Puerto Rico Senate approves bill to eliminate debt audit commission
SAN JUAN – Amid yells, protests and after a protester was arrested, the Puerto Rico Senate approved a bill to eliminate the Puerto Rico Commission for the Comprehensive Audit of the Public Credit and transfer the entity’s funds to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
According to Senate Bill 428 (S.B. 428), the Financial Oversight & Management Board established by the federal Promesa law renders the commission’s duties “redundant,” “reflecting duplicate functions,” and is “an additional and unnecessary public expense.”
However, minorities expressed opposition to S.B. 428, which was presented Monday by the New Progressive Party (NPP) delegation and considered in that session, arguing that Puerto Rico’s $71 billion debt should be audited ahead of negotiations with creditor groups.
“There are some allegations of illegal and fraudulent conduct, for which the country requires having necessary information… The tool can be altered, but preserve the principle of the audit,” Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Juan Dalmau said during the nearly two-hour debate on the Senate’s temporary floor in the Leopoldo Figueroa Hall, which doesn’t have space for the public.
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Eduardo Bhatia told the NPP to name new members to the entity and to carry out the audit, which would “restore the country’s credibility.”
“What are you afraid of? [Are you trying to] protect the decisions of someone in the fiscal oversight board when president of the Government Development Bank [GDB]? Protect a former governor who borrowed $16 billion?… Sooner or later you will face the harsh reality that it had to be audited. Every country in the world has done it, Greece, Argentina, Germany, [and] Spain did it,” PDP Sen. Cirilo Tirado said.
“Those who didn’t do anything about the commission when they were in power are now concerned about the audit […] The legality or illegality of the loans won’t be determined by that commission […] That commission can’t decide whether the debt is constitutional or unconstitutional,” Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz assured when ending the debate.
After he criticized the PDP’s administration for not sending the income tax refunds and diverting public pension funds, Rivera Schatz lashed out against union leader Roberto Pagán, one of the members of the commission, whom he called a “puppet.”
While the senators debated, a group of citizens protested against the bill’s approval and insisted on the need for the commission, chanting, “we want an audit done in order to remove the scum.” The demonstration formed after the Capitol’s security blocked a group of students from entering because it was past 5 p.m.
However, some of the protesters had entered the Capitol, including the spokesperson of the Citizen Front for the Audit of the Debt, Eva Prados, who sought to convince lawmakers to stop the bill.
Amid the struggle to enter the building, a student identified as Francisco Santiago was arrested, said attorney Mariana Nogales, who was also denied entry.
Some 20 police officers barricade the Capitol’s entrance with reception desks after three doorways were broken during the protest.
Around 9 p.m., demonstrators moved to the Santurce Police headquarters, were Santiago was arrested.
While that took place, Public Affairs and State secretaries, Ramón Rosario and Luis Rivera Marín, respectively, were both in the Capitol.
The House was expected to consider the bill in Tuesday’s session, for which demonstrations were organized as well
Luis Valentín contributed to this report.