QCOSTAIRCA by Henry Morales, Vozdeguanacaste.com – On May 1, Carlos Arias Chavez’s term as mayor of the Municipality of Nandayure ended. However, he is not free from the municipality yet because he is now facing a lawsuit for alleged illicit enrichment.
According to the municipal auditor, Gilberto Hernandez, Arias collected a salary as mayor at the same time as having a pension due to retirement from the National Teaching, which would violate Article 20 of the Municipal Code. That article explains that if the mayor qualifies for a pension and does not give up that pension, he or she can only receive 50% of the total salary for expenses of representation.
Arias served as mayor during the 2010-2016 period and received an approximate salary of ¢1,980,000 ($3,735) plus the prohibition bonus, which is 65% of the base salary (approximately ¢1,300,000 or $2,450). He likewise received a pension of about ¢1,400,000 ($2,645), which adds up to an income of ¢4,680,000 ($8,830).
The Voice of Guanacaste tried to contact the former mayor, but despite several phone calls and voice messages, there was no reply.
The auditor added that Arias is not entitled to payment of the prohibition bonus since that category only applies to liberal arts professionals such as lawyers, engineers, doctors and public accountants, but not to an educator, as dictated by the Law Against Corruption and Illicit Enrichment in Public Service.
“Our position was always against paying him a salary and prohibition bonuses and in due time we let the former mayor know it. We presented reports before the council and they are there in the minutes. We also notified the Comptroller General of the Republic. They told us that it was in effect necessary to apply
Article 20 of the municipal code. Finally we were forced to file a complaint with the district attorney in Nicoya,” Hernandez commented.
The Criminal Suit
According to Hernandez, the former mayor of Nandayure’s case is in the hands of the Nicoya District Attorney’s Office. The lawsuit was filed by the municipal audit department on December 18, 2015.
Hernandez said that after they filed the lawsuit, the district attorney raided some municipal offices and proceeded to seize some minutes, payroll forms and other documents in order to gather evidence. Although the process has been underway for more than a year, the Public Ministry has not emitted a decision.
The district attorney’s press department indicated that the process is in the stage of review and analysis of evidence.
“The Deputy District Attorney’s Probity, Transparency and Anti-Corruption (FAPTA) reported that they are reviewing the closing summons made by the Deputy District Attorney of Nicoya, in relation to lawsuit 15-000569-0414-PE, pursued against a man by the last names Arias Chavez, former mayor of Nandayure, for the crime of illicit enrichment.”
For his part, Hernandez said that they are waiting for the courts to rule favorably so that the former mayor is obligated to reimburse the municipal coffers with the money earned during the four years and received under the prohibition bonuses, which amounts to about ¢180,000,000 ($340,000).
Similar Scenarios in Other Municipalities
Although Article 20 of the municipal code seems to make clear the path that a retired person who aspires to be mayor should follow, there are some precedents that cast doubts.
For example, in 2011, the current mayor of Santa Cruz, Maria Rosa Lopez, filed an appeal because the Santa Cruz council wanted to apply that article since she served as vice mayor at that time. The Constitutional Court accepted the appeal and ordered that municipality to pay costs and damages.
However, a year later, in February 2012, the mayor of Tibas, Gonzalo Vargas, turned to the Constitutional Court due to a similar case and the court rejected the appeal, giving credit to Article 20 of the municipal code.