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general news 209

Published in general news Written by June 13 2020 0

Wall Street bond rater Fitch Ratings announced June 12 that it affirmed the city of Medellin’s long-and short-term debt at relatively favorable “AAA (col)” and “F1 + (col)” ratings.

“The outlook for the long-term rating is ‘stable,’” according to Fitch. “The affirmation of the ratings took into account the situation of economic stress as a consequence of the contingency derived from the Coronavirus,” according to the analyst.

“Furthermore, it reflects Fitch's expectation that Medellín will preserve stable budget performance and adequate debt with an expected repayment ratio that will be in a range greater than five times (5x) and debt service coverage that will be in a range 1x to 1.2x in the medium- term, in line with the results of the previous review.

“Although the most recent financial information available from Medellín may not yet reflect any financial deterioration, variations in the behavior of income and spending could materialize in the following weeks or months as the impact of the Coronavirus and less dynamism on economic activity is perceived,” the analyst cautioned.

Unlike some Colombian cities, “Medellin’s operating income structure has a relatively low dependence on national transfers,” according to Fitch.

“Medellín’s tax revenue represented on average 45.9% of operating revenue in the last five years (2015 to 2019) and showed an average annual growth rate of 6.2%. Medellín presents in its structure of this type of income a participation of 40.8% of the unified property tax (IPU) and 35.2% of the industry and commerce tax (ICA).

“Both have shown low volatility in recent years, thanks to the municipality’s fiscal management model and a positive taxpayer payment culture. However, these rents are expected to drop considerably as a result of quarantine restrictions in the municipality due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Total ownership of Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) has been a key factor in the municipality’s financial performance and an outstanding source of resources, since a significant amount of ordinary and special financial surplus transferred to Medellín [from EPM] has increased its financial flexibility to make capital expenditures.

“This also places Medellin in an incomparable position with respect to other cities in the face of the current health crisis. The financial surpluses [EPM] delivered to Medellín in 2019 reached COP$1.3 trillion [US$344 million] or 55% of the company’s 2018 profits.

“Medellín has financial autonomy and the power to adjust the rates for most of its taxes within the limits defined by the national government. Therefore, in the event of a further need to increase its own income, it is expected that Medellin could cover [via a special tax hike] at least 50% of a reasonably expected decrease in income [from Coronavirus economic downturns].

“In addition, the rates of the IPU [property tax] in the municipality are below the legal limit and the municipal taxpayers have a relatively high affordability to address possible rate increases," Fitch's report notes.

Meanwhile, during the last five years, "Medellín's tax collections have a positive trend due to good management of the fiscal model, a culture of payment by taxpayers and the economic performance of the region," according to the analysis.

“Despite the extraordinary expenses that will be incurred to contain the health contingency, Fitch forecasts that operating expenses will remain under control for the rest of the current administration and estimates an average annual growth of 5.7% for the period 2020 to 2024. To meet the contingency, Medellín has released budget resources for COP$236 billion [US$62 million], equivalent to 4.2% of total revenues generated in 2019.

“At the end of 2019, the balance of Medellín’s debt was COP$1.9 trillion [US$503 million]. About 34.6% of Medellín’s direct debt was denominated in foreign currency -- contracted with the French Development Agency for the Medellín 'green-corridor' program -- and about 65.3% was linked to a variable interest rate.

“The municipality has a current issue of internal public-debt bonds that represent 13.2% of its direct debt and correspond to a sixth bond issue for COP$248 billion [US$66 million], whose maturities are in tranches for 2024 and 2044.

“Fitch considers that Medellín has better liquidity management, which is reflected in a stronger liquidity position and greater access to short or long-term loans with local banks, whose counterparty is rated ‘BBB-’. In addition, Medellin can access Treasury credits for up-to-one-twelfth of its current income, which must be paid at the end of the term," the analysis adds.

What's more, “Fitch includes in its analysis the way in which Medellín recognizes the obligation with the national government to finance the original infrastructure of the Medellín Metro and considers it as an inter-governmental obligation. Thus, Fitch performs a complementary calculation, called the improved repayment ratio, which excludes this obligation from the debt sustainability metrics to estimate a potential improvement over the individual credit profile (ICP).

"Currently, the Medellín ICP is strong enough to support current ratings, so this improvement is not applied,” the analysis concludes.

Published in general news Written by June 09 2020 0

Medellin-based electric power giant EPM announced June 8 that more than 1,000 construction workers at its US$5 billion, 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project in Antioquia will undergo staggered, voluntary isolation in June and July to avoid possible Covid-19 outbreaks.

