Puerto Rico governor: Private sector, nonprofits better positioned than government to help with rebuilding

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said the private sector and nonprofit organizations are better positioned than the government to lead recovery efforts a year after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

“We’re trying to make government smoother, faster," Rossello said in an interview with Hill.TV in Puerto Rico that aired Thursday. "But certainly not-for-profits and the private sector are leaner and they can execute quicker. And they can innovate, and we really want to leverage that opportunity.”

Private sector groups are coordinating to find the best ways for the municipal government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to use billions of dollars in federal aid.

“We have constant interaction -- you know, government, private sector, NGOs. So the point is here, how do we maximize those synergies? Who should do what?" Roberto Pando, the healthcare industry's representative to the Puerto Rico Business Emergency Operations Center, said during a panel discussion in Puerto Rico on Sept. 6.

The operations center coordinates reconstruction efforts between the government and the private sector.

The rebuilding efforts have included all walks of life in Puerto Rico, with many putting politics aside, according several leaders interviewed by Hill.TV earlier this month.

“Waking up the next morning after the hurricane no matter how wealthy, poor, or what political party you belong to everybody was impacted at some level," said Annie Mayol, president and chief operating officer of Foundation for Puerto Rico. "For the first time I heard people say, 'Let’s put politics aside to rebuild Puerto Rico.”

The private sector and NGOs -- groups such as Foundation for Puerto Rico and Visit Rico -- were on the front lines of reconstruction efforts.

Visit Rico, an organization that works with farmers, raised more than $500,000 dollars for local farmers and organized groups to come in and clear farms of debris and repair infrastructure.

“What we wanted to give back to the farmers was to show them that they are not alone that a lot of people are counting on getting the farms back together, not only locals but also people from abroad,” said Camille Collazo, executive director of Visit Rico.

On the island, many people said their communities had to organize initial relief efforts instead of waiting for on-the-ground assistance from elsewhere.

“We lost many of our budget, almost every budget that we have, in giving all the efforts to buy things for food, water," said Mayita Melendez, the mayor of Ponce. "We were first responders before government, FEMA come help."

— Alison Spann