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Comptroller Vote Draws Criticism

July 1, 2005

THE road for concessions as a way to build publicinfrastructure projects may have just gotten a littlesmoother.Rocío Aguilar, head of the National ConcessionsCouncil, was named this week as the country’s newComptroller General, the official responsible for scrutinizinggovernment contracts – and, historically, a thornin the side of many concessions projects.But before Aguilar, 48, has stamped the comptroller’sseal of approval on a single concession or investigateda single anomaly, controversy has alreadyengulfed her election to the position. The tensioncomes just half a year after legislators voted toremoved former Comptroller Alex Solís from the postamid accusations he had forged signatures, an event that prompted calls to bring ethics andhonor back to the Comptroller’s Office.The Legislative Assembly’s election ofAguilar to the eight-year position, left vacantby Solís, came as a complete surprise. Shewas not participating in the official contestfor the job, in which 28 contenders submittedthemselves for evaluation by the assembly’snaming commission.Even some legislators were surprisedMonday when Aguilar was mentioned as acontender and, moments later, received amajority of votes – 29 out of 57 thanks toa pact between legislators from the twolargest parties, National Liberation andSocial Christian Unity (PUSC).THIS disruption of the normal namingprocess caused legislators from smaller partiesto cry foul play and demand answers.While they have found no particularcriticism with Aguilar herself, they say sheshould have been submitted to the sameevaluation process as any other candidatefor comptroller, who reviews the government’sfinances, contracts and public bids,particularly for irregularities and corruption.The Citizen Action Party (PAC) is callingfor Aguilar to testify before an investigativecommission Monday morning. PAClegislators say more than 20 assembly memberssupport their appeal. They also stoppedher planned swearing-in yesterday by refusingto present a quorum. Aguilar’s swearing inis now scheduled for Tuesday.“She was not subject to a publicprocess of evaluation and scrutiny.Therefore, we believe we need a commissionto investigate whether she fulfills therequirements,” PAC legislator MarthaZamora said in a statement.AGUILAR told The Tico Times she iswilling to testify in front of anyone, andadded that an investigationinto herpast would reveal“an eager… dedicatedworker.”Aguilar, whohas degrees in bothlaw and businessadministration, hasbeen technical secretaryof the NationalConcessionsCouncil since 2002.Previously, she heldpositions as a financialanalyst for Corporación Banex and onvarious boards, including those of theFoundation for Sustainable Development ofSmall and Medium Businesses (FUNDES),the Costa Rican Banking Association andthe Costa Rican Development Association.President Abel Pacheco said Tuesdaythat Aguilar “has a passion for doing herjob as a public functionary” and has “greatknowledge in the area.”THIS is not the first time the comptrollerselection has been questioned in the daysfollowing the decision. The last time wasone year ago when the assembly selectedSolís for the post. In the weeks after Solístook office, allegations emerged that he falsifiedthe signature of family members onlegal documents and helped fund SouthernZone residents’ illegal entrance into theUnited States by lending money to pay forcostly “coyotes” (TT, July 2, 2004).After the assembly voted to removeSolís from the post (TT, Dec. 17, 2004),political analysts said legislators would bemore rigid in future selections, studyingcandidates’ public and private lives.Although the selection process beganmonths ago, legislators came to Aguilar atthe end of last week with the comptrollerproposal, she said.“I told them: if you can’t reach a consensuson anyone else, and can reach a consensuson me, I will do it with honor,” she said.WHEN legislators prepared to makethe final vote on Aguilar Monday and PAClegislators expressed a desire to leave thesession, possibly breaking a quorum,assembly president Gerardo Gonzálezlocked the doors of the assembly, keepingthem in. In response, PAC legislators fileda lawsuit before the ConstitutionalChamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV)alleging González violated their constitutionalright to free movement.PAC’s Zamora claims Aguilar wasplaced in the post to serve the needs ofanother prominent politician.“It is one more act in which (formerPresident and 2006 candidate) Oscar Ariashas smacked the institutionalism of thiscountry, to fill all the public sector’s vitalposts of with his tokens,” she said.Concerns have also been raised amonglegislators about Aguilar’s relationship withformer Minister of Transportation JavierChaves and his company CorporaciónAldesa. She admits she is a former boardmember of Aldesa and a personal friend ofChaves.THE comptroller-elect said she will beindependent of politics in her job, however.Aguilar said her background in concessionswill facilitate the understandingof concession contracts in the comptroller’soffice. She also said she will not participatein the approval process for theconcessions projects negotiated while sheworked in the council.The greatest challenge of her new postwill be increasing efficiency while maintaininga balance with the fight against corruption,Aguilar said.

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