To date, EPM reports that it has detected 283 cases of Covid-19 infections among Hidroituango workers, with 21 already recovered. The other 262 workers “have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. Two of them have been provided hospital care for reasons not associated with Covid-19 and their health condition is stable,” according to EPM.

Beyond those 283 already-isolated workers, another 350 workers are “voluntarily preparing to spend the next few days in individual and voluntary isolation, in order to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in their family group or in the communities to which they will return,” according to EPM.

“This process is carried out both in the Villa Luz camp of the CCCI [construction] consortium, and in the Tacuí-Cuni camp of EPM, following the advice of the Epidemiological Surveillance System and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Antioquia and in coordination with the Secretariat of Health of Antioquia,” according to the company.

These volunteers will spend at least seven days in preventive isolation, “after which time the Coronavirus test (Covid-19) will be applied. If the result is negative, then they will receive a certificate that they are not carriers of the virus, and they will be able to return to their communities,” according to EPM.

However, any workers found positive for Covid-19 will be transferred to Medellín for medically supervised recovery, the company added.

 

Published in general news Written by June 08 2020 0

Deposed Antioquia Governor Aníbal Gaviria announced in a June 8 press conference that Colombia Attorney General Francisco Barbosa Delgado committed a grievous legal error in charging Gaviria with corruption over a 2005 highway contract -- and likewise went way overboard in removing him from office and putting him under house arrest.

Gaviria also revealed that he will appeal the detention order to Colombia’s Supreme Court.

Rather than pointing fingers at anyone over some supposed “smokescreen” or “political plot” as suggested by some demagogues, conspiracy-mongers and certain left-wing journalists, Gaviria instead said he has no indication whatever of any political plot.

Rather, Colombia Attorney General Barbosa and an assistant prosecutor handling the case simply made wrong legal judgments about the disputed highway contract, he said.

Gaviria also noted that the Attorney General has a questionable track record on numerous preventive detention orders, as lawsuits totaling some COP$2 trillion (US$555 million) have been filed against the Attorney General over allegedly wrongful detentions.

Gaviria also stated that he had received messages from numerous jurists and legal experts around Colombia indicating that the Attorney General simply has misunderstood Colombian law regarding alleged irregularities in the “Troncal de La Paz” highway-and-bridge contract executed 15 years ago in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia.

Notably, Gaviria praised Colombia President Ivan Duque for what he said was the correct naming of Antioquia Government Secretary Luis Fernando Suárez Vélez as Acting Governor in the meantime. President Duque personally telephoned Gaviria to advise him of the naming of Suárez following the Attorney General action.

“I have known and worked with Aníbal Gaviria for years,” President Duque announced via his Twitter account. “I have profound respect, recognition and appreciation for him. I offer my solidarity with him and his family,” President Duque said.

Similar praise came from political parties of all stripes – not only the Liberal Party to which Gaviria belongs, but also from notable Centro Democratico leaders, including former President Alvaro Uribe, former Antioquia governors of various political parties, Medellin mayors, departmental and city elected officials, major commercial/industrial trade associations, and  “thousands of persons and institutions in Colombia,” Gaviria noted.

Not one of the four alleged “contract irregularities” cited by the Attorney General in fact violated any Colombian law, Gaviria said. Even though Gaviria didn’t personally sign any of those allegedly flawed contracts, the Infrastructure Secretary and other officials in Gaviria's former government who actually signed those contracts didn’t violate any law, do anything wrong or engage in any corruption, Gaviria stated.

Nor were there any cost-overruns, technical defects or losses in the project executions, he added.

“I am confident in the Colombia justice system, despite errors of some officials” in the Attorney General’s office, he stated. “I will prove my innocence and also that of other officials” in his former Infrastructure Secretariat who signed the contracts, he added.

 

Published in general news Written by June 05 2020 0

Colombia Attorney General Francisco Barbosa Delgado announced June 5 in a press conference that Antioquia Governor Aníbal Gaviria has been charged with alleged corrupt management of a highway construction contract during his first term as governor between 2004 and 2007.

“The evidentiary elements indicate irregular payment of advances and other anomalies in the process of contracting and construction of ‘La Troncal de La Paz’ [the Peace Highway] during the governor’s first term between 2004 and 2007,” according to the Attorney General.

Following a Supreme Court order, Gaviria has been removed from office and put under arrest, according to the Attorney General.

