Puerto Rico comptroller should be an accountant, CPA Society asserts
Association doesn’t endorse governor’s nominee; lawmakers question Soto’s experience
SAN JUAN — The president of the Puerto Rico CPA Society (CCPA by its Spanish initials), Rosa Rodríguez, said the association passed a resolution asserting that it believes and will only back an appointee for government comptroller that is a certified accountant.
“So from that perspective, our reaction to the appointment [of Osvaldo Soto] is that the CCPA cannot favor that appointment,” Rodríguez said in an interview with Caribbean Business.
She explained that the past four 10-year appointments to lead the Comptroller’s Office have been of officials that are CPAs. She pointed to former comptrollers Ileana Colón, Manuel Díaz Saldaña, Ramón Rivera Marrero and the outgoing Yesmín Valdivieso as all being CPAs.
“Probably in 50 years all comptrollers have been CPAs,” she stressed. “This is an extremely important position… And we believe that, for starters, a CPA already has certain capacities and competence that makes them ideal to head the agency. This is due to our academic preparation, professional development, and that has a certain guarantee that the professional has a license that has to be validated.”
The Uniform CPA Examination must be passed to qualify for a certification to become a licensed certified public accountant. Rodríguez added that a CPA is the one “figure who can express an opinion on financial statements.”
CPAs must also take continuing education courses throughout their careers to be able to “remain at the highest level of our profession,” she said.
Rodríguez said that the CCPA is making the arrangements needed to express its concern in public hearings and let lawmakers know that “we support the designation of a CPA,” and speak about the “experiences and academic preparation that the person who is nominated should have.”
Gov. Wanda Vázquez announced Osvaldo Soto’s designation Tuesday at a news conference at La Fortaleza.
“At the Comptroller’s Office, there have been comptrollers that did excellent work and they were not CPAs,” Vázquez said. “I have complete trust in his knowledge, experience, integrity and most of all rectitude.”
Soto serves as La Fortaleza’s Public Affairs secretary, a position he held at the Senate as well before working hand in hand with the governor. Before the legislature, he was a journalist with Univision Radio, La Fortaleza said in its media release, which adds that he “holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Studies and Marketing from the University of Phoenix in Puerto Rico, and graduated from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico School of Law.”
On Wednesday, Soto said in a radio interview with WKAQ 580 AM that “a person that offers a completely different perspective, [a more] investigative [perspective],” is needed to head the Comptroller’s Office.
“It is a process of giving the resources to the auditors who are the ones who really carry out the municipal and government entities’ audits,” the nominee said, adding that he will work on obtaining federal funds for the agency to operate at the level needed.
Meanwhile, attorney Rafael Cox Alomar said in a radio interview with Radio Isla (1320 AM) that there are two posts that need advice and consent from both the House and the Senate, the comptroller and the secretary of State.
“If we continue appointing people without the preparation [needed] to the highest government posts, we will continue sinking in mediocracy,” Cox Alomar said.
For his part, Puerto Rico Senate Majority Leader Carmelo Ríos told Caribbean Business that “our protocol is to investigate, confirm and evaluate every candidate.” Regarding Soto’s deadline to submit the required documentation to begin the public hearing process, Ríos said, “as soon as possible, in the next 48 hours.”
The senator further said that some of the appointments made by Vázquez do not count with lawmakers’ “advice and consent.” The governor announced nearly 80 appointments, including judges and prosecutors.
“There are about six appointments that…will very likely not have our consent,” Ríos added. More specifically, he said the appointments were to fill court vacancies.
“As for Osvaldo, I have to say there is genuine concern,” Ríos said. “I don’t think anyone has spoken ill of his character or his capacity, but I am not sure that this is the position he should hold. I think he has good character; I know him, but this is not his expertise.”
“The person to be appointed as comptroller doesn’t even have to be an accountant or a CPA, but [does need to be] a person who has the trajectory, and that is a candidate that has our consent,” Ríos noted. “We are talking about a 10-year position, and there are people that would be a better fit.”
Ríos said that although he cannot speak for the New Progressive Party (NPP) delegation, he noted that NPP Sen. Migdalia Padilla has already said she was against the appointment, adding that “I wouldn’t favor it and [NPP Sen.] Henry Neumann has said that he has some concerns.”
“At the end of the day I don’t think there is a consensus,” Ríos stated.
Asked if the Senate will advise Soto to withdraw his nomination, Ríos said, “That is up to him.”
House Majority Leader Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló noted that House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez has said that Soto’s appointment “apparently does not have the votes at the House to be able to be confirmed.”
Méndez said the House will hold public hearings and evaluate Soto’s appointment on Monday, once he has turned in all the documents needed for the confirmation process. He reportedly said he wants to give Soto the opportunity to “convince him” of why he should be confirmed.
“The most prudent thing to do is to withdraw the appointment or for the person nominated to request the withdrawal of the appointment,” Rodríguez Aguiló told Caribbean Business, adding that it was unnecessary to continue “if he doesn’t have the votes and go through a voting process in which he would be rejected.”
Rodríguez Aguiló further said he hadn’t heard that Soto’s professional development included any supervisory role or auditing experience.
“I want to give him that space, to be able to sit down with him and talk about this situation,” he added.