Friday, November 15, 2019

Smoke and Mirrors: The Puerto Rico Government Talent Bank

By on December 14, 2018

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló enacts a tax reform bill Dec. 10 (courtesy)

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Dec. 13-19, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.

“We will establish a methodical process for the selection of secretaries and agency chiefs and advisers aiding the governor, which will include standardized and periodic evaluations during the four-year term. Elected officials must commit to and be proactive in the prevention, detection and notification of acts of corruption,” reads page 91 of the master plan, titled “Plan Para Puerto Rico,” which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares vehemently referenced in debates, radio interviews and the media as the cornerstone of his 2016 election campaign.

At each opportunity, the strategists for the son of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló took this short paragraph to promote, by all possible means, a great idea: The Talent Bank.

Nearly two years since the leader of the New Progressive Party (NPP) was elected to take the island’s reins, that initiative has remained in a keepsake box. In fact, the website that was supposed to contain the form to request an evaluation as part of the process of selecting the best people to fill cabinet vacancies, www.planparapuertorico.com/unete, vanished along with the hope, for the first time in history, that a system would be established that could provide a real opportunity to hundreds of professionals, who dream of contributing to the island, by competing against candidates who traditionally occupy positions of power thanks to their contributions to political campaigns or the interests of the current administration.

Since August, Caribbean Business has been requesting from the administration’s press secretary, Rafael Vega, the results of that initiative. However, apart from a read-receipt Nov. 28, the efforts were unsuccessful, which raises a flag about the existence of that database.


Oversight felt at La Fortaleza

“No wonder the insistence,” reacted a source, who has full knowledge of the hiring process at the executive branch, after learning of the multiple requests made by Caribbean Business. “Since August, they have been insisting a lot that the resources of the Talent Bank must be used and that the heads of agencies cannot use outsiders,” said the source, who revealed the prevailing unease of several directors of executive branch entities, who have their hands tied when choosing their so-called trust personnel, or political appointees.

“Before August, each agency head brought their people and their team, except for certain positions such as communications, which Carlos Bermúdez picks along with Rossy Santiago. There is always the consideration that sometimes they said so and so must be named because he is the son of this person or that person, and sometimes [the appointments] came from lawmakers, mayors and politicians,” the source said, pointing directly to the former mayor of Yauco, the current NPP Sen. Abel Nazario Quiñones, when he was serving as assistant party secretary.

“In the other [party] positions, before Abel Nazario had his scandal, he had a lot of control over the appointments of the agencies and used as an excuse that they were in the Talent Bank. When they talk about the [Talent] Bank, the reality is the agency head doesn’t see it,” the source stressed.

So, what is the Talent Bank’s use? Caribbean Business asked.

“In the beginning, the Talent Bank was used if a candidate for deputy director or legal director or assistant was needed, to have a pool of options there, but since CB’s request, it has become mandatory. The requirement was by word of mouth and, during a meeting they held at the State Department, which was attended by almost all the heads of agencies, in which the topic of the Talent Bank was discussed,” the source said.

And what happened at that meeting?

“In essence, it was that there were rules that were not being implemented, that that was going to change and that from now on everything would go through the Talent Bank. But the truth is they use it as an excuse to place the people they want to reward. They never show the lists,” the source assured.

According to sources, the main problem with the so-called “Talent Bank” is that when an agency is about to name a person qualified for the position, but is denied, other government branches try to place someone who isn’t necessarily qualified, which damages the constitutional mandate of the separation of powers.

At the close of this edition, Caribbean Business learned that two main figures, one from La Fortaleza and the other from an agency linked to Puerto Rico’s economic development, exert undue pressure on agency heads to hire their relatives as a reward for actively participating in the political management of the NPP.

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