Saturday, October 24, 2020

Over 60 appointments, 25 bills to be addressed in 6th Special Session

By on September 15, 2020

Gov. Wanda Vázquez, left, said she will be nominating Public Affairs Secretary Osvaldo Soto to serve as Puerto Rico’s comptroller. (Courtesy)

Puerto Rico gov hopes legislature consents to picks, passes measures

SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced has convened a sixth special legislative session to address certain bills that were left unpassed this year as well as new measures put forth by her administration and at the request of the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

“The measures that we are most interested in highlighting in this special session are measures that we had and that we have been working on to combat one of the most terrible situations that Puerto Rico has faced in recent years and that is corruption,” the governor stated

Additionally, the governor announced that she would send a list with 28 judges and 38 prosecutors for consideration. The nomination that has garnered the most attention, even before being formally introduced, was not for the judicial branch. During Tuesday’s press conference, the governor officially announced she was going to nominate her Public Affairs secretary, Osvaldo Soto García, to serve as comptroller. 

Soto’s nomination has raised concern because the job of comptroller is generally given to a certified public accountant (CPA). Soto is not known to have any formal academic preparation in accounting or related fields, nor does he have comparable experience in oversight, transparency or accounting. 

Before the press conference, the CPA Society governing board approved a resolution asking Vázquez and the legislative leadership to not appoint Soto to replace Comptroller Jasmín Valvidieso, whose 10-year term ended this summer but the law states that she must remain in the position until both the House and the Senate confirm a successor. 

The CPA society board argued that given that the nature of the comptroller’s job is monitoring the influx and outflow of public money, the person should be a CPA. 

“By constitutional mandate, the Comptroller of Puerto Rico has the ministerial role of supervising all income, accounts and disbursements of the State, its agencies and instrumentalities, as well as of the municipalities, to determine if they have been done in accordance with the law and with the generally accepted accounting standards for government entities,” reads the society’s press release. 

“This is why, and in accordance with the Resolution approved in the General Assembly of the CPA Society on September 5, 2020, the Governing Board of the Society of Certified Public Accountants requests the Governor and the Legislative Assembly that the next person named and confirmed as Comptroller of Puerto Rico is a Certified Public Accountant,” the association added.

As for the bills, the governor highlighted a series of measures that would amend several existing laws that handle the contracting process. When it comes to subcontractors, Vázquez proposed amending Act 237 of 2004, which establishes the government’s contracting guidelines, and Act 18 of 1975, known as the Contracts Registry Act. 

The governor explained that the amendments seek to dissuade the common practice of hiring subcontractors because, if passed, companies with government contracts would need to notify before signing an agreement with the government that they would in fact be hiring a third party to conduct work for which it was selected, otherwise they would not be allowed to subcontract. Additionally, Vázquez proposed redefining subcontractors to include that these are also required to be in compliance with government requisites. 

As for the Contracts Registry Act, third-party contracts would also need to be submitted to the comptroller’s office, which oversees the registry, and must include a detailed description of the tasks for which the party is being outsourced. 

Other measures to be considered include giving the Treasury Department the ability to lend money to government instrumentalities that have run into liquidity problems due to their Covid-19 response, and putting the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) under the Health Department umbrella. Regarding the latter, the governor indicated that the federal government had insisted that ASES, which manages the island’s Medicaid funding, should fall under the purview of the Health secretary. 

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