USD15 MILLION IN PPP OPPORTUNITIES

Costa Rica 2019 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of the Republic of Costa Rica, on membership of the OECD, fiscal reform, and education.

Costa Rica has created a particular identity through commerce and diplomacy. What is Costa Rica's role concerning economic, political, and social dynamics in Central America?

Costa Rica must use its strengths. The country has built these strengths over almost 200 years of independence, which has enabled sound commerce. Also, Costa Rica's diplomacy has legitimacy; its strengths include a democratic institutional structure, peace, the environment, human rights, and inclusion. All these are the elements that we can share, as an army's obligation is to send a message of peace, or that natural parks reflect a vision of an economy that is growing together with care for the environment, or an average income country that is able to have higher standards regarding health and education. We have many areas of opportunity, and there is still much to be done, though we also have achievements to show.

In your administration, what are the main priorities for the Central American integration progress?

Concerning the integration, an important aspect is the forum for permanent dialog. There are critical junctures regarding migration, security, economy, and politics. The prosperity of our neighboring countries means prosperity for us as well. That is why we worry for the democratic institutional structure in each region. The Central American Integration System (SICA) must become an organization with less instances and look forward to becoming an organization that transforms Central American's life experience.

Can Costa Rica become a member of OECD, and how are you working on this?

This is our goal; we aim to be a modern and developed country for our citizens' wellbeing and being a member of OECD plays a key role in achieving that goal. We are defining the terms so we do not lose our own characteristics and development style. We are working hard on this and have created a legislative committee, a group of specialized deputies who know all the projects.

What are the priorities of this administration?

The first priority would be financial, institutional, and legal stability. Costa Rica is a growing country, with stable inflation and many opportunities for investment, and an excellent location and human talent. That is why we want to strengthen this development platform and resolve the public deficit. By doing so, we can move and work with other issues, especially education. We are investing heavily in education and aim to become a bilingual country in the medium term. We are also working on connecting our educational centers with broadband for 2021. Apart from that, we are also working on the decarbonization of our energy. 99% of our electrical energy is clean, and we want to bring this concept to transportation and other aspects in order to reduce our carbon footprint and prove our economic growth is independent of the use of fossil fuels. Therefore, we need to electrify and digitalize our economy and foster sustainable agriculture. We want to abolish fossil fuels within 70 years, as we did before with our army. This is an extremely strong message for the world, especially today, when climate change is a threat to humanity. We also need to upgrade our infrastructure in order to improve our competitiveness. For the next four years, we plan to invest USD4 billion in road infrastructure and USD1.3 billion in an interurban electric train. We also want to transform our Caribbean harbors and will launch a container terminal project in February 2019. As well, we are working on a harbor in Caldera, on the Pacific, which will strengthen commerce with the Pacific region and Asia. We are working hard to reduce income inequality and poverty, which is why we need to generate more jobs and work on territorial specialization.

Regarding Costa Rica's payment capacity, fiscal reform is one of the keys of this administration. How would you evaluate the landscape of this reform?

This has been our priority since the start of our administration. We have had our first debate as well as some results, despite the opposition. Also, we already have the federal budget for 2019, which has not been increased and will not affect the government's functions. By using AI, we have been able to cover emergencies, prevent droughts, and improve our infrastructure. We have achieved significant reductions without neglecting our services or announcing redundancies. This plan is currently awaiting approval from the constitutional chamber. In terms of taxes, there is a strong message of confidence. This will be reflected in economic stability and confidence, which will attract investors.

What message are you sending to the private sector, and how keen is the administration to work with PPPs?

In this first budget, we reinforced the National Concessions Council with more than CRC5 billion (USD8.33 million). There are also USD15 million in opportunities for public-private partnerships. We are interested in economic growth and understand that such partnerships are a tool that will take us in that direction. These include projects such as airports, the interurban electric train, and a freight train line. Costa Rica has high-quality talent, though it is not enough to meet private sector demands.

How can the government boost the educational agenda to adjust to Costa Rica's private sector present and future needs?

We have the human talent, and education is a priority; however, we need to create more opportunities general, which is why we are working on English training. This is so there are more people who speak the language of business, knowledge, and communication around the world. We are also preparing our students with technologies and knowledge in general. In public education, we have a difficult task ahead, namely the academic formation of our youth. In the end, it will have returns on investment. The aspects we are working on are dual training and improving the higher education regional offerings. We need to find a balance between what universities offer, what the private sector needs, and where the country wants to go. We also want to work on reducing inequality, since the majority of development in Costa Rica is in the central region. By distributing the opportunities across the country, we will break down economic, gender, and age inequality.