Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Congressional delegation to examine Puerto Rico disaster recovery, Promesa austerity measures

By on March 14, 2019

House Natural Resources reps to host public listening session; will meet with governor, fiscal board and review Prepa issue

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the March 14 – 20, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares will hold a meeting Friday at La Fortaleza with new U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who will be visiting the island with a congressional delegation to meet with community leaders and hear from the public. The committee will gather information on “failed federal recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria and the ongoing economic and social impacts of fiscal austerity.”

The governor said he will ask Congress—if the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) is amended—to specify the Financial Oversight & Management Board’s (FOMB) role regarding public policy.

“If they have the disposition to open the Promesa legislation again, I would focus on clearing up the language…that the FOMB cannot get involved in the government’s public policy or operational issues….”

Rosselló Nevares will take advantage of this meeting with Grijalva and other members of the lower chamber to talk about the island’s political status and the “decolonization of Puerto Rico.” The Natural Resource Committee oversees issues related to Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories.

Although the governor has not yet been invited to speak at the Friday session, Rosselló Nevares recommended that if they plan to amend Promesa, its language “needs to be immediately changed.”

“The FOMB’s [meddling], its attempt to run the government, creating obstacles in a number of matters has been of great detriment to the people of Puerto Rico and I think it has provoked the failure of the FOMB experiment…,” Rosselló Nevares said Saturday, after participating at the Puerto Rico Community Recovery Summit.

“This has been the biggest problem with the FOMB,” the governor added.

“We recognize there is a fiscal situation the island is facing, and we have worked on it. But the FOMB’s [interference,] of trying to run the government, has been detrimental.”

Rosselló Nevares said there are other areas the FOMB should focus on, and he will express these concerns to the congressional delegation.

“What should be changed is that the FOMB should focus on the Title III bankruptcy issues, the renegotiation of the debt, and see how more capital can reach Puerto Rico.”

The Congressional Community Listening Session will see residents speaking directly to lawmakers about their experiences and how Congress can address their needs.

“Residents are encouraged to arrive early and to ask questions,” the House Natural Resources Committee said in a statement.

“Those recognized to speak will be limited to three minutes, and members of the delegation may at their discretion request additional information from speakers. Speakers will be called on a first come, first served basis.”

The committee will meet with the FOMB to ask about the austerity measures it has requested the local government to implement, while also listening to Puerto Ricans about how they feel about Promesa and other issues. The listening session is slated to be held starting at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan’s Hato Rey district.

Grijalva will be joined by Rep. Gregorio Kilili Sablan of the Northern Mariana Islands, who will serve as vice chair of Insular Affairs.

The lawmakers, who will be on the island March 15-18, are former committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González.

Grijalva said in a video that this event will give members of Congress the opportunity to hear directly from the people of Puerto Rico about how to improve their quality of life and how best to address the fiscal austerity measures imposed by Promesa.

“Our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico should not be forgotten,” Grijalva said in the video. “And as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee here, in the House of Representatives, I and the members of that committee have not forgotten them. In these coming days, we will be visiting Puerto Rico for a learning session in which ordinary folk from Puerto Rico are invited to come and give us their views, their criticisms, their recommendations, their ideas, on how to go forward.”

Grijalva added that it is important to listen to the “people most affected” by Hurricane Maria’s devastation and the measures imposed by the FOMB.

“[We want to listen to] those who endured the hurricane, those who have endured the fiscal crisis and the austerity moves by the Oversight Board,” Grijalva said. “It’s vital that they be heard. And this is a listening session in which the members of the committee are not there to exchange points of view with the audience, but [are] there to listen to, and to listen closely. [We will] put all that together, come back to Washington and begin to look at the Promesa legislation and find out what needs to be reformed, what needs to be changed going forward.”

The chairman further noted that his committee considers Puerto Rico an agenda item of vast importance, and consequently to the U.S. Congress as well.

Those interested in participating in the listening session can sign up at www.eventbrite.com, searching for Congressional Listening Session on Puerto Rican Concerns. However, signing up does not guarantee attendance. “Organizers will make every effort to accommodate as large a group as possible.”

Before the listening session, the congressional delegation will hold a meeting with senior leaders of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss the island’s recovery status after the 2017 hurricane season. On Saturday, March 16, the delegation will visit the solar installation in the Toro Negro community of Ciales. Later in the afternoon, they will hold a briefing with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority officials. On Sunday, they will tour the Loíza Aldea community of Loíza, hold a meeting with island mayors and visit El Yunque National Forest. Finally, on Monday, they will meet with the governor and some of his staff, and later with the FOMB at its office in Hato Rey.

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