Judesur. Photo Sur Noticias TV14
Judesur. Photo Sur Noticias TV14

COSTA RICA NEWS — JUDESUR, the group formed 15 years ago to help solve the problems of the poorest region in the country, has converted into an organization that itself is a problem, La Nacion reported this week. The directors are politicians who seem to be dedicated to build up a tremendous backlog of hoarded funds instead of investing in the future of the area.

Meanwhile, the far southern zone grows progressively poorer and the Regional Development Council, the full name of JUDESUR, is “the silent turtle instead of the hen that cackles,” according to its new director, Andres Solano.

Its budget this year is ¢8.6 billion colones while funds more than twice as much languish in its bank accounts. Over the decade and a half of its existence, Judesur has managed to spend more on administrative costs without leaving a footprint.

The organization was set up in 1998, financed by a percentage of income from the Duty Free Zone of Golfito to develop 15% of the national area — the cantons of Coto Brus, Corredores, Buenos Aires, Osa and Golfito itself. The most populous canton in that area, Perez Zeledon, is not included.

Envisioned for the council was that they would help in such projects as keeping kids in school, improving education, investing in business projects to increase employment and aid residents to repair their homes. Instead, it has had a history of disorder, lack of planning and politically motivated decisions — when it made decisions.

What few decisions and investments the board has approved are “irregular” reports La Nacion. More than ¢1.8 billion colones was spent to build a slaughter house that is underused and another ¢300 million spent on a questionable municipal building, construction of which has been stopped since 2012.

Then there’s the high school in Puerto Jimenez that absorbed ¢300 million but the documents recording those costs seem to have nothing to do with the checks issued. Other projects were administered by the same organizations whose directors are the same as JUDESUR’s.

The are a few projects that become lost in the dismal stories but actually performed some services — thus, Solano’s lament about the silent tortoise. The Comptroller General  (Contraloría General de la Republica -CGR)  in 2008 charged that the very organization contrived to solve problems has become one of the biggest problems.

The Comptroller was at it again in 2011: “There doesn’t exist a mechanism to permit assignment of resources to projects … and to identify the most significant problems in the southern zone.” In other words, the board of directors are just “winging it” without a master plan.

The again last year, the Comptroller’s office repeated criticism of its lack of administration and data gathering. In other words, the government watchdog agency is wondering why the agency seems more dedicated to building a useless reserve than helping its neighbors.

The situation is so bad that President Luis Guillermo Solis, obedient to his “new broom” campaign promises, was forced to intervene in JUDESUR last July. The Finance Ministry demanded reports going back to 2006 and named an investigative board to report no later than six month later on what is wrong.

The sum of budgets from 2006-13 is about ¢70 billion but JUDESUR has only spent a little under ¢40 billion. Yet the agency has yet to rebuild 11 store units at the Golfito Tax Free Zone that burned in 2001 in a disastrous fire. That zone provides employment and income from thousands of customers who buy home appliances and liquor there.

Despite many students aided to complete their high school education through Judesur’s scholarships, other projects to alleviate the grinding poverty that is rampant in the area are sorely lacking. It is difficult to design projects to solve problems if you don’t know what the problems are.

Article by iNews.co.cr, with editing from QCostarica