New year: New mayor, Peñalosa’s first days in office

By bogotapost January 14, 2016
Enrique Peñalosa

Enrique Peñalosa assumed the role of Bogotá’s mayor on January 1.

First weeks of new mayor’s term in office are met with both optimism and outrage as he announces swathes of new policies

Enrique Peñalosa Londoño, the new mayor of Bogotá, took office on January 1 and unveiled more details of his ambitions for the city.

In his inaugural speech the mayor shared his vision of a city where nobody feels inferior or excluded, that is able to handle the capital’s growth, with better public spaces, improved healthcare, and improved schooling.

Noting that today the city faces “huge problems” he told the assembled crowds “there will be no miracles”, and “I am not a messiah”. The new mayor also assured them that in attempting to transform the city, his team have the equipment, knowledge, ability to work and passion to serve.

In terms of the specifics, he emphasised the need for cost reduction, citing “inefficiencies” and programmes with “debateable impacts”. He singled out the SITP, water company Acueducto and health provider Capital Salud as targets for reform.

Peñalosa also promoted the sale of the city’s part ownership of ETB, Colombia’s principal telecommunications operator, suggesting that the money could be better spent on schools, hospitals and parks.

When it comes to security – a key issue in the election campaign – the new mayor announced a scheme mirroring that of Medellín, to clean up hotspots, clearing away rubbish, increasing street lighting and police presence.

He is also keen on creating a unified control centre where emergency services can work efficiently together.

Predictably, transport has been the source of much debate. Peñalosa has made the most of the time since his election to champion his elevated metro plans, emphasise the importance of extending the Transmilenio network, laud the city’s cyclists and put forward road infrastructure proposals.

Saying “he treats us like idiots”, Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo slammed Peñalosa’s approach in a column in El Colombiano. He is especially critical of aspects of the metro plan, particularly the lack of studies to support an elevated subway on Avenida Caracas, and the idea that the subway tender process could begin in just 90 days.

He went on to tweet, “I will summon Mayor Peñalosa to the senate on the Bogotá metro”.

And it’s not just the mayor’s transport policies that are under fire. Calling it a ‘bad start’ in El Espectador, political scientist and columnist Arturo Charria hit out at his privatisation plans: “In his first 48 hours in office as mayor Enrique Peñalosa made his position in relation to public enterprises of the city clear: he wants to sell them”.

He criticised the mayor for wanting to sell off ETB and Codensa, accusing him of failing to understand the social and economic costs of such privatisation plans.

Clara López, a member of the Social Democratic Polo Democratico Party, took to social media, tweeting: “Bogotá must care for and preserve the public (companies), not privatise companies that still form part of our common heritage”.

Commentators and activists have accused him of destroying the city’s wetlands and criticised the planned closure of the city’s centres for drug addicts, the privatisation of ETB, the re-privatisation of the rubbish collection services, and the elevated metro plans.