“The decision was communicated earlier today to the President of the Republic [Ivan Duque] to comply with the legal mandate to suspend [Gaviria’s governorship]. In this sense, the head of state [President Duque] must complete the necessary procedures to guarantee the administrative functioning of the department of Antioquia,” according to the Attorney General

The Attorney General alleges that Gaviria “incurred in contract crimes without compliance with legal requirements in homogeneous competition" as well as "embezzlement by appropriation in favor of third parties."

“[I]n the contract for the improvement and paving of the Troncal de la Paz -- La Cruzada - Caucasia section -- signed in 2005 for a value of COP$41.66 billion [US$11.7 million], an advance payment of 25% was initially agreed and then it was extended to 29%, which meant almost COP$1.5 billion [US$420,000] more for the contractor. This amendment ignored essential legal requirements, such as planning and transparency principles.

“In addition, it was found that the aforementioned advance was paid without the approval of a contractual guarantee that would ensure the correct destination of the money. This omission caused the contractor to invest more than COP$10 billion [US$2.8 million] in machinery and equipment.

“The investigation revealed that two additions were made to the initial contract, which would also have failed to comply with the essential principles of public procurement. One represented about COP$4 billion [US$1.1 million] for adjustments of a specific sector of the same [highway]; the other, by means of a contract addition, was carried out four days before the end of the governor’s term and contemplated the construction of an access road to the municipality of El Bagre, Antioquia.

“This last matter, which committed more than COP$16 billion [US$4.5 million], had to be the subject of a new selection process and could not be part of the original contract,” according to the Attorney General.

Since Governor Gaviria “was the legal representative of the Department [and] the authorizing officer of the expenditure, even if he had delegated the function of contracting, he had to exercise the oversight, coordination and control of the delegation,” according to the Attorney General.

Governor Gaviria flatly denied the charges -- citing evidence he already delivered to the Supreme Court -- and accused his political competitors of cooking-up the prosecution as an act of political revenge.

As required by Colombian law, President Duque on June 5 appointed a temporary governor (Antioquia General Secretary Luis Fernando Suárez Vélez) until the coalition of parties that backed Governor Gaviria in the last election can name his replacement.

Writing in his Twitter account, President Duque added that "I respect institutionality [of the Court order requring Gaviria to step-down]. I have known and worked with Dr. Aníbal Gaviria for years; I have deep respect, appreciation and recognition for him. My solidarity with him and his family."

Published in general news Written by June 03 2020 0

Colombia’s Health Ministry reported that as of June 2, 31,833 people had contracted Coronavirus nationally since tracking began four months ago -- including 1,009 deaths and 11,142 recoveries so far.

Bogota is by far the worst at 10,743 cases including 267 deaths, followed by Atlantico (4,550 cases); Cali/Valle del Cauca (3,714); Bolivar (3,364); Amazonas (1,852); Antioquia (1,200); Meta (981); and Cundinamarca (983).

Despite being Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin itself has had only 557 of Antioquia’s 1,200 total cases – 245 of which are active, with 309 recovered.

What’s more, Medellin has had only three Covid-19 deaths – none in the last six weeks, and the best rate in all Colombia per 1 million inhabitants -- compared to Bogota’s national-worst 267 deaths.

Even more remarkable, nearly all Medellin Covid-19 patients are recovering at home, with only seven people in hospital -- four of which are in intensive care units (ICUs), the other three in regular care. Technology innovations in telemedicine are aiding the home-care efforts.

As a result, Medellin has plenty of spare ICU capacity for future “critical” Covid-19 cases, capacity of which Medellin is expanding in any case at Clinica La 80 and elsewhere.

Simultaneously, Medellin leads all Colombia in orderly, organized and relatively biosafe economic recovery -- pioneering in the reopening of many industries and even shopping centers.

How does Medellin do it?

In a June 3 posting to his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DQuinteroCalle/) Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero largely credits the “MedellínMeCuida” computerized data-capture and analysis program for relative success in thwarting Covid-19.

“'#MedellínMeCuida' is perhaps the most effective strategy against Covid-19 in all of Latin America,” according to Quintero.

“However, despite the fact that many believe that it is an application, it really is a revolutionary way to rethink state intervention.

“It was born in principle with the name of ‘Equipos Territoriales de Atención Integral Familiar’ [Territorial Teams for Comprehensive Family Care] in our government programs, chosen [by the Medellin City Council] with the highest vote in the history of the city and endorsed in the Development Plan, allocating about 25% of the [family-care] budget.

“In itself, ‘MedellínMeCuida’ is a system that is based on providing comprehensive care to families in the territories -- especially health, psychological and social care, the fight against malnutrition and access to education in the territories.

