Governor of Chocó suspended for irregular contract during pandemic



The Colombian Attorney General's Office (Public Ministry) suspended, as a preventive measure, the governor of the department of Chocó (bordering Panama) for alleged irregularities in a contract signed during the health emergency of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the entity reported on Friday.

The contract, for more than 2,000 million pesos (about $ 495,000), was signed between the local president, Ariel Palacios Calderón, and the Chocó Saludable Foundation to "provide services through a health day" for prevention against the COVID-19 threat.

"The disciplinary matter has been decreed by the Office of the Attorney General, the suspension of the governor of Chocó (...) We are talking about a contract of more than 2,000 million pesos, a contract that of course we are requesting the suspension," he reported the attorney general, Fernando Carrillo, at a press conference.

According to the Public Ministry, "these are activities that have no priority or any relation to the pandemic," with the possibility of non-compliance.

According to Carrillo, the purpose of the foundation "does not give to be able to fulfill what is contained in the specifications."

Located in the Pacific region, Chocó is the department with the highest rate of monetary poverty (58%) in the country, according to the National Planning Department; and it only has six first-level (basic) hospitals to serve 30 municipalities and a second-level (intermediate) hospital for more than 530,000 inhabitants.

The 27 beds of its three Intensive Care Units (ICU), essential in this pandemic, not only belong to the private health system but are also permanently occupied.

In addition, the department's health professionals constantly denounce non-compliance with payments and the precarious infrastructure they have to deal with the emergency, which has already left 10 infections in Chocó.

Given the circumstances, the attorney said that the corruption that has been experienced in the country in recent weeks due to the misuse of public resources is unprecedented.

"It is highly inconvenient that in the face of the pandemic produced by COVID-19 that the State's resources are not directed at guaranteeing the fundamental rights to health, to life of people who may be infected, and to the medical and nursing personnel who I would have to attend to patients, "Carrillo questioned.

INQUIRIES IN FOURTEEN DEPARTMENTS

In an unpublished joint statement, the Office of the Attorney General, the Prosecutor's Office and the Comptroller announced this Friday the first disciplinary, fiscal and criminal measures they have taken during the pandemic contingency.

The three control entities found anomalies for 135,000 million pesos (almost 33.4 million dollars) in more than 50 contracts throughout the country.

After 16 meetings, the Attorney General's Office opened 24 files for alleged irregularities in the governorates of Chocó, San Andrés, Magdalena, Tolima, Risaralda, Quindío, Valle del Cauca, La Guajira, Atlántico, Cesar, Sucre, Arauca and Casanare, as well as 70 processes in 55 mayoralties.

The main causes of these investigations have been irregular contracting, cost overruns in the acquisition of food aid and protection elements, violation of the mandatory isolation measure, violation of the prison population and overspending of duties.

The control entities also advance in three processes of disciplinary trials for irregularities in the Arauca Governorate and the municipalities of Socorro (Santander) and Guaduas, a municipality near Bogotá and located in Cundinamarca.

In addition, the mayor of the municipality of Calarcá (Quindío), Luis Alberto Balsero, was suspended for the alleged irregularities found in a contract of 369 million pesos for the provision of food kits.

For his part, the attorney general, Francisco Barbosa, reported that the entity investigates 41 officials for their actions during the health emergency and assured that the entity's actions on 13 contracts have prevented the waste of 17,000 million pesos (about 4, $ 2 million).

The three organizations will announce in the next few days new measures with which they intend to stop the diversion of public resources during the coronavirus emergency, which leaves 4,561 infected in the country and 215 fatalities.

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