Costa Rica’s Plenary Court has rejected the proposed tax reform bill in its current state and asked the members of the Legislative Assembly to correct four points of the initiative, which, in the opinion of the magistrates, affect the independence and operation of the judicial system.
This was decided after 11 of 16 justices voted in favor of this proposal.
The justices requested that the assembly eliminate the Planning Ministry’s oversight of public employment in the Judiciary Branch, as well as Civil Service review of judicial officials’ job performance.
Third, justices objected to measures that would reduce resources available for witness protection programs and the fight against organized crime
Finally, justices requested that the legislators eliminate salary modifications and requested that they take into consideration “the particularities” of the Judicial Power and the demands of its posts, such as on-call officers who must be available to work when necessary.
If legislators make these changes, the Court will give the go-ahead to the project and it can be approved by a simple majority in second debate. Otherwise, legislators will need a two-thirds majority of 38 votes to overrule the court’s objections.
Tax solidarity vs. judicial independence
The court’s session began with the presentation of the criterion of the Legal Directorate, overseen by Rodrigo Campos. He explained the main effects the project would have, the perceived interference of the Planning Ministry in the evaluation of performance, and the establishment of the fiscal rule for granting of resources.
Iris Rocío Rojas, a judge from the Supreme Court’s Civil and Administrative Law Branch, argued that the bill does not affect the independence of the Judiciary and that the triggers for spending must be attacked. In addition, she defended the imposition of a fiscal rule.
“The fiscal rule is an adequate instrument to adjust current spending to GDP,” she said. “Nothing justifies growth without resources in institutions that depend on the budget and lack their own resources.
“While there’s extreme poverty in this country, I do not have any problem with a person who directs public finances and gives that money to school canteens or public defenders. The people elected to govern have the legitimacy to do so,” Rojas said.
For his part, the alternate judge of the Penal Branch of the Supreme Court, Jaime Robleto, affirmed there is a public perception that the Judicial Power is the culprit of the fiscal crisis. However, he claimed he feels a “moral obligation” to support the tax reform.
“We all have to sacrifice ourselves, and those who earn more, sacrifice even more,” the judge said.
The president of the Court, Fernando Cruz, reaffirmed his opposition and announced he will reject supplemental pay from the rubro de índice general (in his case, the equivalent of ₡1.4 million, or approximately $2,350), an incentive approved in 2008 that applies to 46 high-ranking officials in the judicial branch.
Currently, Judge Cruz earns a net salary of ₡6.3 million (about $10,600). Starting next month, the net salary of the president of the Court will be ₡4.9 million (about $8,250).
“Do not say that my position on the reform is to defend my privileges,” said the constitutional judge, who says he made the decision in order to have moral authority in his position.
The magistrate, who will be inhibited in a possible legislatively consultation to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, affirmed that “it seems that the Judicial Power now has to solve poverty.
“Well, maybe it’s another function that they want to give us. Are we, the middle class, going to solve the country’s poverty?” Cruz said.
Justice Carmen María Escoto spoke against the project. She said that if legislators modify the power of the Planning Ministry to evaluate judicial officials, she would vote in favor.
The magistrate of Supreme the Court’s Civil and Administrative Law Branch, William Molinari, reiterated his opposition to the tax reform. He presented a report in September based on a previous version of the bill in which he alleged that it would negatively affect the Judicial Power.
“Because of the content of the forms and the way in which they have been written, it gives a thousand ways to affect the Judiciary. This can directly affect the appointment of judges, evaluation of prosecutors and prosecutors, among other things,” Molinari said.
This story was prepared for Semanario Universidad and translated and adapted for The Tico Times. Read the original report here.