Government sued: ‘Chronicle of an anticipated legal dispute’
SAN JUAN – In light of the lawsuit filed by the fiscal control board to force the Government of Puerto Rico to implement the disputed reduction of workdays that would affect nearly 130,000 public workers, members of the Legislative Assembly united in condemning the entity established by the Promesa law.
Just minutes after lawsuit dominated the conversation in the island Capitol’s halls, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz used his speech during a special upper chamber session to question the federally created panel’s multimillion-dollar budget.
“What a shame to hear that what today is called the fiscal control board has an executive director who earns over $600,000 and intends to cut workers’ day to the worker, retirement pension and run over the less fortunate economically,” said the legislative leader.
Eduardo Bhatia, the Popular Democratic (PDP) minority leader in the Senate, said the lawsuit “is very revealing” because it is the first sample that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had the opportunity to “protest” the fiscal plan and did not do it in time.
“The governor has not provided a report on whether the government has achieved the necessary savings,” he argued. “The furlough comes in effect automatically if you do not comply with austerity [measures], and the question is, did you comply with austerity, yes or no?”
As for the negotiations between the fiscal board and Rosselló, Bhatia argued these should be public discussions, so people can learn firsthand what the real situation is in Puerto Rico at a time when fiscal insecurity reigns in all sectors.
“When one is bankrupt, one can’t be so secretive,” Bhatia said. “There is much of the fiscal plan that is illusory…a letter to Santa Claus. It’s an illusion. Much of the fiscal plan and the numbers are illusory numbers that don’t correspond with the reality of Puerto Rico.”
Juan Dalmau, spokesman for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) in the Senate, said that the lawsuit was “no new thing under the sun” because the entity had set the parameters to comply with the fiscal plan approved in mid-March from the start.
“What we are seeing at the moment is [a] chronicle of an anticipated legal dispute,” the senator said. “Regardless of the determination that is made, the substance of the problem continues of a country in its 11th year of economic recession, without a development plan.”
The pro-independence senator said that several scenarios could now proceed, including the possibility that the chief executive decides to defy the suit and not appear before the court; contempt before a court order or other ways of enforcing the furlough.
“All anticipated. The difference is more publicity; the governor wants it to look like he’s resisting something he accepted [in the fiscal plan] and is allowing a third party to decide that dispute. In this case, he wants the ball to be on the board’s court,” Dalmau said.
Meanwhile, independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot echoed the governor’s most recent statements by declaring to Caribbean Business that he is willing to go to prison to stop the board-requested furlough, which he called an affront to the people.
“I believe that being against [providing] working hours in a country that is chronically depressed economically, is ignoring that the work and the product of that work is in itself an essential element for the preservation of the country,” he said, referring to the board as a “disease.”
When asked if he considers that there is a real possibility of stopping the imposition of the furlough, Vargas Vidot said it is necessary to “dig trenches” in addition to stating that “if we all have to be taken prisoner, let’s go to prison” to stop the board.
Following the governor’s refusal to implement a two-day-a-month furlough for executive branch employees, the fiscal board on Monday filed a lawsuit to have the measure included in the fiscal plan, as well as a 10 percent cut to the pensions of more than 125,000 retirees.
On several previous occasions, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, said he was willing to use all available legal resources to stop the furlough. It is not known whether he continues to maintain that position only four days before Sept. 1.