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Fiscal board urges transfer of Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corp. to a private nonprofit

By on January 14, 2019

The fiscal board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, and chairman, José Carrión (Jaime Rivera/CB)

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board scolded the island’s government Monday for failing to submit certain budget reports and urged it to sell the Puerto Rico Public Broadcasting Corp. to a private nonprofit.

“The Oversight Board acknowledges and supports the Corporation’s effort to communicate and provide informative, cultural public interest programming for the people of Puerto Rico. But a transfer of ownership to a private non-profit entity can provide increased growth opportunities, enhance the programming offering provided to the people of Puerto Rico, and save the Government money,” José Carrión the fiscal oversight board’s chairman, wrote.

Already, he said, public broadcasting corporations across the United States are typically owned by foundations, membership groups or public universities and are funded federally and with private donations.

“The Corporation should similarly be independently owned and operated, while also shielded from political interests. The Oversight Board supports public broadcasting but the resources to finance the Corporation as a private non-profit can and should come from outside the Government so that the Government can prioritize its spending,” Carrión said.

The budget for PBC’s WIPR 940 AM station is currently funded by appropriations from the general fund, federal funds and other funding. However, most states provide limited or no funding to public broadcasting corporations. States that do provide funding to public broadcasting corporations, “provide a significantly lower percentage of the public broadcasting corporation’s total operating budget,” Carrión further added.

New Progressive Party Sen. Carmelo Ríos said in a radio report that WIPR is already on the block even though the government recently significantly invested to enhance its transmission capabilities. Reaction in social media included skepticism that WIPR could be sold unless profit could be made. Several performers said the station’s sale may result in fewer opportunities for local talent.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló later told the media that his administration has had a plan since it began, adding that it has “reduced” government agencies by 31 percent. Regarding the board’s request for a response within 90 days, the governor said that “is the recommendation; we can comply or not. The answer is we are going to evaluate all the recommendations. The analysis is being done for WIPR.”

Meanwhile, the fiscal board’s chairwoman, Natalie Jaresko, said the government did not submit reports to her panel in December describing budget to actual spending for the preceding quarter for different entities. On Dec. 3, the board wrote to Rosselló about a number of ways in which the government had failed to comply with the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa).

“We observed that the Government did not submit complete Section 203(a) budget to actual reports for the Commonwealth, PREPA [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority], PRASA [Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewer Authority], UPR [University of Puerto Rico], or HTA [Highways & Transportation Authority] for fiscal year 2018 and had not submitted complete Section 203(a) budget to actual reports for the Commonwealth, PREPA, PRASA, UPR, or HTA for first quarter of fiscal year 2019. We directed you to complete such reports for the Commonwealth, PREPA, PRASA, UPR, and HTA by December 21, 2018,” she reiterated.

On Dec. 21, however, the only complete budget to actual report the board had received was the commonwealth’s first quarter of fiscal 2019, but it has yet to receive budget to actual reports for the commonwealth for fiscal 2018 or for Prepa, Prasa, UPR and HTA for fiscal 2018 and the first quarter of fiscal 2019, she said.

She told the government to submit the reports by Jan. 18.

“Moreover, we remind you that the Section 203(a) budget to actual reports for second quarter of fiscal year 2019 are due (today) for the Commonwealth, PREPA, PRASA, UPR, and HTA,” she added.

Read the full text of the letters here:

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