Sunday, August 20, 2017

Proposed amendments benefit P.R. science trust

By on August 12, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the August 10 print edition of Caribbean Business.

SAN JUAN — For Daniel Colón Ramos, associate professor at Yale University, private sector trustee and member of the governing board that administers the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust, the proposed amendments to House Bill 1122 are crucial for the Trust to have greater representation of other sectors that could benefit the island’s economic development with their experience.

According to the expert in cell biology and neuroscience, the main amendment primarily is a change in the Trust’s governance that increases its powers to provide new opportunities for the private and public sectors to work together, as well as encourage continuity for some of the projects the Science Trust carries out that have proven successful.

“The amendments mainly change the Science Trust’s governance and some of its faculties. The trust currently operates with an 11-member board of trustees, six of whom were chosen from the private sector—that is, they were not fiduciary ex-officio—and the remaining five were representatives of the government—that is, ex-officio,” Colón Ramos explained in an interview with Caribbean Business.

“The situation has now changed with the fiscal crisis and the outcome of the Government Development Bank [GDB]—with the trust’s disbursements that came from the bank; that is, there are a number of issues that prompted the making of these amendments, but the final result is that it was decided to increase the number of trustees from the private sector to give greater representation to the different components of that sector, which we believe can benefit the Trust,” he added.

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By increasing the number of private sector trustees from six to nine, Colón Ramos explained that the number for the public sector will be reduced from five to only two. Once the Legislature approves the amendment, the Trust would be ready to choose three additional trustees from the private sector to form the organization’s governing board.

The spokesperson for the private trustees further explained that the first amendments to the bill were submitted by the executive branch in early July; however, the private trustees still had reservations. After Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares met with the Trust representatives, he welcomed them and integrated their comments with the new package of amendments to the bill.

“These amendments include input from private sector trustees and also from one of the Trust executives,” he said.

Importance of the amendments

Colón Ramos said these amendments reaffirm that the Science Trust is a private nonprofit entity that serves as an agent for the promotion, investment and financing of activities that strengthen scientific research to enable industrial innovation for Puerto Rico’s economic benefit. These changes, he said, also provide a continuity process for ongoing work and strengthen governance through retention of current private trustees and the chief executive officer.

“I think Puerto Rico’s greatest resource is not its land, but our minds, our creative capacity. The Trust is the arm that will help boost that, giving space [for] Puerto Ricans to be entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists. That is the aspiration, as well as their achievements. This is not an abstract issue; we have publicly broken down their achievements, and that is why we have been able to attract the trustees we have. This amendment helps us include more trustees. We are now in talks with the executive branch to suggest trustees for the island’s large private sector,” the scientist said, though he did not provide details on possible candidates.

“Another issue that was included was that the Trust is attributed powers it did not have before, so it can handle more of the proposals from the private and federal sectors. In addition, we will be able to serve as a health institute, an education institute, and those faculties that are granted to us legally, which gives us more flexibility to achieve goals that had been scattered, and be able to impact the biomedical, technological and educational sectors,” he added.

Regarding the creation of patents under the organization, Colón Ramos explained that the infrastructure for this depends on the institution where they come from, and should be analyzed individually. The Trust has the responsibility to assume and analyze the complete panorama over the creation of patents, which can be beneficial for the country.

“Over the past two years, we have been looking at that and have been making bilateral agreements with various institutions to create an infrastructure because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to infrastructure. You have the person with the idea, and what we want is to remove the barriers in order to get that person where he or she has to go. That is what is being worked on. It is a major program that is going to take a little time, but it is going well and, if it continues to do well, I think it would have a lot of potential in Puerto Rico,” he said while noting that not paying attention to Puerto Rico’s patent infrastructure would be a significant loss of opportunity.

Last week, during the Senate’s fourth extraordinary session, amendments to the bill were favorably received, with 24 votes in favor and two against—with the “no” votes coming from Juan Dalmau of the Puerto Rican Independence Party and Rossana López, of the Popular Democratic Party, and with four senators reported absent.

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