Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Vázquez Administration Tackles Restructuring, Other Complex Economic Issues

By on September 26, 2019

Governor and her Fiscal Team Discuss Tax on Multinationals, Electric Utility and Relationship with the Fiscal Oversight Board

BY MARÍA MIRANDA & PHILIPE SCHOENE ROURA

Gov. Wanda Vázquez took office nearly two months ago, much like the discovery of Penicillin—by accident. A “Summer of Discontent” with the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, which commenced with the arrests of former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and then-executive director of Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration, Ángela Ávila, led to seismic protests after chat group messages, laced with profanity and misogyny, between members of Rosselló’s administration were leaked forcing him to resign.

Ironically, Vázquez initially became an antidote to the ascension to power by the pro-statehood New Progressive Party’s (NPP) mainstream pols seeking the throne, when then-Secretary of State Luis Gerardo Marín—who stood as the constitutional successor to the governor—abdicated, leaving room for the governor to name a secretary of State to become his successor.

Small detail—it would take the Senate’s advice and consent to confirm that candidate. And, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, emboldened by Rosselló’s resignation, intended to exert his power as kingmaker by blocking the 11th hour nominee to Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi, who was Puerto Rico’s former resident commissioner in Washington, D.C. Pierluisi cleared the House hurdle obtaining the votes to be confirmed, but then pulled a fast one, avoiding Senate hearings on the premise that a 2005 amendment to Act 7 made it possible for a secretary of State to become governor without confirmation by both legislative chambers, giving him the standing to take office without the upper chamber’s consent.

Thus, when Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court declared Pierluisi’s move unconstitutional, Vázquez, who was next in the succession line, became Puerto Rico’s governor.

Much to the people’s surprise, the former Justice secretary did not bend to the will of NPP President Rivera Schatz, who grandstanded, backed by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and a conclave of NPP mayors to have Vázquez resign, making room for González to become the eventual governor. Surprise, surprise—Vázquez intended to stay. It should be noted, that once Vázquez made clear that she intended to remain in the post, Rivera Schatz said he would work with the governor for the people of Puerto Rico.

Although Vázquez announced she would only remain in office through the end of this term, which ends in December 2020, and would not seek re-election, she has many thorny issues to deal with, foremost among which is working with Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB).

When Trust is a Four-Letter Word

Early in her tenure, sources in the White House told this newspaper that as long as Vázquez remains in office the bulk of disaster relief funds doled out through the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development seem destined to trickle down at a glacial pace.

“Wanda Vázquez is part of that corrupt administration. So, when the president gets paper that talks about these different people, the take on the new governor is that she was part of that corruption,” said one source with ties to the GOP who has knowledge of the White House’s perspective. “So, the money is not going to flow. The government of Puerto Rico is corrupt; they have proven they are corrupt—it is corruption left and right. Here are facts. The president feels and has been very vocal about corruption in Puerto Rico. Wanda Vázquez is part of corruption; Jenniffer González is not. That is a fact. Is that fact significant for Puerto Rico? We think it is.”

To that end, the upstart governor went on a meet-and-greet tour across various federal agencies—whirlwind meetings with officials from the Department of Education and the Department of Health, as well as White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Doug Hoelscher and staffers, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Her first objective, front and center, before dealing with initiatives that are steeped in hardship—what to do with the phaseout of Act 154 and opening the spigot of disaster relief funding earmarked for Puerto Rico’s reconstruction—was to restore confidence in the island’s government.

After her recent visit to open doors Rosselló had closed in Washington, D.C., Vázquez sat with her financial advisers in tow for a roundtable at La Fortaleza to discuss some of the most pressing fiscal issues currently taking place on the island.

Suscribe to read the rest of this report here, in the Sept. 26 issue of Caribbean Business.

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