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[SPECIAL SERIES] Rosselló’s chief legal adviser decided to reform government

By on December 5, 2016

Alfonso Orona Amilivia (CB photo/Juan J. Rodríguez)

Alfonso Orona Amilivia (CB photo/Juan J. Rodríguez)

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of a series of articles in which we profile the newly appointed members of Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló’s team.

He’s the life of the party, and when tensions flare he is one of those people who will crack a joke to calm the atmosphere.

For him, a perfect day consists of finishing his work, followed by dinner with friends, and then, microphone in hand, sing varied songs that range from Silvio Rodríguez to Calle 13.

He loves politics, he breathes it, comments on it, lives it, and is impassioned by it.
He was raised in a household where politics was always the reigning topic of discussion and today, aged 33, the governor-elect’s chief legal adviser, Alfonso Orona Amilivia, assures that ever since he was a boy he had always dreamed of working for the government of Puerto Rico.

“I remember being 11 years old and already studying politics. I got my bachelor’s degree at Tufts University in Boston in international relations and economy, and I studied law in the University of Puerto Rico. When I came back to Puerto Rico, I already knew Dr. Ricardo Rosselló, and in 2006 I really began getting involved in politics. Dr. Ricardo Rosselló had a blog at the time named MiPeriódico.Org, and there we wrote opinion pieces of what we were living in Puerto Rico. That is when I slowly began working actively in the political field,” Orona Amilivia recalled.

Now, the attorney who led a great deal of Rosselló’s social media campaign efforts and worked as the committee’s legal adviser, assures the time has come to roll up their sleeves to transform and restructure the Puerto Rican government.

“I am a very honest person and I am characterized by my good sense of humor. In moments of high stress, I crack jokes, and that is something that a lot of people who have worked with me enjoy. […] We are facing enormous challenges and it is a historic moment for Puerto Rico. The people who want to work in public service have to be willing to work, they have to be willing to face everything that’s coming because these won’t be easy years. The era of being a public servant for the glamour of it is over. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and work,” he assured.

Orona Amilivia spoke to Caribbean Business and didn’t hesitate to say that, contrary what’s said, Rosselló’s administration will reform the island’s government apparatus in four years.

What is your specific job as the governor’s chief legal adviser in La Fortaleza?
The chief legal adviser has many roles because he intervenes in different agencies’ policy-making. Being a government of law and order, everything that is being discussed and public policy must be within the framework of law, and so what the legal adviser does is establish that legal framework to advance public-policy strategies. In that regard, he intervenes in everything related to government, such as administrative actions, rulings, disputes over jurisdiction of agencies with specific programs, and sometimes works hand in hand with the Department of Justice as the governor’s adviser.

How will you work from your post with the Financial Oversight & Management Board?
The key [to work with] the oversight board will be communication. They have to listen to us, they will establish a series of requirements and we must oblige. The challenge for all of us who decide to step forward is to achieve a balance between establishing public policy and pull Puerto Rico out of its crisis and fiscal hole, while at the same time watch for Puerto Ricans’ well-being.

What worries or scares you about assuming the role of the governor’s chief legal adviser?
Maintaining Puerto Ricans’ well-being. Everyone knows that what’s coming won’t be easy. When the fiscal plan is established, there will be many times when we will have to make decisions that perhaps may not be easy at first, and I think that maintaining that balance will be key. That is what worries many of my colleagues and I.

Things in Puerto Rico aren’t well, but we will put them back on track. The concern is how, little by little, we start pulling Puerto Rico out of the crisis, and working with this fiscal control board that, regardless of much communication we have, there will be times when the government won’t be in agreement.

What do you reply to people who see you assuming the role of the governor’s chief legal adviser and believe you lack experience and capacity to perform efficiently for being 33 years old?
I would tell them to give me a chance. I am willing to work with everybody. I already worked in the campaign with many people that have spent their lives in politics. I like to listen, I like to learn. This is a learning process. I have been there and I know what that office entails. They will always find in me someone who is willing to listen, willing to sit down and willing to find solutions, which is the most important role of my position.

