La Nacion Tuesday revealed that the RECOPE Refinery at Limon paralyzed since August, 2011, but still keeps 350 workers on salary. The obsolete refinery installation has been idle and awaits the construction of a new one with Chinese help. But that may not happen.
When the Comptroller General’s Office annulled the feasibility and profitability studies, its officials made the new refinery doubtful at best. But the government has two good reasons to keep the payroll alive.
The first is that Limon is an area of high unemployment that would be economically and socially devastated by firing its workers. The second is that firing of workers would cause many to drift away, leaving RECOPE with few (or at least fewer) experienced workers.
In all, RECOPE employs 1,600 workers and the 350 only receives already refined fuels at the dock in Moin and stores it, awaiting distribution. The refinery was originally built by Allied Chemical in the late 1960s and nationalized during the administration of Jose (Don Pepe) Figueres.
The old refinery was closed as being costly to run. “The country needs to refine to fulfill the need for storage and for the social security of Limon,” says RECOPE manager Henry arias, a chemical engineer, “Here, (Limon) there are few employment opportunities.”
This payroll of 42 billion colones per year averages out to 24 million per employee. It is the sector of energy in the country that costs the most. But as Xinia Rose, a Limon customs official, told La Nacion, “If you open up a single job here, 60 persons show up to fill it. The problem of Limon is employment.”
The paper asks a question that perhaps only a Solomon could answer: Is it worth the higher price of fuel to keep these workers employed? The Comptroller gave RECOPE six months to come up with an alternative to the Chinese-Costa Rican $1.5 billion construction and investment plan.
The ambitious construction of a new refinery would raise production of fuels from the former 25,000 barrels per day to 65,000 barrels of crude oil refined.
Guillermo Rodriguez of the Limon Development Agency is brutally frank about the present situation. “Today we only import (refined fuels.) RECPOE has a great number of workers that are not doing anything and at a high fixed cost,” he said.
Comment: It is a dilemma that only politicians can answer. The cost of more social turmoil in Limon could cost the government more in the long run that keeping idle workers on salary. Already the city and its environs are a hotbed of crime and drug addiction.
Meanwhile, the cost of fuel here continues to be unnecessarily high. Is building a costly refinery to, perhaps proceed more than the country needs,the way to go? The political answer is that the construction would be a short term boon to the area.