Judge orders Puerto Rico gov’t to present budget submitted to fiscal board
SAN JUAN – Judge Lauracelis Roques requested Wednesday that the government of Puerto Rico submit, in a sealed envelope, the proposed budget it presented to the Financial Oversight & Management Board after the administration said it would appeal a determination to make the document public because it is protected under executive privileges.
Eduardo Bhatia, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority leader in the Senate, demanded transparency after an argumentative hearing over the lawsuit he filed to have budget-related documents made public.
The case had been sent to federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain, but she sent it back to local courts.
The government’s lawyer, Iván Ramírez Camacho, insisted that Bhatia’s request could not proceed because the requested document is a work in progress developed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s advisers.
“I think there’s no reason to be in court. This document should have been delivered to the press, to the public, as was the fiscal plan that was delivered in February. The budget of Puerto Rio, when given to the board on April 30, should have been made public immediately and the people have a right to see, to learn, to understand,” Bhatia said when leaving the San Juan court.
“The fiscal plan and the budget go hand in hand, if citizens don’t know if the budget contradicts the fiscal plan, they can’t do anything. The purpose of citizens in this case and all those who participate in the democratic process in Puerto Rico is to have the capacity to be in a position to challenge, to be informed, to see, to understand what the Government of Puerto Rico is doing,” the Popular Democratic Party minority legislator said.
When asked what kind of information could be relevant or different since the budget was approved, Bhatia replied that people have a right to know the government’s position on budget cuts such as those proposed for the University of Puerto Rico and municipalities.
“Who proposed the municipal cuts, the board or the governor? No one can see it, nobody can interpret it,” the senator stressed.
Former Senate President Bhatia’s attorney, Margarita Mercado Echegaray, lamented the possibility of the government resorting to the appellate court in order not to have to present the document. “It is unfortunate that this happens two months after the document was approved,” she said.
Mercado Echegaray said that, after the judge evaluates the document to determine if it is protected under executive privilege, she will decide if it is made public.