The governor´s proposal to give pensions Puerto Rico´s public employees pensions constitutional rank, to be considered by the Legislative Assembly in an extraordinary session just days before the primary, underestimates the complexity of a problem that deserves a sustainable solution that brings real justice to retirees.
Proposing constitutional rank for pensions at the last minute, covering the fact that payments would be defined by law and not by the Constitution, is betting on uncertainty in an issue vital to retirees, particularly those with lower income.
Using public resources for a promise of questionable feasibility, that would require hasty legislative compliance with the exact terms that the Constitution establishes for a constitutional amendment, is unjustifiable.
The proposal, which could increase mistrust in the process established by PROMESA to achieve sound public retirement systems, arises just before the gubernatorial primary race in which the proponent, Governor Wanda Vázquez, is one of the candidates. She proposes that people vote on the constitutional amendment in general elections. That same day there will be a yes-or-no-status referendum.
Experts have argued that the government cannot amend the contractual agreements - which the governor agreed to at the time - as part of the debt adjustment plan, which includes public system retirees. Therefore, constitutional protection would not be retroactive for these retirees.
Giving green light to hold a referendum in less than four months, arguing that the constitutional rank of pensions would benefit all retirees, brings confusion for a population whose pension fund is insolvent precisely because of the constant negligence of the political class.
Under the debt restructuring plan, the Oversight Board, representing the government of Puerto Rico, has reduced the projected pension cut and protected future pensions in the face of retirement plans insolvency. According to the plan, the pensions of 60 percent of retirees - who receive up to $1,200 monthly - would remain intact. The creation of a pension plan for future retirees, similar to the savings and investment plans offered to private-sector workers, has also been included.
Active and retired public employees deserve fair and sustainable solutions that will ensure them a decent retirement. The measure proposed by the executive branch is far from addressing these conditions, as experts have stressed.
On the other hand, the proposal, and the elections scenario in which it appears, undermines the principles of the governance that people increasingly demand from authorities. Among them, to focus their attention, resources, and energy on looking for realistic solutions to people´s needs, with transparency, respect, fiscal responsibility, and without electoral interests.
Puerto Rico is going through a health emergency that threatens to get complicated by the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases. This Wednesday, the number of people hospitalized reached a record 415, with 31 patients on ventilators. The number of infections doubled in less than two weeks and deaths rose to 185.
Right in the middle of the hurricane season, Puerto Rico is trying to recover from the 2017 disasters caused by two catastrophic hurricanes, the earthquakes that hit the island early this year, and inefficient government responses to these situations. Thousands of students in the public system face a semester of uncertainty after losing much, if not all, of last semester.
The people of Puerto Rico need their leaders to prioritize the solution of urgent problems, with concrete actions and without the slightest electoral interest. The coming primary and general elections should not cloud institutional responsibility.