Puerto Rico gov’t asks fiscal board to withdraw lawsuit to implement furlough
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s chief of staff, William Villafañe, asked the island’s fiscal control board on Monday to withdraw its lawsuit against the government for it to cut two workdays a month for public workers of the executive branch and reduce public pensions by 10%.
The request comes at a time when many public employees are working overtime on recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma blew past the island’s North East coast.
The emergency situation resulted in more than 1 million Electric Power Authority (Prepa) customers losing service and 372,000 customers of the Water and Sewer Authority (Prasa) without access to water in their homes and businesses. It also caused 6,200 people to seek refuge in shelters.
Recovery efforts have lowered those numbers, leaving 61,980 customers still without water and 372,000 in the dark, as well as 70 people in shelters. About 1,500 people have arrived in Puerto Rico from the Lesser Antilles because of the damage caused by Irma to their islands.
“I find it highly disturbing that the people delegated by [the U.S.] Congress and the White House to help Puerto Rico in the process of its fiscal crisis have not communicated even to ask about the state of Puerto Rico [after the hurricane],” Villafañe said indignantly at a press conference in which he provided the status of the island after the weather phenomenon. “It shows a lack of sensibility,” he added.
The official said the hurricane produced a “new scenario” in Puerto Rico that the board must take into account during the bankruptcy process under the Promesa law’s Title III underway in federal court.
This “new scenario” consists of a large number of people left homeless, damage to government infrastructure, especially in the energy sector as well as roadways, and the lack of water and electric power service for thousands of citizens.
“If there is something that would distinguish…the board to do is start withdrawing and giving up the lawsuit against the Government of Puerto Rico [to implement the furlough]…. It’s not that it bothers us, it’s an exhortation to be prudent,” Villafañe said.
The chief of staff confirmed that the government has yet to responded to the board’s lawsuit, although the governor said in the past that it would defend itself.
“That moment [to respond to the lawsuit] has not arrived, so they are in time [to withdraw it],” Villafañe told Caribbean Business.
The official said he did not know if there were any members of the fiscal board in Puerto Rico, other than its executive director, Natalie Jaresko, on the island during the hurricane.
He added that before the storm, there was communication with Jaresko and Revitalization Coordinator Noel Zamot to determine how Title V of Promesa, which highlights the importance of critical projects, could be used for recovery efforts following the weather phenomenon.