Puerto Rico gov’t receives over 150 complaints of price gouging after Hurricane María
SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Monday that 29 complaints over increased gas prices, 29 for the illegal collection of the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) on prepared foods and 100 complaints against hikes to the price of basic necessities have been received by the government.
The complaints were reported online, at , which since Sunday has served as a space for consumers to signal out businesses they feel are breaking the law. On that website, the government also updates data related to services that are being restored and provides links to volunteer, hire a truck driver and learn about the status of the Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN), among others.
“We are going to investigate this and we are going to adjudicate responsibility. That effort by the secretary of DACO [Spanish acronym for the Consumer Affairs Department] is already underway,” the governor said during a press conference at the Puerto Rico Convention Center, which serves as the government’s operations center during the emergency caused by the passage of Hurricane María two and a half weeks ago.
Due to the emergency, prices for basic emergency items and gasoline were frozen by DACO on Sept. 3. According to the agency’s website, 87-octane, or “regular,” gasoline should be priced at 66 cents to 71 cents a liter. Meanwhile, the local Treasury Department exempted prepared food, such as that sold in restaurants, from the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) until Oct. 31, an exemption that could be extended if thegovernment believes necessary.
Two officials under investigation
The governor also announced that the Puerto Rico National Guard, Treasury auditors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department are collaborating in an investigation into how aid supplies to municipalities are being handled by mayors amid complaints that many residents still lack access to food or water.
The U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, confirmed in a Radio Isla interview that two public officials are under investigation for mismanagement of this type of aid.
“We are providing transparency as to where these products are going, when they are being received, who is receiving them; in some cases even video is being recorded…and photos are taken. Food is arriving [to the municipalities],” Rosselló said “What’s important is to see what is happening when it arrives there.”
The governor assured that eight million meals and eight million gallons of water have been distributed around the island. Only 15% of the Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) customers have service, 59.5% of the island has potable water and the majority of the 353 open supermarkets, of the 456 on the island, operate with diesel-powered generators.
“For this to work,” there must be collaboration between the municipalities, the central government, federal authorities and non-profit institutions, Rosselló said.
He added that such towns as Cayey, Orocovis and Lares each have a specific distribution center where people can request supplies from different institutions so it is not just a door-to-door operation.
“We know food is reaching the municipalities. It’s the distribution in the municipalities that concerns us,” the governor said. “If someone is handling this inappropriately, we can fix it,” adding that he is “not saying that’s enough; I recognize that we have to do more.”
Following María’s destructive path over the island nearly three weeks ago, 6,452 people and 115 pets are still in 113 shelters shelters; 18.9% of the 2,671 cell towers and 28.35% of the 1,619 telecommunications towers are operating; 51% of the telecommunication services work; 179 of 313 bank branches and 145 co-ops are open; and 67 of the 69 hospitals are providing service.