Local or International, Bureaucracy Does Not Pay for its Mistakes

Institutions such as the UNOPS, which supposedly come here to do what the locals can not, should be paid per piece of work for they finish, and not allowed to justify their failures with the same old excuses.

Monday, May 15, 2017

By Jorge Cobas González

An entrepreneur earns when his business is successful. If it fails to capture a minimum market share and then maintain it, the investment made is lost, and the monthly income established by the performance of its business activities is also lost. Employers charge for their work and earn profits only while the company is successful. The same is true of private-company employees: their wages are tied to company earnings and profits. 

In contrast, for public officials, whether national or international, their salary is assured, regardless of the results. This is blatant injustice and has terrible consequences for the efficiency of an economy.   

This is the case of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which in Costa Rica was presented as an organization that could do what the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) could not. And the main reason for hiring them was that the UNOPS would be able to evade the administrative controls which supposedly "did not allow" [work to be done], especially those of the Comptroller's Office. See Kafka Visits Costa Rica

An article in Nacion.com reports that "... An agency of the United Nations (UN), contracted since 2014, to speed up the expansion of two major bridges and the construction of three overpasses on the Ring Road (Circunvalación) has been unable to accelerate these projects."  

As a result, not only are salaries still being paid (via taxes on the real sectors of the economy) to MOPT officials who "can not do it", but also to the UNOPS's project management services who seem (whoops!) to "not be able to do it either."  

According to Nacion.com, Carlos Villalta, Minister of Public Works and Transport, stated that "...  They (UNOPS) have told me that they had not participated in works in this country before and the country is complex in the subject of expropriations and that is something that they can not control."  

Another international bureaucrat, Alberto Cortés, representative in the country of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), justified it this way: "... There are variables in the project cycle that are not the responsibility of the UNOPS, one of them being expropriations, that is not a UNOPS skill and the other is the Comptroller General of the Republic which has to make endorsements (of the contracts). Therefore, this has to do with the national public works system, it has to be revised ... As a Bank we have made a commitment to the UNOPS, they can give positive results and transparency.  There are key aspects: streamlining public works, transparency in contracting and providing information to citizens," Cortes added.  

Why, before offering themselves as saviors in the execution of projects and signing the contracts, did they not promote this revision that they now see as so necessary? Any private company whose managers made a mistake of that caliber would simply disappear. Why do they talk about "transparency" when if you ask UNOPS for information about their finances, they respond with "you have to ask the UN for permission" before providing it? See: For and Against the UNOPS

In Guatemala, the Comptroller General of Accounts was right to consider that the contracts with UNOPS were harmful "to the State's interests, as they constituted a commitment to paying expenses for services which contractually corresponded to the Executing Agencies and which they were forced to carry out, significantly increasing the onerosity of the project, which also violates the principles of probity." See Comptroller seeks to declare damages for $3.07 million (In spanish)

Why are private companies not hired for the management of public works projects, as they would be paid on the basis of results and not simply time spent, as in the case of UNOPS, with whom contracts must now be renewed?

See full article by Nacion.com (In spanish)

More on this topic

Costa Rica: No More Projects with UNOPS

January 2018

The controversy generated by the UNOPS's decision to prevent access to files on the road works for which it is responsible has led the government to refrain from granting new projects in the future.

Possibly as a result of the refusal of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to make public the project files and the subsequent cancellation of contracts by the Comptroller General, the Ministry of Public Works has decided not to continue with the assistance of the international organization in future projects.

The Cost of Hiding Information About Public Works

December 2017

In Costa Rica, the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic decided to cancel the contracts for two UNOPS road construction projects, after it decided to keep secret the files with the details of these contracts.

The decision by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to hide the details of the contracts for the two road construction projects assigned to it by the National Road Council (Conavo) cost state coffers dearly. 

Challenges to the Work of UNOPS

September 2017

"After two years the results are not the expected and, in fact, delays in the projects correspond to the typical obstructions and slow management that we are used to with public entities."


The actions of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) never cease to amaze. Its representatives in the country not only set out an impossible series of obstacles when the Comptroller General of the Republic requested to review the file on the contract for the new bridge over the Virilla River, on route 32, but now, a week after the request was made, UNOPS is ignoring the Comptroller's order. The entity had established a period of 24 hours for the delivery of the information. 

For and Against the UNOPS

July 2015

While state officials are happy to delegate their responsibilities to the UN Office for Project Services, the Comptroller of Guatemala has declared that its services are "detrimental to the interests of the state".


The arrival in Central America of the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was hailed by many as a factor that would allow the execution of public works which are very difficult or impossible for state institutions in the region to run, for various reasons ranging from lack of qualified personnel to simple negligence.

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