Sunday, January 29, 2023

[Editorial] Something Wicked This Way Comes

By on August 1, 2019

Editor’s note: The following was first published in print on the Aug. 2, 2019, edition of Caribbean Business.

First, greed; then, fear—that is the paradigm in the realm of corporate and government malfeasance that often ensues when officers commit high crimes. As pertains to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration, high crimes—32 indictments against two former agency heads and contractors—and the publishing of private messages between the governor and an inner circle of high-ranking officials did the government in. The Ricky Leaks—889 pages of a Telegram app chat laced with profanity and mockery against the LGBTT community, women, obese people and those who suffered preventable deaths—led to massive protests that forced the governor to submit his resignation, which is effective Friday, Aug. 2.

As this newspaper was going to press, most people in Puerto Rico were on pins and needles, focused on the naming of a suitable secretary of State to succeed Rosselló. This fly in the ointment came after Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, who was next in line after the resignation of former Secretary of State Luis G. Rivera Marín, announced she had little interest in occupying La Fortaleza—via Twitter, no less.

As everyone is focusing on this crisis of succession—asking will the successor be former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, former Senate President Kenneth McClintock, former Treasury Secretary Teresita Fuentes, Senate V.P. Larry Seilhamer or Dr. Iván González Cancel—there are movements afoot by some members of U.S. Congress who are not particularly concerned about who is ultimately named the designated survivor.

To quote one source on Capitol Hill with ties to the GOP: “We don’t really care, but ultimately it should be someone who speaks American English and is a good administrator. On the other hand, if they were for independence, that might be music to our ears.” That source knows that members on both sides of the aisle, along with President Trump, are contemplating using rescission to reroute disaster funds already earmarked for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Rescission is a process whereby the president proposes that funds in a previously provided authority by Congress be canceled. In this week’s Cover Story, Caribbean Business reports that the initiative to rescind the money is being discussed by representatives on the Hill who have reached out to the White House’s Legislative Affairs office to gauge Trump’s appetite for rescission. If the process gains traction, the plan is to use rescission “to do a different appropriation to direct the administration to use a very specific entry in the Promesa law where the OMB [Office of Management & Budget] would write a disbursement directive. So, OMB will say to all the agencies that any money destined for Puerto Rico will have to be sent to the [island’s fiscal oversight] board.”

The requests for proposal for the Home Repair, Reconstruction or Relocation program projects in the coming phase of disaster recovery funds require proponents to show evidence of liquidity, a price list on more than 3,000 items, as well as designs in advance. Construction managers looking to perform work within a large area must prove sufficient bonding capacity to cover, at a minimum, $25 million. For smaller contractors, the minimum is $5 million.

As this historic vortex pulls confidence in Puerto Rico down the drain, the island’s Legislative Assembly will be filing measures to enable referendums on constitutional amendments. If nothing else, if this crisis of confidence leads to amendments that improve our Constitution so a lieutenant governor is included on the ballot and the ability to conduct recall elections, as is the case in 19 states, something positive will have been achieved.

As to the prospects of the rescission of disaster-relief funding for Puerto Rico being employed, we must keep our eyes peeled. The message underpinning the indictments and the offensive discourse in the chat is that acts have consequences. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the consequences are dire for Puerto Rico’s reputation as a fertile jurisdiction for investment and for the prospects of sustainable development on this island, which has been mired in a 12-year economic slide.

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