By Valeria Santos and Sebastián Nohra, Mañanas Blu (Blue Mornings), June 29, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
After six months of investigation, Mañanas Blu, going on the air, was able to establish that while Luis Alberto Rodríguez was head of the National Planning Department (DNP in Spanish), officials of his agency and of the Comptroller’s Office, as well as Members of Congress, a majority of the Conservative Party, local office-holders and contractors, all created a network of corruption to grab approximately 12% of the funds that had been approved for OCAD-Paz.
OCAD-Paz is the agency of the General System of Royalties (SGR in Spanish) that sets priorities and designs the projects intended to benefit the municipalities that were, according to the Peace Agreement, in the Programs for Development With a Territorial Focus (Pdet in Spanish) because they are the poorest and were the most harshly affected by the conflict. Just between June and December of 2021, when 355 projects were given the go-ahead, the kickbacks and bribes had reached 500,000,000,000 pesos (roughly USD $120,172,500).
The situation was not a secret, because there have been a number of complaints made to the Attorney General’s Office, the Inspector General’s Office, the Comptroller’s Office, the National Planning Department (DNP), and to the President’s then-Counsel for Stabilization and Consolidation, Emilio Archila, who was in charge of OCAD-Paz. In an email received by the Counsel on the subject: “Sorrow in the fatherland for the Pdet municipalities”. The email states that Senators, the Comptroller’s Office, and DNP “are extorting the municipalities that are being scourged by the violence, making them pay them for giving their OK to the projects.”
They were able to create this whole network of corruption after the reform of the Royalties Statute, which empowered the joint ventures, who aren’t required to carry out a bidding process, to do projects financed with OCAD-Paz funds, just like the reform of the Comptroller’s Office, which in 2020 assigned pre-audit power to that agency.
The funding sources of OCAD-Paz are limited; they are derived from royalties and, by design, they put the 170 Pdet municipalities in competition to get financing for their projects. Nor is there a legal limit for the number of initiatives or for the budgets that can be approved for one region, but the law states that OCAD has to distribute the funds equitably for the different territories and in the different main centers.
So that the projects that the Mayors present can be considered in an OCAD-Paz session, they have to get the approval of the National Planning Department (DNP), of the Ministry of the sector that the project would be part of, of the Territorial Renewal Agency (ART in Spanish), and the Comptroller’s Office.
Officials alleged to be involved in the OCAD-Paz bribery network
The OCAD members that decided on projects in 2021 were Archila, Martín Zuleta, Mayor of La Paz, Cesar; Marcelino Chacón, Mayor of La Uribe, Meta; Juan Carlos Gualdrón, the Comptroller’s delegate assigned to the post-conflict; Aníbal Quiroz, the Comptroller’s delegate to the Royalties Unit; José Facundo Castillo, then-Governor of Arauca and now in custody and charged by the prosecutors with three crimes related to public contracting.
Also as permanent guests, Waldtih Manzur of Córdoba and ¥amil Arana of Sucre, Conservative Party Members of the Chamber of Representatives.
The OCAD-Paz Technical Secretariat was headed by Álvaro Avila, then-Director of the General System of Royalties of the DNP. He chose the projects that would be reviewed in the sessions and, to do that, he had to consider the order in which they had been filed, but it appears that it was not done that way.
The Mayors of Orito, Putumayo, and Condoto, Chocó, complained in writing that when the priorities were decided, order of filing of the requests was not considered.
In interviews by BluRadio, several Mayors of Pdet municipalities, who preferred that their names be kept confidential, verified that for a project to be considered at an OCAD-Paz session, it would have to have a “godfather”, and that required a payment of between 6% and 15% as a payoff. Besides that, they accused by name some government officials and Conservative Party Members of Congress, Samy Merheg and Ape Cuello.
In addition to the accusations by the Mayors against Ávila, MañanasBlu
had access to testimonies by people who worked with him in the National Department of Planning, and who are aware of complaints against him for requesting payoffs to facilitate the awarding of projects.
An anonymous complaint has led the Inspector General’s Office to open a disciplinary investigation of Álvaro Ávila for the alleged irregularities he committed as Technical Secretary of OCAD-Paz to benefit more than 500 projects. According to the document, projects in Putumayo, Antioquia, Córdoba, Risaralda, Casanare, Sucre, Cundinamarca, Arauca, Magdalena, Santander, Nariño, Boyacá and some other areas were approved without complying with all of the specifications and, in other cases, the certifications were issued six months after they had been okayed, so that you can conclude that they were certified after the work had already been finished.
In its official response, the Inspector General’s Offices assured this station that the matter was in the investigation stage, and will soon be ready for the pleading stage. That means that, even though the case was opened on August 14, 2020, on May 27, 2022, when this station was able to communicate with the control agency, the case has been lying there for two years.