“After the pandemic started, ‘MedellínMeCuida’ faced a test of its capacity and efficiency. We developed in-house, with developers from the Mayor’s Office, a platform that allowed us transparency on who received support, and measured [Covid-19 response] effectiveness. [As a result], Medellín was the first city [in Colombia] to bring aid to a territory.

“’MedellínMeCuida’ was integrated with the '123' [emergency call-line platform], the SEM (Sistema de Emergencias Médicas Medellín y Antioquia [Emergency Rescue Service]), Sisben [Sistema de Identificación de Potenciales Beneficiarios de Programas Sociales – Colombia's welfare-eligibility classification system] and others. We use advanced analytics, geo-referencing, and data-science strategies that have helped reduce uncertainty in decision making.

“’MedellínMeCuida’ also proved its effectiveness during the process of economic reopenings. Companies registered their employees, uploaded bioprotocols and were able to open much faster. It improves our ability to fence-around local Covid outbreaks, and increases efficiency in the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations.

“Thanks to ‘#MedellínMeCuida’ and ‘#MedellínMeCuidaEmpresas’ we learned who still needed help and who did not. For example: Last week we gave aid to 100,000 families who we were certain had no income because they have not recovered their jobs.

“Then we integrated ‘#MedellínMeCuida’ with the Metro [public transit] system and we were able to know the percentage of [transit] occupation in real time with detail by economic sector, allowing agreements to be reached with various [industrial/commercial] sectors to adjust their work schedules [to avoid overcrowding].

“Information is a powerful tool. There are terrible cases in the world where information has been used for evil purposes. For this reason, we take very seriously the way information is obtained and managed,” he added.

Published in general news Written by May 28 2020 0

The Medellin Mayor’s Office announced May 27 that a test reopening program at three shopping malls here confirms that Covid-19 biosafety compliance indeed is feasible -- clearing the way for broader mall reopenings on June 1.

“About 18,000 people [initially] participated in the pilot program to reopen shopping centers in Medellín” that started May 25, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The test reopenings at Oviedo Mall, Mall La Frontera and Gran Plaza attracted some 6,500 shoppers on May 25, another 10,000 on May 26 and thousands more on May 27, according to the Mayor's press bulletin.

“The balance is very positive,” said Medellin’s Secretary for Territorial Management and Control Alejandro Arias García. “People made their purchases, complying with strict biosecurity protocols, respecting authority and acting civilly, which is the perfect combination to create this balance between protecting against the Coronavirus but also protecting employment and the economy,” Arias added.

As a result, “with the compliance of protocols by vendors and visitors, it is estimated that on June 1 other shopping centers will come into operation,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

“Citizens are reminded that those who want to make purchases in these establishments must register on the Medellín Me Cuida platform [see: https://www.medellin.gov.co/medellinmecuida], have the CoronaApp application installed [see: https://coronaviruscolombia.gov.co/Covid19/aislamiento-saludable/coronapp.html]
and activate Bluetooth on their mobile phones to enter,” the Mayor’s Office added.

The “Medellín Me Cuida” and “CoronaApp” platforms enable health officials to contact people who potentially have been exposed to Covid-19 and trace movements of potential Coronavirus carriers.

While some worry about privacy invasion by such applications, others are glad to know that health officials are indeed looking-out for their safety by ensuring prompt alerts of potential or actual infections.

For example: South Korea officials report tremendous success with cell-phone-based Covid-19 data capture, alerts and contact tracing, vastly reducing Coronavirus outbreaks while enabling much-faster economic reopenings.

Published in general news Written by May 27 2020 0

The Medellin Mayor’s Office on May 27 unveiled a COP$4.48 trillion (US$1.2 billion) “EcoCiudad” (Eco-City) “Medellín Futuro” four-year budget that includes environmental protection, education, recycling and expansion of zero-emissions transport.

“The capital of Antioquia is committed to increasing protected areas, strategic ecosystems, restoring forest cover and guaranteeing the protection of the watersheds and micro-watersheds that supply it through the payment for environmental services projects,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

The plan will “restore and protect around 3,000 hectares of aqueduct-supplying basins, in addition to strengthening the development of green and sustainable infrastructure that improves the urban quality and ecological conditions of the city.

“For this, the La Aguada Wildlife Refuge will be implemented and the connectivity of forested areas will be increased with 4,000 square meters of green corridors, allowing the movement of animals such as foxes and opossums,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

“The La Perla Animal Welfare Center and the rescue program for major species will be strengthened with comprehensive care for highly vulnerable street pets with rescue services, comprehensive medical care (deworming, vaccination, diagnostic aids, hospitalization, surgery and special care), food, accommodation, microchip implantation and admission to the adoption program.

