Carlos Eduardo Correa, Mayor of Montería, Colombia
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Mayor of the Month for May 2014
Carlos Eduardo Correa
Mayor of Montería, Colombia
Interviewed by Adriana Maciel
1 May 2014: After barely two years in office, the Mayor of Montería has been voted the most popular local politician in Colombia. Carlos Eduardo Correa won the October 2011 mayoral elections by promoting business friendly policies and stressing the importance of education. The mayor believes that even in a region that is famous for its agribusiness and produces some of the best cattle in South America, young people must embrace modern technologies and become outward looking.
In an interview, Mayor Correa told City Mayors that his administration had introduced a program instructing teachers in new technologies. They are also trained to become 100 per cent bi-lingual and sent on courses in the USA and New Zealand. Sustainable development and crime prevention are two other priorities of the Mayor of Montería. The organisation, which carried out the research into mayors’ approval ratings, described Carlos Eduardo Correa as one of the city’s greatest assets.
Born in Montería in 1973, Carlos Eduardo Correa studied business administration at the EAFIT University of Medellin, and has an MA degree in Marketing by the ‘Instituto de Empresa’ of Madrid, Spain. He joined the private sector, where he first gained practical business experience in an oil extraction company and worked later for companies such as Ecopetrol and Hewlett Packard. As a passionate believer in education, Correa also dedicated twelve years of his life to teaching at university. He stresses that the experience and knowledge gained in business and academia are contributing every day to his duties as mayor.
Montería, with a population of some 400,000, is the capital of the Department of Córdoba, in northern Colombia. Its strategic location along the Sinú River gave rise to the middle class lifestyle enjoyed by the city’s residents whose livelihood historically depended on cotton farming and cattle ranching. Many of the cattle farms and ranches around Montería promote the local cattle industry by celebrating an annual livestock show and festival every June. The city’s unique cultural vibe is a result of the blend between Spanish settlers, African plantation workers, Zenu Indians and Arab immigrants.
Interview with Montería Mayor Carlos Correa
City Mayors: You were for many years a successful businessman. What made you go into politics and aim to become Mayor of Montería?
Mayor Correa: My motivation was definitely to serve my city, to apply what I learned from the private sector and the academia in building an equitable, fair and innovative city.
City Mayors: Success in business is largely measured by profits, while in the public sector social considerations are of prime importance. Are you able to use some of the experiences you acquired in the private sector in your new role as first citizen of Monteria?
Mayor Correa: Yes, of course. In the private sector, planning, efficiency and control provide the tools to promote and evaluate success. I have applied similar tools since I took office in order to obtain measurable results. But we asses social profitability, not profit, i.e. indicators showing improvements in poverty, inequality, mobility, etc.
City Mayors: You claim to be passionate about education. You have begun to introduce computer technology into schools and to improve the built environment. Do you also have plans for a curriculum to prepare children for a future in an international environment? For example, do you wish for schools to intensify foreign language teaching and introduce subjects that would give children an insight in how other countries and cultures function?
Mayor Correa: I'm one of those who believe that through education we can make a change, and that is why we are giving children and young people at school the tools to learn to be better human beings and to be competitive, so that they can have more and better opportunities when graduating. We have a bilingual program in Montería that has so far reached more than 16,000 students in 13 educational institutions with whom we are working intensively to improve the teaching and learning of English, our second language. When I took office some two and a half years ago, only three institutions had already implemented this program. We now have expanded its coverage; the goal is to reach all 60 official education establishments we have in the city. We also aim to offer free English language lessons to any citizen in public parks to make it accessible to everybody.
We also have a teachers training program through which we send ten teachers to the United States. This year we are also sending twenty more to New Zealand. Our intention is to make it a public policy and to provide teachers and students with the opportunity to see a globalized world. In addition, we have an innovative program at the teachers training college where teachers learn new technologies and are trained to be 100-percent bilingual. We shall include ‘civic culture and environment’ as a subject in the Institutional Education Plan.
Last year we launched a program of free tablet computers to provide students with access to the internet and improve their study skills for the ‘Saber’ (knowledge) tests, as these tools have the proper academic content to strengthen basic skills.
City Mayors: Security is one of the main concerns of citizens in cities across the world. You have started to address those concerns by increasing the number of police officers and reorganizing the metropolitan police. Have you also introduced crime prevention programmes and / or research into the main causes of crime?
Mayor Correa: Since 2012, when I took office, we have increased the number of police officers from 394 to more than 1000 and re-organised coverage to allow greater presence of police officers in the entire city. By the middle of this year, we will have re-organised the Metropolitan Police, providing it with proper infrastructure and equipment to do its job. Another strategy we have implemented is a CCTV system. Some 50 security cameras, which will be permanently monitored, will start operating later this year.
City Mayors: Many poorer people in Monteria and surrounding areas are still living in sub-standard accommodations. How do plan to improve the living conditions of poorer people and provide them with basic housing needs?
