In a room designed to treat soldiers wounded in war, all that is visible is the corpse of a pigeon that died months ago. The concrete walls are dirty, full of cracks, splattered with animal excrement and a lot of graffiti. There are no stretchers or medicines, there are no doctors or nurses, there are no machines for recovery therapies. What should be a large state-of-the-art hospital to care for more than 1,000 military victims of antipersonnel mines and the disabled is a work almost in ruins that cost the Colombian State, all citizens, 34,800 million Colombian pesos in 2014 (about 55,000 at 2023 prices, or around $12 million), enough money to finance the school feeding program for 116,000 children in 2023. For this reason, the Comptroller’s Office has already seized the assets and bank accounts of two generals, two colonels, two majors and a captain.
The work, located in the Caldas Canton in the town of Puente Aranda in the center of Bogotá, was to start operating on December 31, 2014, according to inter-administrative contract No. 1441 of December 23, 2013 that the Army signed with the Agency Logistics of the Military Forces, an entity attached to the Ministry of Defense, to be in charge of the construction.
EL PAÍS visited the facilities in the first week of January 2023, eight years after the agreed delivery date, and construction was stopped and unfinished. “This has been abandoned since 2019,” says an Army official who prefers not to give his name. And he adds: “The contractor who was building the hospital stopped paying the salaries of the workers and security people who took care of the project.” The workers decided to collect the wages they were owed with the few things of value that were on the site: electricity cables, some pipes, construction materials. “This hospital has been stolen in every way,” he concludes.
The situation is so serious that the Comptroller General of the Republic issued an order on December 26, 2022 that decrees precautionary measures for patrimonial detriment of 30,595 million pesos to seven high-ranking soldiers, whom it points out to be the alleged perpetrators of loss of public money. According to the Comptroller’s document, the works of the Functional Rehabilitation Center of the Health Battalion “were not finished and even present construction and design deficiencies that put its structural stability at risk.” In the visit to the work, it is verified that much of what has been built is in poor condition, with unevenness, deep cracks and walls about to fall.
According to the designs made by the Spanish company Idom Ingeniería y Consultoría SA, the hospital was to have 14,069 square meters distributed over four floors, plus outdoor areas of 1,469 square meters. The first floor was used for the administrative offices, the kitchen and the main dining room, some internal patios for recreation and the rooms with the electrical networks and boilers. On the second floor would be the offices, rooms and wet areas necessary for recovery. On the third floor, a huge area for physical therapies and more offices was planned. In the latter, according to the designs, there would be space for “troop accommodation, cots, cabins and bathrooms.” They also thought of an area to receive the families of the wounded soldiers. None of this exists.
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Luis Eduardo Parra, the delegate comptroller for the defense and security sector who is in charge of the investigation, explains to EL PAÍS that it is not known with certainty whether what is built meets the minimum technical conditions required, even in stability. In addition, he denounces that it is not known how much additional money or how much time will be needed to complete the project. Preliminary calculations indicate that at least 30,000 million more are required.
The embargoes on seven high-ranking soldiers
The Comptroller’s document makes it explicit that the contract between the Army and the Logistics Agency did not fulfill its purpose: “To provide special medical, physical and emotional care to disabled military personnel who are victims of the conflict.” For this reason, the control entity has decided to seize the real estate and bank accounts of the seven involved. This measure seeks “compensation for damages derived from the irregular exercise of fiscal management and the preservation of public patrimony,” according to the delegated comptroller of the fiscal responsibility unit, Gina Catherine Amaya, who signs the resolution.
One of the alleged perpetrators is Major General Fernando Pineda Solarte, who commanded the second division of the Army between March 17, 2014 and September 2 of the same year, was head of the Army of the Future Transformation Command in 2016 and before the Battalion of Military Engineers of the National Army. According to the Comptroller’s Office, General Pineda is linked to the process as “expenditure controller for the period in which the events occurred.” Two savings accounts were seized.
Pineda Solarte affirms in dialogue with EL PAÍS that he is innocent of the alleged fiscal responsibility that is foisted on him. “I did not award the work contract, or auditing, nor was I in charge of monitoring the construction works of the project during all this time.” However, Pineda signed modifications to the initial contract, which extended the terms and facilitated the disbursement of more than $22,000 million pesos to the Agency. Pineda insists that he will appeal the decision that seized his accounts.
