Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Puerto Rico Senate passes bill to amend anti-corruption law

By on September 25, 2018

SAN JUAN – A bill that proposes to amend the enacted “Anticorruption Code for a New Puerto Rico” to guarantee that public officials who report corruption are offered free legal assistance to initiate or participate in civil, criminal or administrative proceedings under the protections granted by said code, was unanimously passed Tuesday by the Senate of Puerto Rico.

“This right has to be requested by the public employee who takes the step forward to denounce acts that undermine the proper functioning of the Government and sever the trust of the people. In this way, those who denounce such acts would have legal representation to go through the procedure, protecting their employment and other rights…,” argued San Juan Sen. Miguel Romero, who authored Senate Bill 1081.

The Senate also passed S.B. 1086, which would amend the Autonomous Municipalities Act with the objective of establishing additional controls when a municipality makes purchases that do not require a public auction.

“Currently, one of the exceptions when a public auction is held for purchases at the municipal level requires that prior to a purchase, three supplier quotes are obtained. However, the law does not point out how long in advance of the purchase these quotes should be received,” said Romero, who is chairman of the Government Committee.

To address this issue, the measure proposes amending the law so quotes must be obtained at least 10 days before the date on which the purchase is required to be made. Thus, Romero explained, “it is guaranteed that the suppliers have sufficient time to provide the best possible quote, thus maximizing the use of municipal public funds and preventing corrupt officials and suppliers from creating favoritism schemes that cost the taxpayer resources.”

In addition, as provided in the Autonomous Municipalities Law, procurement in emergency situations does not require holding an auction. To guarantee it is really an emergency, it is proposed that the official authorizing the purchase would be required to file an affidavit stating the emergency situation that led to the authorization of the purchase.

“The approval of both bills is a step forward to fight head-on and without threats the acts of corruption we constantly see in the government, including the municipalities. In fact, in recent days it has been reported in the press that the procurement mechanism during emergency situations has been used to create illegal schemes and to promote favoritism toward contractors who lend themselves to such acts. We must take all necessary measures to prevent mismanagement of public funds,” Romero said.

The senator also highlighted a development regarding the Municipality of San Juan, which amid corruption allegations made by an employee, a federal grand jury will be hearing the case.

“In this particular incident, the employee has let it be known that she has been the victim of reprisals for discovering the alleged wrongdoing by municipal officials. That is precisely what we seek to tackle with the bills that were approved today by the Senate and that we also hope they will be approved in the [lower] Chamber and then receive the signature of the Governor.”

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