Cablegate: Costa Rican Immigration Director Plans Major


DE RUEHSJ #2379/01 3001032
P 271032Z OCT 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 002379




E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/04/2016


B. SAN JOSE 2054

Classified By: Ambassador Mark Langdale for reason 1.4 (d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Costa Rican Immigration Director Mario Zamora
recently told us that months of intense work with 2nd Vice
President Kevin Casas (a personal friend who also functions
as Minister of Planning) were about to bear fruit in the form
of fundamental reforms to the information systems and
personnel of his institution. Zamora said that the reforms
had to be thorough and simultaneous in order to counter the
massive corruption he has encountered since taking the helm
on May 8, 2006. Zamora has recruited a tough-minded
technocrat who played a key role in efforts to use technology
to wring corruption out of customs clearance procedures. He
also has help from Microsoft Corporation to revamp
information systems at Immigration. Working with lawyers
from the Ministry of Planning, Zamora has managed to
streamline procedures for a "restructuring" of human
resources that could replace up to 65 percent of his
personnel. By restructuring (and paying severance) rather
than firing corrupt employees, Zamora says he was able to
strike a deal with unions that avoids years of lawsuits and
allows removing enough corrupt employees with sufficient
speed to actually make a difference. END SUMMARY.

A New Information System
2. (C) Zamora said that his initial impressions of
vulnerabilities in the computer systems at Immigration were
confirmed via a diagnostic performed at his request by
Microsoft Corporation. The diagnostic revealed that a number
of key functions, passport issuance for example, were
converted into independent "islands" presumably in the name
of transparency, under the current system. Vital
cross-checks and internal controls are missing, however,
which makes each "island" a lucrative profit center for those
who control it. Worse, some key information can be
manipulated or deleted without creating any record of the
changes or of who made them. Zamora believes the current
system is so full of holes that it cannot be salvaged. On
October 10, media reported similar problems with residency
cards issued by a $2.6 million system acquired for
Immigration less than a year ago. Microsoft is encouraging
Costa Rica to examine an immigration system the company
installed in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, the current system with
its "islands" of corruption remains vulnerable.

3. (C) Zamora has recruited Alicia Avendano to head the
effort to completely revamp the computer systems at
Immigration. Avendano is known for her role in implementing
a computerized customs clearance system at the Ministry of
Hacienda. Over spirited resistance from numerous sectors
comfortable with the leaky old paper-based system for customs
declarations, Avendano brought an automated electronic system
to life that has greatly increased transparency and revenues
at Hacienda (called Project TIC@). Avendano's experience and
track record at the Ministry of Hacienda should serve her
well in facing similar challenges at Immigration.

4. (C) Zamora estimates that he will need between $10-15
million to acquire an information system that will meet Costa
Rica's needs. The money, he believes, will come from the
Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE in
Spanish). Zamora told us that an arrangement is being worked
out whereby the BCIE will buy the computer equipment and
Costa Rican Immigration will rent the equipment from the
bank. Zamora said the arrangement was very much in Costa
Rica's favor and was vital to the overall success of the
reforms since it makes little sense to remove corrupt
personnel while the information system remains so vulnerable.

And New People To Use It
5. (C) Corrupt practices are so widespread within Immigration
that Zamora has concluded it will be cheaper and faster to
restructure the entire personnel system (and pay severance to
those "downsized") than to attempt to fire corrupt employees.
Zamora's calculation is based on Costa Rica's labor law and
back-logged labor courts. Interestingly, Zamora met several
times with Albino Vargas, virulent anti-free trader and head
of the large public sector labor union ANEP, to broker an
agreement that will avoid lengthy lawsuits. Zamora expressed
surprise at how anxious Vargas seemed to avoid confrontation.
According to Zamora, Vargas said that he could ill afford a

battle at the moment on behalf of public employees that
"everyone knows are corrupt." Zamora said the meeting he had
expected to be long and heated ended quickly and pleasantly
after he (Zamora) acknowledged that it would be cheaper to
pay severance than to fire corrupt employees. Severance pay
was apparently the only deliverable Vargas needed.

6. (C) Zamora said he is now working to develop new personnel
requirements that will eliminate the most corrupt employees.
Zamora hopes to replace up to 65 percent of his workforce in
the coming months and invited the Embassy to identify any
employees we have concerns about. (Note: we had provided a
list to the previous Director, Marco Badilla, which
apparently was not passed on. RSO has developed indications
of corrupt activities by dozens of immigration officials that
will be provided to Zamora. End Note.)

7. (C) Zamora has shown himself to be an energetic
interlocutor with an impressive combination of youthful
ambition, private sector know-how, and previous government
experience. His willingness to admit the scope of the
problem is as refreshing as his plan to address it is
audacious. Zamora has come up with creative solutions to a
seemingly intractable institutional problem, and he has
apparently succeeded in clearing one of the biggest hurdles
by avoiding direct confrontation with the powerful public
sector union. Politically, Zamora has the full support of
the Minister of Public Security and Vice President Casas.
Albino Vargas's private eagerness to avoid being seen as
defending corrupt government employees is a noteworthy
contrast to his public stance against the US-Central
America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR)
which will open state-owned monopolies to private
competition. For their part, the unions' leadership was
embarrassed over the summer by revelations of perks for union
members in the insurance monopoly.

© Scoop Media

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