Mayor Correa: As a city Monteria receives many migrants. According to figures by the ‘victims’ assistance centre’, some 55,000 people have come to the city in search of new opportunities. These families have settled in the outskirts of the city, in high-risk areas without access to any kind of services. During the past twelve years, 800 low-cost homes, subsidized by the government, were built in Montería. Under the present government, we have managed to build 5,000 homes to provide decent housing with access to public services, parks, security, thus reducing the housing deficit of 35.000. Over the next 18 months, we will start building 3,700 additional homes. We have also made progress in providing more than 4,000 building plots and 1,600 housing improvements.
In addition, the reach of sewage system has been increased from 53 to 86 percent. By late 2015, we will have connected 100 per cent of all households, which will improve public health enormously.
City Mayors: You have been Mayor since 2012. What have been your principal achievements since you assumed office and could you have achieved more?
Mayor Correa: We have accomplished many things for the city during these two and a half years, but I think the most outstanding ones are the housing projects; the sewerage system expansion; the strengthening of public security and the creation of public space; the development of the Sinú River, which runs through the city, as a tourist attraction; and being on the platform of sustainable and competitive cities in the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and in the Financial Institution for Development (Findeter). All this will allow us to prepare a 30-year plan for the city.
The fact of being on the platform of sustainable and competitive cities has promoted Montería internationally. Last April, I had the opportunity to participate as a panellist at the VII World Urban Forum organized by UN Habitat, and most experts gathered there agreed on two important issues: equity and planning. It is essential that mayors project and plan the city long-term, thinking about the legacy they will leave to future generations.
City Mayors: Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important in the international agenda. What measures are you taking to improve the environment and prevent environmental damage in Montería?
Mayor Correa: As I mentioned earlier, Montería is on the platform of sustainable and competitive cities and Findeter, and we are working with them on a plan that sets out the actions that must be performed by the local authority to have environmental, urban and financial sustainability and governance.
Monteria signed the ‘Pact of Mexico’, where we reaffirmed our commitment to fight the effects of climate change. We have a master plan in place to counter climate change with various defined actions in which we have already made significant progress. Montería was one of the five finalists from a list of 2,000 cities - of the WWF Earth Hour at the City Challenge.
The initiative to plant one million trees, implement solar energy in education institutions in rural areas and two car-free days a year, among other initiatives, made us worthy of this recognition. Moreover, we also launched a pioneering program in Colombia called ‘Citizen Social Service’, in which initially 1,800 young students taught civic culture and environment. This year some 16.000 young people will be educating citizens in open spaces.
City Mayors: How do you promote culture in Monteria?
Mayor Correa: Our city has an enormous cultural wealth. We have very talented people ranching from sweet makers, who enrich our gastronomy, to talents in areas such as theatre, dance and music. There are two major festivals during which we promote our culture. One of them is the ‘river festival’, created in 2012 at the start of my administration. It will take place from 4 to 13 June of this year. The festival gathers events around our heritage, such as the Sinú River, involving cinema, gastronomy, crafts and culture and the reign of the river. Through this, we are committing ourselves to turn Montería into a tourist destination, and citizens turn their attention to the river. The other one is the Silver Swallow Festival, which is a platform to exalt the local, regional and national musical talent with fused rhythms of the Caribbean, such as porro and cumbia.
City Mayors: Do you work with other mayors, national or international, on issues concerning cities?
Mayor Correa: Yes, with the mayors of Colombia we have been working on national issues that concern us all. Most cities have the same kind of problems. I am the vice-president of the Association of Capital Cities, a body that allows us to interact directly also with the central government and the President. Together we build strategies to help us solve the problems we have in our cities. Besides, I do always generate spaces to explore best practices.
City Mayors: Your first term ends in 2016. What are your plans for the rest of your term in office and, do you plan to run for a second term?
Mayor Correa: To make the largest investment in education infrastructure in history; to leave the Strategic Transportation System functioning; to start the construction of the green route, to provide about 30 kilometres of cycle lanes; to strengthen the health system; to double public space; to develop the city facing the river; and to deliver Montería’s plan of action for the next 30 years by the end of 2014. About running for a second term, my priority is to complete my term properly and accomplish all I have mentioned before, among other projects, and thereafter continue to serve the city.
City Mayors: New York City’s most famous mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, once said: "A mayor who cannot look fifty or seventy-five years ahead is not worthy of being in City Hall." How do you see the future of Monteria?
Mayor Correa: Mayors must think in long term about city planning based on serious studies to be able to make decisions in the short, medium and long term. Many of the decisions I have made so far will not have an immediate impact but will be important in the future. I envisage Montería as a city with greater social equality, with much open public space, recognized as the world’s capital of linear parks, as an environmentally sustainable city, with sustainable and equitable growth.
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