La Fortaleza sheds light on permitting reform
SAN JUAN – Vowing to implement a more agile and efficient system, La Fortaleza announced Tuesday the filing of its permitting reform in the Legislature, the “second great reform” after the signing of the Labor Transformation & Flexibility Act, said Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario.
Once again accompanied by representatives of the private sector, the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló generally outlined initiative, including the implementation of a Unified Information System, in which all processes related to the granting of business permits would be integrated.
Moreover, permits would be obtained automatically, but only for “ministerial use,” explained Sen. Larry Seilhamer, who will be responsible for the the bill’s legislative process along with Rep. José “Pichy” Torres Zamora.
In the case of municipalities, these would have to adopt uniform rules, as well as join the integrated information system. Seilhamer said the Autonomous Municipalities Act would not be undermined and that permitting reform will not entail an additional cost to municipalities. Similarly, municipalities will retain the power to deny a permit, “but now the person won’t have to wait so long to know if he got the permit or not,” Rosario explained.
Asked by Caribbean Business about when the government expects to have the new permitting system implemented, the Public Affairs secretary replied that it should not take long and depends to a great extent on the time the legislative process takes, which will include public hearings. However, he did not mention a specific date.
Meanwhile, María Palou, La Fortaleza’s development and infrastructure adviser, explained that the digital system “is quite developed,” and will only require additional applications. As for the cost, both Palou and Rosario assured it would not be “significant” and that more money will enter government coffers and the economy than would cost implementing it.
The reform would also consolidate construction, reconstruction, remodeling, demolition and urbanization works into one single building permit. Engineer Ian Carlo, director of the Permits & Endorsements Management Office (OGPe by its Spanish acronym), said this permit could take about five days to be evaluated.
The initiative would also make OGPe’s complaints system independent, transferring it to the Planning Board. In addition, La Fortaleza indicated that an “expeditious and transparent judicial review process” would be established for issues related to permitting, having specialized panels of judges, randomly selected, to deal with these cases.
Regarding this revision, Seilhamer said that one of the amendments would seek to have an officer or administrative judge, who does not answer to OGPe, addressing those applications. Each agency related to the permitting process would also have an official present at OGPe, the senator explained.
For his part, Palou noted that all permits would be audited by the Planning Board and that any engineer or architect knowingly certifying something wrong would be exposed to penalties, including losing their license.
Meanwhile, Carlo said that processes related to environmental protection would not be affected by permitting reform.
According to La Fortaleza, use permits, fire prevention certification, environmental health, licenses and authorizations are also consolidated under a “single permit.” The bill would also create a “single operational incidental permit,” which would consolidate such procedures as the authorization for cutting, pruning and transplant; general consolidated permit; general permit for other works; and incidental extraction permit for an authorized work.
Private sector support
Caribbean Business asked if the different groups from the private sector participated in the drafting of the bill, to which architect Ricardo Álvarez, president of the Builders Association, indicated that this was not the case. However, he explained that in several meetings with the Rosselló administration, they were given information on what the measure would contain and allowed for a general endorsement of the reform.
“We support any vision that promotes economic development,” Álvarez said, adding that the bill will be analyzed thoroughly and a few suggestions on amendments, if necessary, would be made. For him, the reform “focuses on the vision we have in the private sector and the third sector that the government should be a facilitator and not a promoter [for businesses].”
For his part, the president of the Engineers & Land Surveyors Association, engineer Ralph Kreil, also backed the administration’s efforts, saying “this legislation is serious and that is why we are here.”
For the Rosselló administration, permitting reform is the second of four “pillar” bills that will return the Puerto Rican economy to “better times,” including labor and tax reforms, as well as a reduction in water and electricity costs.