On Monday, Oscar Núñez resigned his post as head of the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) after the Public Ethics Attorney’s Office issued a report alleging he mismanaged public funds and took a 23-year-old female employee to Mexico for a trip not related to AyA work.
Earlier this month, the Diario Extra reported that Núñez and Nidia Alfaro, who works in the AyA branch in Tilarán, Guanacaste, took a trip to Mexico for personal purposes.
Núñez allegedly helped Alfaro obtain a paid leave of absence in order to receive customer service training in San José. However, Alfaro took a plane flight to Mexico, where she met Núñez from August 10 to 13, 2010.
Núñez apparently used his position to convince Alfaro’s boss, Litzy Barquero, to grant the leave in violation of AyA internal regulations. AyA paid $2,850 to Núñez and $120 to Alfaro as reimbursement for travel expenses.
“We found a breach in the duty of honesty,” said Gilbert Calderón, ethics attorney, in a document submitted Monday morning to President Laura Chinchilla’s cabinet.
According to the daily La Nación, that same day, at 11 a.m., Núñez turned in his resignation, while insisting he was being unfairly punished for “unfounded information that I had traveled with my mistress to Mexico.”
Núñez was a National Liberation Party lawmaker from 2006 to 2010. At the end of his term, he was immediately appointed as executive chairman of AyA.
Núñez becomes the fifth high-ranking member of Chinchilla’s government to leave since May 2010. Before Núñez, former Public Security Minister José María Tijerino stepped down after being embroiled in a political scandal (TT, April 25).
Alfaro could also be charged with misrepresentation, a felony, for lying to her superiors about the trip.
Alfaro was also asked to appear before a legislative oversight commission on public spending to explain her involvement in the case.
On Monday, the commission questioned Alfaro’s superiors to explain why she was granted time off. They all claimed to have followed instructions given by Núñez.
“It’s amazing how political influence affects people,” said Yolanda Acuña, a Citizen Action Party legislator. “[Alfaro] left the country and no one ever wondered why.”