Puerto Rico federal oversight board has power hungry intentions

Puerto Rico federal oversight board has power hungry intentions
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While testifying before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Nov. 7, the Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico finally put into words what their actions have been suggesting for some time.

The board was created last year by Congress to oversee the restructuring process of the debt of the Government of Puerto Rico (PROMESA). However, the board’s main goal seems to be to hold and enforce absolute power over Puerto Rico, its institutions and its municipalities, while making decisions against the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico and our democracy. These intentions were stopped by a federal court’s review of the cases under PROMESA on Nov. 13.

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Worst of all, while all our decision makers must face the electorate every four years, the board tries to reign the island without being scrutinized democratically in an election, holding the Puerto Rican people hostage of their actions without democratic and civil redress grievances process. Which U.S. congressman or senator would ask that of their constituents?

 

How would a congressman or senator feel if a non-elected board attempted to destroy their local and democratically elected government by auto conferring power and faculties not provided by law, without the burden of being scrutinized by their people?

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) questioned the board for not being transparent and open with their own expenses. He questioned the members of the board about the salary of its Executive Director Natalie Jaresko, of more than $625,000 as well as the $350,000 salary paid to Revitalization Coordinator Noel Zamot.

Puerto Rico needs to address the fiscal crisis aggravated by two hurricanes in one month. Governor Ricardo Rosselló is cutting expenses and reducing the size of our government as he promised the electorate during the last political campaign.

In our 10-year Fiscal Plan required by PROMESA, we already started to reduce the number of agencies from 130 to 35 and cutting the government expenses by more than $2.75 billion annually. In the aftermath of two hurricanes, we need to revisit our fiscal plan and priorities. The board has authority to review that effort but not to be in charge of our public policy formulation. That is not the America that I believe in.

That effort could not be used as an excuse to wipe out our democracy. Let’s hope that Congress does not allow this attempt to implement the only dictatorial government on American soil.

Testifying before the committee, the board requested Congress grant them additional powers and with that they admitted implicitly that they do not have the authority under PROMESA to appoint Noel Zamot to control PREPA. Nevertheless, they spent up to $1,475 hourly on attorney’s fees to have the court void the illegal appointment, with money from the Puerto Rico taxpayers in the middle of its worst fiscal crisis.

While testifying, Zamot showed a total lack of knowledge and expertise regarding Puerto Rico, being unable to answer simple questions about the island’s situation. He incorrectly stated that the majority of Puerto Rico’s hospitals were not functioning on PREPA’s grid, a completely inaccurate statement. The island’s hospitals were precisely the priority while starting to restore the power grid, and over 85 percent of the island’s hospitals were functioning with electric power while Zamot was testifying before the committee. His lack of knowledge of the island’s situation is the result of the total absence of the board during and after the passing of hurricanes Irma and Maria through Puerto Rico. This lack of knowledge led to the federal court’s decision of denying the board’s motion to have Zamot control PREPA.

Jaresko asked for Congress to provide aid and relief to Puerto Rico, only if the board can control all the federal funds and use them as they deem fit. This manipulative behavior should not be tolerated in America. The people of Puerto Rico are counting on Congress to have our backs.

Ramon Rosario, Esq., is the secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy in the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.