Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Curfew imposed on government contracting transparency as well

By on May 7, 2020

Comptroller Yesmín M. Valdivieso (CB file)

Agencies have 15 days after curfew ends to submit contracts signed to Comptroller’s Office

By Rafelli González Cotto

SAN JUAN — The same day the amendment to the executive order of the governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez Garced, entered into force, restoring the curfew to 7 p.m., the Office of the Comptroller also made a substantial change to norms that guide the registration of contracts.

Through Circular Letter OC-20-20, Comptroller Yesmín M. Valdivieso extended for 15 days after the curfew is over, the period to register and submit, through the Contract Registry application, “all contracts granted whose term expire during said period.”

In addition, it was made possible that contractors sign agreements with the government even when not meeting the legal requirements to provide goods and services amid the COVID-19 emergency on the island.

“During this emergency period, they can proceed with [the services] established in any contract duly formalized by all parties. In the event that the contractor does not have available the documents required by law for the formalization of the contract, they must provide them within 60 days of the end of the Curfew,” reads part of the two-page order dated April 15, 2020.

CB en Español / Caribbean Business learned of this directive when requesting a contract that was not registered on the Office of the Comptroller’s Contract Registry website after sources assured it exists and questioned the reasons for which the agreement was reached.

“Remember that you can only make amendments to existing contracts. If any contract expires during the emergency period and…services have yet to be completed or rendered, once work restarts regularly, a new contract for such purposes must be prepared. Said new contract must refer to the expired contract, as well as the tasks or services that were not completed or performed and indicate that the contract is made to complete or carry out the same,” the order added.

This circular letter had the effect of eliminating the previous directive, which required that on or before April 17, all contracts whose term registry expired between March 16 and March 30 be registered.

This order does not have the effect of allowing the government to keep its contracts secret, because it only regulates the delivery of the documents to the Office of the Comptroller and not to the citizens, who own the public information created and guarded by the state.

These new guidelines will prevent citizens from having access to government transactions while the State of Emergency decreed by Vázquez Garced is in force. The publication of these contracts is at the discretion of the governor, who is the only one who can determine the day on which her curfew order will be lifted, a decision that will activate the 15 days her administration will have to reveal the contracts that have been authorized.

“Improving the oversight and administration of property and public funds is everyone’s commitment,” the comptroller concluded in her circular letter, at a time when the island, its news organizations and the Health Committee of the House of Representatives have uncovered government-contracting scandals, such as a payment, made in less than 24 hours, of $19 million to Apex General Contractors for the eventual purchase of serological tests that would have cost a total $38 million but never arrived and other agreements with companies whose associates are closely linked with top New Progressive Party officials or donate to the ruling party.

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