Lawmakers introduce measure to question Puerto Rico officials, fiscal board
SAN JUAN – Saying they have not been given specific answers about Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation five months after Hurricane Maria hit, members of the minority Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in the island’s House of Representatives introduced a measure to question officials in Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration, as well as the fiscal oversight board for a public discussion on the matter.
The officials that House Resolution 792 proposes to cite to the Capitol are Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado; Office of Management and Budget Director José Marrero; the interim executive director of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Justo González; the executive director of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (Aafaf by its Spanish acronym), Gerardo Portela; and the members of the fiscal board.
“No one knows what’s happening, no one knows who to believe, and I believe the ideal thing here…is for us to establish a process where the governor of Puerto Rico and his fiscal [team] finally present the reality for which we are going through to the country,” PDP spokesman Rafael” Tatito “Hernández said at a press conference.
For the leader of the House PDP caucus, the discrepancies between the administration’s message and the requests for emergency funds do not give citizens a clear picture of the island’s current situation, and demanded that it be explained “how it’s possible that the Legislature approved $550 million in financing [for Prepa] and then the [fiscal oversight] board and the government requested a $1.3 billion loan.”
Likewise, PDP Rep. Jesús Santa Rodríguez pointed out the need to explain to the island and the federal entities in charge of authorizing funds what the disbursed funds will be used for, “because we don’t know where we are at. If you are going to ask for money, you have to tell the person you are going to ask what you are going to use it for.”
Regarding the uncertainty raised by the possibility of electric power rationing, both Santa Rodríguez and Rep. José Díaz Collazo stressed the lack of a unified message coming from the administration and the public utility.
“What we are asking [the administration] is to tell the people the truth, to be clear, that it be a single message so our people can make clear decisions. If the fake news and a message one day and another tomorrow continue, the people cannot make clear decisions,” Díaz Collazo said.
When asked whether the resolution could be endorsed by the New Progressive Party (NPP) majority, Hernández argued that the intention is also to cite the fiscal board publicly, thus the NPP caucus should ratify the measure.
“What we are seeking–in compliance with the Promesa law, which provides that once a year [the board] has to make an annual report to Congress–is that, amid this crisis and so much contradictory information flowing, that they come here. It is very difficult for the board to go to the 78 towns, the only space where they have access to those 78 towns, to the people, is in the Legislative Assembly. Our proposal is they come here, that they explain to us, that we enter into dialogue,” Hernández said.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain approved a $300 million loan from the commonwealth to finance Prepa’s operations to prevent it from having to halt operations. The PDP lawmakers said the action will only provide the weak public corporation with relief until March, and it is therefore necessary to evaluate additional alternatives to provide liquidity to the public power corporation.
“If today the approval of $300 million is only going to make a dent in resolving problems in the very short term, in a matter of weeks, and that Prepa needs liquidity to buy future fuel to meet the country’s energy needs, it is more than worthy that the board and the government are speaking the same language,” Rep. Javier Aponte Dalmau added.