Puerto Rico gov, Treasury secretary sued for access to tax breaks data
SAN JUAN – Cecille Blondet, the executive director of Espacios Abiertos (EA), an organization that advocates for public accountability, announced Tuesday that the nonprofit group has requested a writ of mandamus with the Court of First Instance of San Juan for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and Treasury Secretary Teresa Fuentes Marimón to be ordered to disclose tax abatement agreements, expenditures and breaks provided by the government.
She said the legal action was filed after an unsuccessful request for information on April 13 from then-Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado Gautier and “in keeping with the request EA has made repeatedly to the government to make a fiscal spending report public,” according to an EA release.
Maldonado, now the governor’s chief of staff, said Wednesday that government lawyers were analyzing whether they should disclose the tax abatement agreements. He said the administration wants to make certain expenditures, contracts and tax breaks public; however, some contain confidential information that cannot be made public. He added that there also are nondisclosure agreements that must be respected.
“We presented that petition to ensure people have access to public information about concessions and tax incentives that constitute ‘expenditures’ of the Government of Puerto Rico,” Blondet said in a statement.
She pointed out that Section 208 (b) of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa) required the governor to submit to the board, within six months of its establishment, a report of all tax abatement agreements.
In August, EA asked the board to confirm the existence of the aforementioned report. In a board letter sent to EA on Aug. 27, the panel confirmed it had received the report. “Although Section 208 (b) of the PROMESA Act prohibits ‘the members and employees (staff) of the Board’ from making the aforementioned report public, this does not prevent the Government of Puerto Rico from making the public disclosure required by the Constitution and laws of Puerto Rico, since it is a document produced in a public agency,” the release added.
The group stresses on its website that the federal government has published an official record of fiscal spending since the 1970s, as have “49 of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and most of the countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).” In addition, since 2016, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board requires it, via Statement No. 77, of “all governments and public instrumentalities.”
“People have the right to know about every dollar that is invested in tax privileges, which is, in turn, a dollar that is not collected for the general fund. What some people do not pay, costs us all in the reduction of services such as security, healthcare and education,” Blondet said, referring to the funding cuts for the University of Puerto Rico, among others.
“We are not against tax incentives, what we want is for them to be transparent so their benefit and cost-efficiency can be evaluated, without it being done behind people’s backs,” she added.
According to EA, its objective is to obtain access to public information to foster the “active and effective participation of the People of Puerto Rico in matters of public interest,” particularly in the use of public funds.
–Cybernews contributed to this report.