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Costa Rica’s Social Security System orders top officials to resign

September 15, 2011

Responding to months of criticism over the management of Costa Rica’s Social Security System (Caja), the Caja’s board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday to request the resignations of all six of the Caja’s top department managers. According to Caja Executive President Ileana Balmaceda, the move was necessary to move forward with addressing the public health care system’s many problems.  

All six officials plan to submit their resignations: Administrative Manager José Alberto Acuña, Medical Director Rosa Climent, Infrastructure and Development Manager Gabriela Murillo, Financial Director Manuel Ugarte; Logistics Manager Ubaldo Carrillo and Pension Fund Manager Miguel Pacheco. 

“We called an emergency meeting to ask in the most responsible and respectful way that all managers resign their jobs,” Balmaceda said. “They all agreed to our request as it is in the best interest of the institution.” 

Except for Pacheco, who is on vacation until Sept. 30, the Caja officials were notified Tuesday night during the board of directors meeting. The agreement requires the resignations to take effect this month. The board of directors will announce Oct. 13 which resignations will become permanent and which officials will be reinstated. 

Balmaceda and other board members said they need a month to study the Caja’s ongoing financial and operational crisis. “We need time to analyze the situation [and] see what is best for the institution. One month will not be enough time to do a deep analysis, but we had to start with this measure,” she said. 

As of February 2010, the Caja accrued a $92 billion ($184 million) deficit, which could place at risk the quality of health care coverage for the 1.4 million people currently enrolled in the public system. An internal audit also revealed that the Caja owes $46 million in overdue payments to service providers and equipment suppliers (TT, April 15). 

In July, government officials promised to pay part of its ₡85 billion ($167 million) debt to the Caja. The first payment of ₡54 billion ($106 million) was made Aug. 11, and later the same month the Ministry Finance paid ₡15 billion ($29.4 million).  

“This has been a tough decision. These people are our colleagues and friends, and we are obligated to ask them to resign their positions,” said Balmaceda. According to the Caja’s internal regulations, managers can only leave their position if they resign, since they are named for a period of six years without the possibility of being fired. After a review, those whose resignations remain permanent will return to their previous positions at the Caja prior to being named department directors. 

Miguel Pacheco is the only manager who did not work at the Caja before being named pension fund manager. But Pachecho, who is on vacation, will be formally suspended pending an investigation into his handling of Caja pension funds. 

“I believe that they are willing to work with us to seek solutions for the Caja, even if it means that they have to resign,” said Balmaceda in a press conference on Wednesday. 

Balmaceda also said that new regulations implemented recently to crack down on unnecessary leaves of absence have begun to pay off. In the past three months, the Caja has seen a 38 percent decrease of paid leaves of absence. 

“We are implementing a new system in which the number of sick leaves will be standardized according to each medical condition,” said Balmaceda. 

In two months, officials plan to implement a new record-keeping system to track the frequency of employees taking sick days. The database will include tools to discover anomalies and extended periods of absence. 

The new measures respond to a report by the Attorney General’s Office that criticized the high number of sick days taken by Caja employees. The office recommended that sick-day pay should not be included in a worker’s compensation package for holiday and other bonuses.

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