A promising step in Costa Rica: now for the real challenge

On a Thursday night at the end of August, Costa Rican citizens turned on TV sets, radios and livestreams to find out what Luis Guillermo Solis – the recently elected president of Costa Rica – had to say about the first 100 days of his administration.

The speech and accompanying report drew a highly critical picture of the Costa Rican state, with the president saying that he had found “unimaginable disorganisation” and “intolerable inefficiencies” in most public offices. He told viewers that “to my great regret and yours, if tonight I revealed in detail what we have discovered is happening in public institutions in Costa Rica, I would have to keep you up for hours”.

Among the litany of problems the president mentioned were that between 2006 and 2013, an average of 10 institutions or individuals a day were sentenced by the Constitutional Court alone for failing in their duties or not respecting the fundamental rights of citizens. In these cases, be it due to mismanagement or corruption, the State had failed in its responsibilities towards citizens.

In this way, the president took an important first step towards meeting the anti-corruption commitments presidential candidates had signed on to in January this year, as part of a televised election debate co-organised by our partner Costa Rica Integra.

For this speech to be remembered as a true milestone in the fight against corruption in Costa Rica, however, what happens next will be key. As Costa Rica Integra emphasised after the speech, listing examples of mismanagement and corruption is a valuable and necessary step, but it’s not the same as having a purposeful, strategic approach to transparency and anti-corruption.

These are some of the essential measures proposed by Costa Rica Integra which are necessary to achieve effective long-term anti-corruption results in Costa Rica:

Strengthening the institutions charged with controlling the public service

In particular the General Comptroller’s Office, the Prosecutor’s office and the Ethics Attorney are key institutions with insufficient funding, which are having difficulties to train their staff and strengthen coordination of their actions with other institutions.

Open Government

Costa Rica joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011. OGP’s guiding principles are transparency, participation and cooperation between the State and society. It is urgent to develop spaces for participation in public management, in particular by implementing the Multi-sector Open Government Committee and have this committee led at the highest level of the public administration.

Mismanagement and corruption in social security

Many of the cases of mismanagement and breaches of the Constitution found by the Supreme Court of Justice are related to the social security system. Substantial institutional improvements are needed before citizens no longer need to appeal to the courts in social security cases. Transparent and effective reform of the Costa Rican Social Security fund, which is one of the pillars of the Costa Rican welfare state, should be a priority for the Solis administration and for political organisations in Costa Rica.

Role of the private sector

The private sector must become more actively involved by demanding greater efficiency and accountability in public management while strengthening integrity in business. This will also help build an environment which promotes investment and economic development in the country. The ongoing cooperation between the government and the private sector regarding the problem of contraband could be strengthened by strategic actions in other key areas the State is involved in, for example an online electronic platform for public procurement and revising the system to award infrastructure projects.

Effective public participation

Last but very much not least Costa Rica Integra calls for citizens, civil society organisations and political parties to participate in constructing strategic policies and action plans which will resolve the weak culture of respect for the law the president has mentioned. A national anti-corruption and transparency policy is, without a doubt, an area of vital importance for the future of the Costa Rican state and society.

Our country is at the right moment politically to discuss state policies in these areas, which aim to reduce and prevent corrupt and inefficient practices, especially at the highest levels of the State and society and beyond isolated programmes or political platforms.

This blog is also available in Spanish. Click here.

Carousel image: Creative commons, Flickr / Zhu

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