Colombia’s government has taken temporary control of the country’s 33 autonomous, state-funded regional entities that manage water resources and are accused of not doing more to prevent floods and other problems emanating from last year’s torrential rains.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Saturday that many but not all of the Autonomous Regional Corporations, or CARs by their Spanish initials, are mismanaged and corrupt. But he said a temporary intervention in the entire CAR system is necessary because they were “poorly conceived.”
Santos also said some of the 33 CARs will be eliminated permanently through mergers.
“We’re going to give them more governability and more transparency,” Santos said in Colombia, prior to a trip to Europe.
Colombia saw its heaviest rainy season in three decades over the past six months, an episode that led to massive flooding and landslides, killing hundreds of people and damaging crops, livestock and roadways. The damages will require some $5 billion in government spending for recovery and economists say it’s likely to reduce Colombia’s overall economic growth.
One of the most dramatic episodes came in late November with the breach of a large levee canal that spilled millions of gallons of water across huge swath’s of Colombia’s northern coastal plain, leaving half of an entire state under water.
Environment Deputy Minister Carlos Castano said the first change to the CAR system will be to increase the groups’ technical expertise in terms of managing water basins and controlling flooding. He said at least 10% of each CAR budget will have to be used for risk-reduction measures, such as the construction of flood control systems.
CARs, which each year receive large government budgets, were created in 1993 as part of an effort to decentralize the government and provide more independence to regions outside Bogota. But the central government has long complained that they and other regional, state-funded groups have become overrun by corrupt local power brokers.
The CARs themselves say they’re being used by officials in Bogota as scapegoats for the rain disaster.