Looking for a Minister Able to Work With His Hands Tied Behind His Back

The prospective candidate must have magician's skills, preferably qualifications as an engineer or lawyer, and a vocation to be a punching bag.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


It's been two weeks since the resignation of the Minister in charge of Public Works and Transport in Costa Rica and President Solis has not yet announced who will fill the position. And there is no doubt that it will be very difficult to find not only the ideal candidate for the job, but also someone willing to accept such an impossible mission.

The problems in the execution of public works in Costa Rica are such that the State Comptroller itself has described the situation as "a horror story". The details of the problems, according to the Comptroller's report, include lack of an effective public pre-investment system and of a public investment plan, poor project planning, insufficient maturation of projects when starting recruitment procedures, limited ability to expropriate and remove services in a timely fashion, delays in recruitment and in creating executing units, missed deadlines for the fulfillment of preconditions, weak stewardship in the sector and in interagency coordination, lack of environmental and soil studies, delays in handing over counterparts, weak monitoring and evaluation of projects, lack of institutional support, abuse of contractors. See: Why Infrastructure in Costa Rica is so Terrible.

What the report by the Comptroller does not mention are limitations on executive action imposed by the rules governing the operation of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of Costa Rica. Imagine if you were in charge of the general management of a company that is in bankruptcy because of inefficiency, with the following conditions:

- You can not make personnel changes. You can not fire anyone, either due to inability to fulfill the tasks for which they were hired or because the payroll is too high. The excessive protection of labor stability of Costa Rican government employees means that even when they commit a crime in the exercise of their functions dismissal is virtually impossible, and if it does happen, it will be after several years, during which time they will continue to regularly collect their salary, even though they are suspended from office.

- You can not change the rules which need to be changed to make their work viable, whatever they are. The tangle of laws and regulations that hinder any executive action is impossible to undo, because the President of the company has no real power or will to change them, and any attempt to do so will be halted or slowed by the Shareholders, who are unable to agree on the direction of the company.

There are rumors that the post was offered to Tom Cruise himself, who may have responded that it is one thing to make a Mission Impossible movie, but quite another to experience it in the painful situation facing Costa Rica.

More on this topic

Bureaucracy has no Limits in Costa Rica

February 2017

The order to start a major road project has been temporarily suspended because of "a change of offices and misplacement of a document" which delayed delivery of a piece of paper required in the contract.

The project to expand the road from San Jose to San Ramon, essential for the development of the northern part of the greater metropolitan area, which has been delayed for years after setbacks with successive concessionaire construction companies, has been delayed once again due to the excessive bureaucracy that affects all road infrastructure projects in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica: Political Rates for Utilities

April 2016

The stubbornness of the Solis administration to award a highly technical job to a candidate rejected by employers confirms the importance that this specific person would have in the formulation of public tariffs.

Editor's note:
This review was written hours before the now newly appointed General Regulator of Costa Rica gave notice of his resignation from his position at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).

Why Infrastructure Is So Terrible in Costa Rica

November 2015

The head of the State Comptroller has denounced serious management problems that are hindering the construction of public works, or which multiply execution times, wasting money and causing substantial cost increases.

The findings of the Comptroller General of Costa Rica, Marta Acosta, in his report to the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica, outlined the causes of the endemic delay in the execution of public infrastructure projects:

Every Candidates Wants to Reactivate Railroads

October 2013

All of the Costa Rican presidential candidates agree that there is an urgent need to modernize public transport by reactivating intercity railways.

This is one of the proposals which tally across all the candidates for the presidency, to improve the country's road infrastructure.

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