Law gives the public a weapon against delay
Have you ever felt helpless in front of a government office in Costa Rica? There are ways you can fight back.
Costa Rica currently has approximately 200 public institutions. They are probably the No. 1 cause of frustration for those living in this country.
The number of requirements to most procedures seems sometimes like a never-ending story, turning even simple requests into huge challenges.
Many times, the aggravation, after several trips to the same institution, leads one to offer a “tip” to a representative to get the job done faster. This practice only contributes to corruption and makes getting things done even harder because government workers expect extra rewards for doing their jobs.
A law to protect citizens, residents, non-residents, everyone, against the excess of requirements and administrative procedures was passed and published in La Gaceta, the official public records newspaper March 11, 2002.
The law applies to every single public institution in Costa Rica, including, municipalities, ministries, public enterprises and autonomous institutions.
It affirms the request-and-answer right set out in the Costa Rican Constitution. This right says that any person who files any type of request in front of any public office should receive an answer to the request within two months.
After the term expires, with no answer, one can immediately file an amparo, or relief suit, in front of the Constitutional Court to force government bureaucrats to answer.
It is very important to note that if the request is for a permit, license, or authorization, if all requirements are met and filed correctly, and one does not receive an approval or denial within one month after the filing date, it is understood to be approved. This is called positive silence.
According to the law, Article 7 states that there are two ways to apply positive silence. One way is to send a note to the public institution stating a request was completed but not answered and assumed approved giving a one-day term for officials to respond. The other way is to have a public notary, an attorney in Costa Rica that is also a notary, make an acta or affidavit, and register it in his notary book.
The law also specifically states that requirements cannot be excessive. A public institution can not ask for the same things twice and cannot request any document that relates to the same institution. For example, INS, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly, cannot request the tarjeta de circulación, the mandatory insurance registration card showing payment by every vehicle owner every year. INS issues these tarjetas.
All requirements can be requested only once and, when requested, the public institution is required to cite the legal foundation, date and source requiring the information.
The law mandates every institution to publish in La Gaceta all necessary requirements for any procedure. In other words, anything requested by any public office in Costa Rica must have the specific guidelines published and available to the public.
This is a very valuable weapon to defend rights in Costa Rica.
One excellent example is of people getting the run-around by municipalities when requesting visados, or special permits used for a variety of things, including building construction and land subdivisions. Many people fight for years with no success.
Knowing the exact requirements, filing the paperwork correctly, and following up by using the methods described above to fight back, can solve even the worst nightmare situations with public tramites or the Tico word for red tape.
La Gaceta and the information contained in it can serve as an indispensable tool in knowing more about your rights in Costa Rica. It is published every business day and can be accessed via the Internet for a small subscription fee.
Selected Legal Requirements by Institution and Publication Date