QCOSTARICA – A legal analysis carried out by experts from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT) determined that officials accused in the corruption case known as “Cochinilla” will not be paid their salaries while the investigation is ongoing.
This is a break from the norm of public officials separated from their functions for alleged irregularities but continue to receive their full salary and benefits.
The decision was communicated through the official letter by MOPT Minister, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, who is also the president of the Board of Directors of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi).
In the official letter DAJ-2021-3763 of the MOPT Legal Advisory Office of July 19, it is indicated that:
“It is the criterion of this Directorate of Legal Advice that if there is an impediment that is alien to both the will of the worker and that of the employer, for which the worker cannot fulfill their obligation, the employment relationship is suspended, as it is provided by numeral 78 of the Labor Code, without responsibility for any of the parties, so that the employer is not obliged to pay the salary, as is the case with the precautionary measure imposed on officials of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation”.
The analysis comes after Judge Carolina Lizano suspended four workers from the MOPT and nine from Conavi, however, the ruling indicated that it was the Administration’s decision to pay or not pay their salary during that period and investigation process.
Immediately, the Department of Human Resources of the MOPT indicated that the salary of those involved should be suspended, but, in parallel, the director of said department, Cristhian Méndez, decided to request a legal criterion.
The analysis carried out by the MOPT lawyers makes reference to various rulings of the Constitutional Court of 2014, 2017, and 2018.
During the investigation process of the case that could take from months to years, it will be necessary to hire more personnel to temporarily replace the civil servants under investigation, so it becomes essential to have the budgetary resources to face expenditures that may eventually have to be made.
The Cochinilla case is the code name by the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) into the corruption of road works projects awarded by the Conavi, for being part of a criminal network that received bribes in exchange for giving privileged information and helping large construction companies (MECO, H. Solís, Constructora Herrera, Cacisa and ITP) in bids.
The suspension of the public officials has been in force since June 26 and remains at least until October 26, 2021, when the Prosecutor can request an extension, file or drop criminal charges against the accused.
Another of the measures brought against the workers was their keeping a distance of not less than one kilometer from the Conavi offices and not communicating with witnesses.
Initially, it was reported that the suspended officials would receive their full salary during the process, raising the ire of many, including Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who said he felt “annoyance” for having to pay the salary of those involved.
Despite the initial criteria, now the ministry’s position is different.