Colonel Ligia del Rosario Maldonado also had her accounts and assets seized for being linked as the spending manager, like Pineda. Despite this process, Maldonado was awarded on December 22 at the Night of Honor of the Army for her work “in administrative, financial and accounting management for the institution.” In an article from the Ministry of Defense that reviews those awarded in December, the following is written about Maldonado: “She has always occupied first place in the execution of the assigned resources, carrying out impeccable planning and execution.”
Major Luz Mery Rangel is also linked to the fiscal responsibility process as “resources manager”. The Comptroller’s Office seized a property in Bucaramanga and two in Bogotá, and three savings accounts.
The Comptroller’s Office also seized the assets and accounts of General Pablo Federico Przychondny and Colonel Óscar Alberto Jaramillo, directors of the Logistics Agency when the contract was signed and developed. Przychondny was seized a savings account and Jaramillo five properties in Bogotá and two accounts. According to the Comptroller’s investigation, in 2014 the Army handed over all the money for the hospital to the Logistics Agency, instead of handing it over as the project progressed. Despite the fact that the 34,800 million pesos of that time were disbursed (which, due to inflation, is equivalent to more than 55,124 million pesos in 2023), the work was not finished.
The last two soldiers linked to the process are Major Gerardo Molina Leyva and Captain Carlos Norvey González, supervisors of the inter-administrative contract between the Army and the Logistics Agency. Both of their properties and money were also seized.
The current director of the logistics agency of the Armed Forces, Colonel Carlos Morales, explained to EL PAÍS that in his opinion there is no patrimonial detriment “because of the work carried out, today the largest investment is represented in the supporting structure that is built , hoisted and after being exposed to all gravitational loads for more than 4 years, it is stable and does not present cracks or visible damage. In short, Morales insists that there is a work, even if it is far from being a working hospital.
In 2012, those in charge of the Army Health Battalion found overcrowding in the facilities used for the rehabilitation processes of soldiers wounded in combat. They also realize that they do not have enough technology to care for many soldiers with disabilities.
To meet these needs, on December 21, 2012, the Army signed consulting contract No. 1134 with the Spanish company Idom Ingeniería y Consultoría SA for a value of $1,353,296,329 pesos, to carry out the studies and designs to build the Center. of Functional Rehabilitation.
The contract ends in October 2013. Based on what Idom proposed, on December 21 the Army signs inter-administrative contract No. 1441 of 2013 with the Logistics Agency, for a value of $29,938,101,992 pesos. This budget includes $28,776,607,784 pesos to carry out the works and $1,161,494,208 pesos for the supervision. In this contract, the Agency agrees to deliver the hospital on December 31, 2014.
The Army promised to make “an advance payment of $11,387,101,992, which would be paid 60 days after the completion of the contract.” Being an advance payment and not an advance, which seems like a language difference, but is actually a different way of delivering the resources, the Agency did not have to demonstrate what it was going to spend the money on to receive the following disbursements. So the Army paid without even asking their destination. The 18,000 million balance had to be paid separately: 12,000 when 50% of the work had been executed and 6,500 million when the construction had been completed and delivered.
On October 17, 2014, with three months to go before the agreed delivery, problems arose. The Army and the Agency added $4,874,815,755 pesos, supposedly for glass and special equipment for the hospital, which were not only supposed to have already been included, but also to show that the work was already in its final phases.
The contract already had a total value of $34,812,917,707 pesos, which would also no longer be paid as the results of the work were seen, but rather the Army would make a single advance payment of $22,677,805,400 pesos. That is to say, he disbursed a total of $34,064,907,392, 97.8% of the total value, without knowing how the work was going.
On December 1, 2014, it was modified again to extend the execution period until December 31, 2016, for two more years, and pay the balance of $700 million pesos in advance. The Army would accept a two-year delay on a contract that was originally for one year, pay everything and receive nothing.
From that moment on, the Logistics Agency requests 8 additional terms until 2020, when it abandons the half-built work. At present, the hospital remains unfinished and the soldiers injured by landmines do not have a suitable place to recover. “With this story you could write a book of tragedy,” says one of the soldiers who is currently working to try to get the resources needed to resume the work.
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