Fortuño denies conflict of interest in appointment to Abertis’ board
SAN JUAN – Former Gov. Luis Fortuño said “it is an honor” to have been appointed to the board of Abertis Infraestructuras and ruled out any conflict of interest or irregularity in accepting the position at the governing body of the Spanish company.
In a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C., where he has been working as partner at Steptoe & Johnson after leaving La Fortaleza in early 2013, Fortuño said he has been a “private citizen” who works hard and isn’t a “politician anymore.”
“Conflicts of interest are outlined by the Government Ethics Act. Before accepting, I consulted with the Ethics Office and they issued an opinion,” the former governor answered when asked about criticism about his appointment to the toll road and infrastructure conglomerate’s board, which currently manages–through local subsidiaries–highways PR-22 and PR-5, as well as the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge.
The Government Ethics office said, Fortuño assured, that “there is no problem, that more than five years have passed; it verified Act 29 of 2009, which effectively states it is the board [of the Public-Private Partnerships Authority] that decides [public-private partnerships on the island].”
“Abertis didn’t sign any contract with the [Puerto Rico] government. It was Metropistas, owned by a consortium between Goldman Sachs and Abertis,” Fortuño said about the concession struck under his administration in 2011, which granted the operation of PR-22 and PR-5 to Metropistas for a 40-year period.
“There is no issue. The Ethics Act is clear on these issues,” he added in reference to his appointment.
Meanwhile, Fortuño couldn’t immediately specify how much he will earn under his new role since Abertis’ shareholders have yet to approve the appointment. They determine compensation, he explained. The former governor added that it would be a four-year term that includes 10 annual meetings, in addition to the work he carries out in committees.
“We would be there defending the interests of the shareholders…. It’s fiduciary work,” he continued. Although Fortuño admitted that there will be people who will criticize his decision, he assured that all the processes–both at the time of signing PR-22 and PR-5 contracts as well as his new appointment as director–meet applicable law.
“What they [Abertis] did Nov. 30 is an invitation subject to confirmation by the shareholders. I did not send my letter of acceptance until I had the [Government Ethics Office] letter in hand,” the former governor said. The Spanish company announced through a press release on Nov. 30 the appointments of Fortuño and former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, member of the European Parliament, as independent directors of Abertis.
A spokeswoman for the Government Ethics Office confirmed to Caribbean Business that Fortuño submitted a consultation Nov. 30, which was answered Dec. 5. When asked for the opinion issued, the official explained that consultations by former governors are confidential and it is at their discretion to make related details public.
After receiving the favorable opinion of the Government Ethics Office, Fortuño said he sent “the [acceptance] notice so it could be submitted to the Spanish stock exchange. The next thing is shareholders have to confirm us both.”
The former governor emphasized that public-private partnerships (PPPs) are “very important” for him and are collaborations on which he has worked on “before, during and after” he held office from 2009 to 2012.
“It’s a topic I know well,” Fortuño said, recalling how he has published several articles on the subject, given talks on at the local and international levels, and performed legal work related to the business model.
“The other thing [Abertis] explained to me is its target market is the United States. “[PPPs] are hardly known here,” the former governor went on to explain, noting how the Spanish company was interested in one of the two appointments having strong ties to the United States.
“Given the election of the Republican Party, they understood it was logical to seek a person who is akin the public policy to be established in the United States,” Fortuño told Caribbean Business.
He also mentioned how Abertis seeks to increase to more than half the number of independent directors on its board, which comprises 15 people.
Earlier this year, in April, outgoing Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration extended the PR-22 and PR-5 concession contracts granted to Metropistas for an additional 10-year period. Autopistas de Puerto Rico, which is wholly owned by Abertis, has controlled the San Juan metro area’s iconic Teodoro Moscoso Bridge since 1994.