House approves bill to annul debt audit commission
SAN JUAN – After a day of demonstrations and confrontations outside the Capitol, and with the lower chamber’s viewing gallery practically empty, the Puerto Rico House approved Tuesday evening in a party-line vote a bill to repeal Act 97 of 2015, which created the Commission for the Comprehensive Audit of the Public Credit. The elimination of the entity was justified by the alleged need to prevent the “duplication” of efforts and transferring the funds assigned to this body to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
The measure was approved despite the presence of protesters on the north side of the Capitol demanding the continuation of the commission’s efforts to audit the island’s debt. They also demanded access to the viewing gallery after the Superintendency of the Capitol ordered that access to the public be limited, a matter defended by House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez for “security reasons.”
While the representatives debated the measure, in the Plaza de la Democracia, demonstrators and police clashed, with some throwing water bottles and paint, and others, swinging nightsticks and using pepper spray. The Tactical Operations Unit was activated at a certain point and even the technical compliance adviser of the Police Reform, Arnaldo Claudio, arrived on the scene. Both students and police – 21 agents, according to a statement – were injured.
“That commission was never constituted as established by law. This administration has been consistent in protecting the credit of Puerto Rico, avoiding the duplication of functions,” said Government Committee Chairman Jorge Navarro, who presented the measure.
During the bill’s two-hour-long debate, Navarro said that former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla never appointed the members of the commission, limiting its effectiveness. He added that other agencies, such as the fiscal control board, can audit the debt and argued that the creation of the commission was controversial because it served to get the vote of several “dissidents” of the majority of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in the past administration.
“There has not been a single argument to establish that auditing the debt is unnecessary … If you object to the composition of the commission, amend it!” Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Denis Márquez said. The legislator said that objecting to an audit process is to prevent the dissemination of information on the debt and even a way to cover up those responsible.
“What are you afraid of, knowing the truth? Who are you protecting, your own? And who are the victims? The people,” said PDP Rep. Manuel Natal, who promoted the creation of the organization, despite the opposition of García Padilla. Natal indicated that an audit favors the people because not only the debt issued by the NPP administrations, but also that by the PDP will be investigated.
Although the discussion was about House Bill 785, authored by Speaker Méndez, Senate Bill 428 was voted on. In neither case were there public hearings.
The bill was approved without amendments and now goes to the governor for his consideration.