Donation to Former Gov. Calderón Foundation Called a Political Reward
SAN JUAN — Only days after former Puerto Rico Gov. Sila María Calderón Serra invited José Hill Román Abreu, who is running for a Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Senate seat for the district of Humacao, to the dais while endorsing him in a political event, the San Lorenzo municipal legislature was preparing Thursday to grant Calderón’s foundation a $40,000 donation.
That is how it was denounced to Caribbean Business by the majority New Progressive Party (NPP) candidate for mayor of that town and member of the municipal legislature, Jaime Alverio Ramos, who characterized the act as a political award ordered by the incumbent José “Joe” Román Abreu, who is the brother of the politician who received the former governor’s public blessing Saturday and who is also part of the Legislative Assembly of said autonomous municipality and chairs its Social Welfare and Government Committee.
Payment of the $40,000, which would be made from the donation fund and not from the operational fund, was to be made at 5 p.m. Thursday through Resolution 63-OT Series 2019-2020, an administration bill that seeks to grant said sum to the Centro para Puerto Rico de la Fundación Sila M. Calderón. A quick search resulted in a single mention of the municipality of San Lorenzo on the foundation’s website, which does not show any recent initiative that met the needs of residents. The bill also lacks any mention of the $40,000 being allocated to future projects that directly or indirectly benefit constituents.
Section 9.014 of the Autonomous Municipalities Act establishes that “the municipality may assign or donate funds or assets it owns to any nonpartisan nonprofit entity which is engaged in public interest efforts or activities which promote the community’s general welfare.”
“I believe in organizations such as the Sila María Calderón Foundation. They are foundations that are very important and there should be many more because of the social work they do, especially with the special communities. Nevertheless, it has been a long time since the former governor was seen at a political activity, and all of a sudden we see her participating in the announcement of the candidacy for the Senate of the mayor’s brother, who in turn is a municipal legislator, and several days later the municipal legislature of San Lorenzo is convened to approve a donation of $40,000 to the foundation of the former governor,” said Alverio Ramos, who recalled that the mayor himself acknowledged that his municipality faces an economic crisis in the M-20-02 Audit Report issued by the Comptroller’s Office in July, which indicated that 130 workers were classified as temporary employees for periods longer than those established by law.
“This figure is correct, and the situation has been worked on to the extent that the economic condition and the administrative reality of the municipality have allowed it. This, despite the fact that the municipality has faced great economic challenges and that we have been taking precautionary measures amid new economic challenges that the municipalities will face as a result of the economic situation that Puerto Rico is going through. We must bear in mind that carrying out the ordinary hiring and selection procedure to hire probationary career employees entails costs and in addition to this we must make employer contributions to the employee retirement system, which at this time most of the municipalities cannot do,” the mayor reacted to the audit’s finding at the time.
The letter in which the donation is requested is dated Nov. 22, just over two weeks before the brother of the mayor of San Lorenzo received the political endorsement of Calderón. (Courtesy)
“What we are questioning and denouncing is that if this is not a reward for the endorsement given, why are we making this denouncement? Because hundreds of people from San Lorenzo go to the municipality every day to ask for help, having real needs and the municipality always answers that there is none, that it is not possible and that they do not have the funds. That is what fills me with indignation, because if there is nothing for a people, are we then going to donate to an organization because days before its president participated in the political activity of someone so related to the municipal administration?” the municipal lawmaker questioned.
“Apart from the accumulated deficit, rural and country roads are destroyed, sports facilities are in terrible shape and the needs of our elderly people with homes in deplorable conditions could be mitigated,” concluded Alverio Ramos.
On the other hand, Carlos Rosado, a municipal legislator of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, admitted that he was still evaluating the document but showed that, if the allegations of the NPP lawmaker were true, he would vote against the donation.
“We would have to see for what purpose because the municipalities grant countless donations for civic activities. I would vote against it, but we must see the for how much…and the reasons there are,” the minority legislator said.
“Meanwhile, the president of the municipal legislature, Víctor Bonilla Sánchez, reacted to the allegations of the NPP candidate for mayor and assured that the introduction of the resolution complies with all the procedural provisions dictated by the law and the applicable regulations.
“We have donated to several foundations such as the Double A park and other foundations and [the disputed donation] should not be taken as a political issue, but they should rather look for how many jobs the foundation has created, what has been done and what is going to be done. It is a non-profit foundation for which I and all the volunteers of our country work for. I don’t know what the intention of the legislator is, that I respect minorities, I don’t know what the purpose was [for challenging the resolution],” said Bonilla Sánchez, who pointed out that the letter in which the donation is requested is dated Nov. 22, just over two weeks before the brother of the mayor of San Lorenzo received Calderón’s endorsement.
“The legislature has to see the act, not the assumptions and budgets of whether it was endorsed or not endorsed. I have to look at that as a body. We received a letter where she is requesting [the donation]. I don’t have the date, but that is the process…and that is what I have to look at, not other appreciations. We got the resolution on time, it was circulated, we will evaluate it and action will be taken on it,” he concluded.