“The care and population control of pigeons, as well as the management, protection and proper management of bees are also part of the project,” according to the bulletin.

As for the 56 primary streams and 4,161 secondary waterways around the city, “6,000 linear meters of streams will be intervened to reduce flood events in the city,” according to the Mayor’s Office.

As for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction initiatives, “Medellín has developed a greenhouse gas inventory in its alliance with the C40 climate leadership network that serves as a baseline to become carbon neutral by 2050. Actions have been prioritized to reduce emissions by 5% in 2023, 20% by 2030 and 100% by 2050,” according to the bulletin.

As for solid waste minimization, “a pilot plant will be implemented for the reuse of solid waste” along with new training and protection for existing recycling workers.

On yet another front, the project includes aid for plant nurseries, environmental advisory committees, training for the design and implementation of urban eco-gardens and “environmental awareness in the proper separation of solid waste,” according to the bulletin.

Published in general news Written by May 22 2020 0

Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero announced May 22 via his Twitter account that three different types of malls will be opened to the public here -- under strict biosafety protocols -- starting Monday, May 25, as a run-up to the planned reopening of more malls starting June 1.

According to the Mayor, the three shopping malls – Oviedo (Poblado), La Frontera (Medellin-Envigado border) and Gran Plaza (downtown) -- will enable people to re-experience mall shopping, banned since start of the March quarantine.

However, strict biosafety controls will be enforced to avoid Covid-19 infections.

Besides mandatory use of masks and physical distancing by all employees and all shoppers, the biosafety protocols also will include disinfection stations, body-temperature-takings, data capture and limits on numbers-of-people at points-of-entry.

Personal data including cedula numbers and cell-phone numbers will be captured electronically in order to enable health officials to implement contact tracing and -- if necessary -- order individual quarantines in case of discovery of any Covid-19 infected person that might have come in contact with other shoppers or employees during the day of entrance into the mall.

Colombia’s new national biosafety protocol for shopping malls also limits total-people-access to 30% of capacity, so Medellin will follow those rules as well.

Published in general news Written by May 21 2020 0

Antioquia’s General Secretary Luis Fernando Suárez announced May 21 that 115 towns in Antioquia that haven’t had a single case of Coronavirus have now been freed from quarantines for nearly all economic sectors.

None of these towns are in the Medellin metro area (Valle de Aburra), however. Nor is the city of Rionegro, where Medellin's international airport is located.

“The Ministry of the Interior gave the guarantee so that the municipalities of the department without Covid-19 cases and located outside the Aburrá Valley can advance in the gradual and safe reactivation of the economy,” according to the official press bulletin from the Antioquia departmental government.

“Although Antioquia is prepared for this new stage, Governor Anibal Gaviria, in a direct dialogue with the 115 mayors of the municipalities located outside the metropolitan area, gave them the freedom to each independently define whether the reopening of their municipality occurs.

“For this, the mayors must issue an administrative act based on the authorization that the Ministry of the Interior has already issued.”

However, “the pandemic is dynamic and every day the scenario changes,” so reopenings can be suspended depending upon future Covid-19 outbreaks, according to the bulletin.

"Every day we must be doing monitoring, measurement and control and it is at this stage that a municipality that was declared 'non-Covid,' the next day may be a 'Covid' municipality, because cases appear,” Suárez added.

“This scenario requires that the mayors who are going to issue the administrative act review the website of the Ministry of the Interior, in a link provided for them, so that upon the certification of [Covid-free] municipalities, a gradual and safe reopening of the economy” can occur.

“Control, monitoring, and compliance with protocols for the gradual opening of the economy are essential, with the use of personal protection measures by people who work in commercial establishments,” the bulletin added.

“We will continue recommending ‘pico y cédula’ [shopping-days rotations], mechanisms that ensure that there are no crowds in establishments and on public roads,” Suarez said.

“The restriction of the educational sector [banning physical attendance at schools] continues until the Ministry of Education authorizes it, just as the restriction for swimming pools and parks, and restaurants can only operate with home-deliveries,” he added.

Meanwhile, Governor Gaviria “has been leading a campaign so that children in the rural areas can return to school due to the [internet] connectivity problems that exist in these areas,” a petition that “awaits the approval of the Education Ministry,” according to the bulletin.

“For this gradual and safe reopening of the economy [in the 115 towns], health checkpoints [on roads] will be strengthened over the next 15 days, to prevent the virus from arriving from other regions, as has happened with the latest registered cases,” the bulletin concluded.

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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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