue. According to Medina, he was informed there that the 2012 budget definitely will not be approved and that the adjusted budget sent by the mayor to the Controller’s office in January might also be rejected because the budget was not presented to the Municipal Council for revision and approval. 

Councilwoman Ana Lizeth Espinoza Fonseca explained that the council members have the legislative role in approving the budget while the mayor’s role is administrative in sending the budget to the Controller’s office. She recounted that the mayor presented the adjusted budget to the council during a session on January 9th so that the council members knew about the budget but that the mayor said that it was not necessary for the adjusted budget to be approved by the council.

Is This A Fight Between Political Parties?

The mayor, Marco Jimenez, who is a member of the National Liberation party, has openly accused Councilman Carlos Luis Medina Fernandez and Yolanda Acuña Castro, Representative at the national level, of conspiring against Nicoya and impeding the budget’s approval. Both are members of the People of the Citizen’s Action Party (PAC). In fact, PAC did support a denunciation against the mayor in June 2011 for abuse of power.  

Overall, however, the Municipal Council is composed of members of four parties, two of whom represent the same party as the mayor. The five council members are Juan Edwin Yockchen Mora (Christian Social Unity), Rodolfo Orosco (National Liberation), Carlos Luis Medina Fernandez (Citizen Action), Ana Lizeth Espinoza Fonseca (National Liberation) and Juan Luis Aguirre Vidaurre (Liberation Movement).

The only council member who attended the extraordinary session that dealt with the 2012 budget was Yockchen (PUSC). For her part, councilwoman Espinoza, who belongs to the same party as the mayor, affirmed that she worked hard for the mayor’s election and doesn’t know why he turned into her enemy.

Espinoza affirmed that the council would have been willing to make a resolution to approve the budget if they had been given the opportunity and indicated that the council members will request a meeting with the mayor to see how they can get the adjusted budget approved because they know the municipality cannot operate without money. “We need team work,” she stated. 

Why the Budget Wasn’t Approved

In a letter from the Controller’s Office to Mayor Marco Jimenez dated December 20, 2011, two articles of the Municipal Code of Costa Rica were cited as reasons for not approving the 2012 budget, articles 36 and 44.

Article 44 indicates that for a resolution to be made, there must be a previous motion or written and signed project by the proponents and a previous evaluation of the commission and subsequent deliberations. Only the evaluation procedure can be dispensed of by means of a qualified vote of those present. Article 36 states that all members should be convened for extraordinary sessions at least 24 hours in advance.
In the case of the extraordinary session held on September 21st in the morning, during which the budget was approved by those present, notification was sent to council members by electronic mail.  “The law of judicial notifications indicates that electronic mail is a qualified medium,” according to Jimenez, who affirmed that only the Controller’s Office does not except this medium, which has been used by the Municipality to convene other sessions prior to this one as well. 

Jimenez explained that he decided to hold the session at 10:45 a.m. so that other employees of the municipality could have the opportunity to participate. However, because the time of the session conflicted with work schedules of most of the council members, only one of the five council members attended, Juan Edwin Yockchen Mora. Supplementary council members stood in for the proprietary council members in their absence.


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