Transportation Dept. owes $6.6M to Retirement System and Power and Water Authorities
SAN JUAN – The Transportation & Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish initials) owes a combined $6.6 million to Puerto Rico’s Retirement Systems, Electric Power Authority (Prepa), and Water and Sewer Authority (Prasa), as was revealed Thursday during the government transition hearings in the State Department.
DTOP Secretary Miguel Torres said the agency also owes $1.8 million to service, technology, cleaning and maintenance providers, and specified, regarding the Retirement System debt, which amounts to $410,000, that $210,000 have already been paid.
To questions from the transition committee of the incoming administration of Ricardo Rosselló, the DTOP secretary defended the agency’s relocation, from its Metropolitan Drivers Service Center (Cesco by its Spanish acronym) facilities to a larger building in Carolina.
“We wanted to reduce costs. We were told in 2013 we would see cuts, and we looked for more efficient spaces for citizens. After Act 7, we had excess square footage and we understood that consolidating the directorate, storage area and the Cesco in a single facility would produce a $400,000 saving annually,” Torres explained.
Regarding the controversy between taxi drivers and Uber, DTOP’s secretary pointed out that the established regulations created an “effective framework” to allow the entry of the ride-hailing service in Puerto Rico and assured that taxi drivers are simply resisting change.
“We met with the taxi drivers–we have two companies registered with us–and I feel at ease after the court validated the process that creates a balance. This is about the reality that it’s resistance from a group that affects them. We have to understand that [Uber] has come to stay and we have to try to give it a regulated framework…. Everything done was to give order, structure, and the recommendations of all sectors were considered. We have to…coexist and we have to evolve. I cannot accept violence, and I condemn it,” Torres said. “Blocking [the road] isn’t the way and it’s unfortunate,” he added in reference to a recent taxi protest.
Carmen Villar, director of the Highway and Transportation Authority (HTA), acknowledged during the hearing that her corporation is not operating properly and that of its $2 billion debt, it still owes $1.7 billion.
“In 2013, [the HTA] already faced economic challenges. It is a half-functional agency because certainly an agency that has lines of credit without repayment sources and whose operational expenses were financed almost 60% is complicated. The authority was about to collapse on several occasions this four-year term and the situation remains critical and delicate,” Villar said.
The HTA director said the agency has been able to keep providing services such as Tren Urbano, thanks to measures taken by the administration of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, which gave it some income, such as the petroleum products tax, better known as crudita one.
“The HTA is receiving income from Act 30 that comes from vehicle registrations and from Act 31, which is crudita one,” she said.
However, Villar added that the public corporation, as a result of the government clawback of funds that began Nov. 30 last year, didn’t receive $47.6 million in 2015 and, for 2016, went without $262 million.
La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Grace Santana explained at the hearing that the clawed-back funds were partially used for paying general obligation bonds in January this year and the rest are frozen.
Treasury Secretary Juan Zaragoza further said that there are $200 million in a Banco Popular account and that a same amount in the Government Development Bank is frozen.