Wednesday 4 August 2021

Rodolfo Méndez rules out new contracts for MECO and H Solís

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QCOSTARICA – No more soup for you! If the Minister of Public Works and Transport (MOPT), Rodolfo Méndez, has his way, the H. Solís and MECO constructions companies will not receive state contracts again.

MOPT Minister Rodolfo Méndez this Wednesday, June 23, during an interview with La Nación. Photo: Rafael Pacheco Granados

That is the Minister’s response when asked if these companies could aspire to build again for the State, once Conavi’s intervention has concluded.

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The question was posed during the announcement by Méndez of the creation of an intervening body of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) – National Highway Council – to review all road contracts with the companies that are the focus of the judicial investigation of the so-called “Caso Cochinilla”, for alleged acts of corruption.

Méndez stressed that every tender in process will be subject to an “exhaustive and rigorous” investigation process to determine the existence or not of irregularities and, based on this, take the corresponding measures.

He pointed out that the logic of intervening in Conavi would be that the companies H. Solís and MECO, on which the judicial investigations are focused, will not get any more government contracts.

The Minister did stress that the existing contracts for companies hired or have been designated will continue, but not extended.

“Today I have made a decision that, in the first place, the contracts of the companies hired and that have been designated will not be extended. That is a decision that I have taken and I am taking it to the Council (Conavi) so that it is formalized as it should be. Here there is no large or small work that will not be subject to a review and all this is of a legal nature,” said the minister in an exclusive interview with La Nación.

Méndez reaffirmed that any contract that these companies already have in execution will not be extended because he assures that “we are not, in any way, going to continue to be subject to the problems revealed by these investigations by the Public Ministry.”

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In addition, he announced that a public works bidding poster would never be published again “nor moderately similar” to those that have been issued in the last 20 years and thanks to which H. Solís and Meco won contracts.

“We will have to go through difficult times in the processes to serve the national road network. There are 7,500 kilometers that require conservation and emergencies may arise to attend to and we will have to elaborate, with a lot of technique and in the legal framework that we can, procedures to manage that attention immediately,” he said.

This could delay the contract awards pending since February of maintenance and upkeep contracts for the road network.

Most of the 30 people detained in the ‘caso chochinilla” spent almost 200 hours in an OIJ jail cell awaiting a hearing before a judge, a process that ended on Wednesday

Implications

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According to Méndez, future contracts for conservation of public works would be issued under norms and procedures completely different from any of the past.

Méndez commented that although the MOPT is expressly forced to give continuity to construction services, this does not prevent it from issuing preventive precautionary measures where decision-making will be in strict attachment to measures that in turn may arise from criminal proceedings.

In the event that it is decided to follow a hiring already granted or in contracts already in execution, decision-making on these will be done in strict attachment to eventual precautionary measures that also originate from the criminal process.

Additionally, in those procedures in which no express precautionary measures have been issued, the CONAVI will consult the judicial authorities in writing.

“We have been analyzing it. It is definitely necessary to perform an audit of all the projects and, of course, starting in those where there have been questioning,” Méndez declared.

The intervening body will be composed of four people already selected who would be appointed today, Thursday, June 24, during a session of the Conavi Board.

Méndez clarified that he will not be part of the process, the appointees will interact with Deputy Minister Tomás Figueroa Malavassi, who does have the powers of an interventionist.

Minister under investigation

The decision of the Minister to delegate the intervention to his deputy may be related to an investigation opened on Wednesday by the Fiscalia (Prosecutor’s Office) against the 84-year-old Méndez, for alleged breach of duties in the Cochinilla Case

Noticias Monumental broke the story Wednesday afternoon after the Minister made his statement on the Conavi intervention.

“The surrogate prosecutor appointed by the Full Court to investigate the case known to the police as Cochinilla, Miguel Ramírez López, confirmed that today (Wednesday) he received the complaint against Minister Méndez Mata, from the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office.

“It was assigned the file number 21–000250–1220-PE, for the alleged crime of breach of duties, without prejudice to the fact that other types of crime may be included as the investigation progresses,” the institution specified through their press office.

Wednesday afternoon, when the news broke, the Minister said he was respectful of the process.

“I believe that not only in this period, but throughout my life, I have respected all the legal regulations that exist in the country in the provision of public service. So that will go to investigation and, as a Costa Rican, I submit to that scrutiny,” said Méndez.

On June 14, the Judicial Investigation Agency, under the functional direction of the Prosecutor’s Office, carried out 57 raids, detaining 33 people initially, though only 30 faced charges of alleged corruption in road works.

On Wednesday, almost 200 hours after the arrests on Monday, June, 14, the process of hearings against the 30 detainees concluded, most of them spending the entire time in a OIJ jail cell.

Due to the number of accused in the case, each with their right to counsel, the process of 48 hours to be before a judge was extended.

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