There are people who have dishonored public service because they have failed the commonwealth through corruption. How will you protect La Fortaleza and the executive branch from those acts of corruption that have made many people lose their trust in public servants?

There has to be effective communication between the executive [branch] and the agencies. Now, with the fiscal control board, we have an opportunity for the executive [branch], given the things that are going to happen, to have a little bit more control over government agencies than before. A lot of times the governor, due to the large number of agencies there were, ended up a bit unattached. I think that in the measure that communication can be improved, many things can be avoided.

Dr. Ricardo Rosselló has been clear about what he expects from his agency directors and I believe the motto will be: We come to serve and not to be served, and there won’t be room for people who fail to comply or who deviate. I think agency coordination-those preventive oversight measures that can implemented at the agencies-will prevent many problems we are facing now through corruption.

A lot of people comment that governors, once they arrive in La Fortaleza, distance themselves from the people and their party’s base. How can there be a balance?

It’s one of the biggest challenges of [Rosselló’s] work team. Many times, governors’ work teams tend to push them toward that comfort zone, to that estrangement; maybe for some this is good, but the reality is there is no way of knowing how one is doing as a governor if one doesn’t have contact with the people. The challenge rests in us telling the governor of Puerto Rico, who put his trust in us, about the situations as they arise in order to prevent him from losing contact with the people.

Will you be part of the staff who will guide the governor if he distances himself?
I don’t believe Dr. Ricardo Rosselló will distance himself because he has always worked directly with the people, he has always been a highly accessible person and that is in his nature. But part of our work is to ensure he doesn’t lose that touch.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like karaoke singing; in fact, it’s one of the things I enjoy the most. People make fun of me because I say I am not a singer, I’m an interpreter. I don’t have an artist’s voice but I enjoy songs as with everything I do in life, and it’s one of those things I enjoy the most. For me, a perfect day would be getting out of work, meeting up with my friends, having a nice dinner and going somewhere where there is karaoke or…an open mic to sing.

What do you sing?
Everything. Younger people won’t know this but I am called the walking iPod. I know songs from the ’60s up to recent ones, and I sing everything, from Silvio Rodríguez to Calle 13.

Are there any songs you prefer to listen to?
I am a big fan of Franco de Vita, I also like Café Tacuba, Los Cafres, Seguridad Social, Los Pericos. I’m from that time when there was reggae and ska. I love UB40, also Mecano; I’m a big fan of Miguel Bosé. Those are always on my playlist, and I can’t forget Wilfrido Vargas. It’s a very eclectic taste. I’m always listening to music. For me, it’s an escape and it helps me liberate stress, to relax.

You mentioned you like having dinner. What’s your favorite food?
I really like Spanish cuisine. I lived in Spain for awhile and I love Spanish food. I also love Italian and local food, to which you never say no.

You were the underdog because it was said you wouldn’t prevail, yet you were victorious. Now you are part of the elected government and many believe you are too young and have little experience to lead the government; how will you prove that you are a capable administration in serving everyone?

I believe the work we will do will speak for itself. We faced many challenges in the primary campaign and the elections. The elections are over and now it is time to work, to deliver and put into practice everything we have been building on for the past four years. I see a combination of experience and youth in the appointments.

Is it difficult for a young professional to be listened to?
At the beginning, yes. Stating the contrary would be lying to you. We have to shout to be listened to; we have to gain attention first, but it’s not impossible. We demonstrated, both in the campaign as well as now, that we can do it. Youth isn’t an impediment; I believe the opposite, that it gives us a different view of how things can be done.

Can a new Puerto Rico be built in four years?
A new Puerto Rico has to be built in four years.

Is that passion talking?
It’s just that a new Puerto Rico has to be built in four years. The conjuncture we’re in doesn’t allow us to continue putting the situation off. The moment is now and we have to act. We have to build a new Puerto Rico.

Will that require making painful decisions with regard to municipalities or public employees?
A government reconfiguration is coming, and Dr. Ricardo Rosselló has been clear that the government must be restructured. I think there is a creative way to do it without the public servants getting the worst part. I think there are necessary changes ahead. A change must come for the government culture and the business culture, and of Puerto Ricans’ investment.

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