By the way, if you look at the quantity of money awarded by the Department between 2019 and 2022, Cesar received 652.852 billion pesos (roughly USD $157,000,000), while Guanía obtained 1.5 billion pesos (roughly USD $36,530,000). According to a number of testimonies, this was made possible thanks to the favors received by politicians and officials with a history in that part of the country.
There was also a complaint that the Comptroller’s delegate to the Royalties Unit, Aníbal Quiroz, had rejected projects even when they had the approval of the other agencies, and he gave no clear reasons that would have allowed municipalities to make the necessary corrections: “The concepts furnished by the Comptroller who exercised preventive control were little “technicalities” and didn’t justify squeezing the Mayors and overturning projects so that the OCAD-Paz committee would reject them.”
In a letter sent by the Mayor’s Office in Vista Hermosa on August 13, 2021, addressed to the heads of the Attorney General’s Office, the Inspector General’s Office, the Comptroller’s Office, the Planning Department, and the Transportation Ministry, they also accused Quiroz of finding objections, which were not well explained, to three transportation projects, asking that the Ministry “verify the favorable sectoral concepts.”
In the zeal of those accused to get “their share”, this was not the only project in the transportation sector that had problems. On May 14, 2021, Counsel Archila received an anonymous communication in which it was stated that the Comptroller’s delegate to the post-conflict, Juan Carlos Gualdrón, and the Royalties Director, Álvaro Ávila, were on a crusade to pressure the Transportation Ministry to turn down more than half of the road projects that were approved, but that the “kickbacks” had not yet been negotiated, and he was to “use his power of indiscriminate investigation to put pressure on the Ministry.”
In the accusations by the Vista Hermosa Mayor’s Office against Quiroz, they indicate that for some of the initiatives that were on the list of objections by the Comptroller’s Office, “there was no adjustment to the proposals, no notice of technical shortcomings, but shortcomings could be fixed by magic and suddenly they could be approved,” acts for which, as explained previously, they also are accusing Ávila.
In all of this scaffolding, it should be noted that not only the two delegates of the Comptroller, Aníbal Quiroz and Juan Carlos Gualdrón, but also Luis Alberto Rodríguez, ex-Director of National Planning, mentioned by different sources in this case, are now candidates to replace Felipe Córdoba in his position as Comptroller General.
Because OCAD-Paz also designates the agency that performs the contracts, MañanasBlu followed up on some of the contracts and we found a lot of them were assigned to societies that have a special scheme by which they are not required to do their contracting under Statute 80, meaning that their contracts can be awarded without any bidding process. While between 2017 and 2019, 11 projects were approved for entities with the special scheme, between 2020 and 2021, 152 projects were awarded to such entities. This represents 44% of the total funds awarded, meaning more than 1.9 trillion pesos (roughly USD $457,000,000).
Among these societies, the Sports Promotion Joint Venture stands out, and also Integrated Development and Social Management, an entity in Valle del Cauca that in 2020 was awarded a contract for 1.295 billion pesos (roughly USD $311,000) and, a year later it was awarded 33 projects for more than 485 billion pesos(roughly USD $116,600,000). The majority of those are to be implemented in the Department of Cesar.
It’s notable that the performance indicators of this joint venture in Valle had a score of 18 in the second trimester of 2020, and it was 99 in the second trimester of 2021.
In Session 51 of OCAD-Paz, Senator Samy Meregh of the Conservative Party defended this venture so that the projects would be approved, and in Session 53, carried out in 2021, the joint venture was also supported by Chamber of Representatives Member Wadith Manzur, also of the conservative Party. According to the minutes of the meeting, she was also enthusiastic about the high performance indicator and the capability of the contractor.
No money for peace
Besides the amounts that never arrived in the regions because of the corruption, they emptied the pot of money that should have been a ten-year investment, principally for the development of roads, electrification, potable water and basic sanitation. In 2020, the Congress voted to have the royalty income projected to 2030 to be carried out in 2022. As that law was signed in December, it advanced what had been awarded in 2021, the year in which the projects already approved totaled 4.4 trillion pesos, which was different from the one trillion pesos for 2020 and the 36 billion pesos, approved for up to May 30 of this year.
The situation is so serious that Counsel Archila himself said at Session 56 of OCAD-Paz that the sources of funds for projects in the Pdet municipalities would be hard to find. “What we refer to as an “advance” was not a gift; it was not an addition to that 7% (of the income from the General Royalties System), rather, in the text it was an advance for the next 10 years.”
Sources from testimonies and documents consulted by MañanasBlu, permit us to confirm that the amount available to spend the maximum of royalty funds for peace was established in 2021, before Rodríguez and Ávila left the DNP. The conclusion is simple: they emptied the pot, according to the testimonies and the complaints, they have appropriated the funds set aside for the peace and for the projects that were approved and carried out; those were chosen by political and cronyism criteria.