The Board director Natalie Jaresko and monitor Arnaldo Claudio. (semisquare-x3)
The Board director Natalie Jaresko and monitor Arnaldo Claudio. (Gerald López Cepero)

Yesterday, the Financial Oversight and Management Board agreed to a flexible budget for La Uniformada so that it complies with the Police Reform, however, they defended the provisions of the Fiscal Plan already approved.

After an order from federal judge Gustavo Gelpí, the Board director Natalie Jaresko met with La Fortaleza legal advisor, Alfonso Orona; monitor Arnaldo Claudio; and Luis Saucedo, from the US Department of Justice, among others.

After the meeting, the ball is in the court of the government of Puerto Rico to prove that it would really need more money for the Police than what is contemplated in the Fiscal Plan certified by the Board.

For Jaresko, the "flexibility" promised to the government for the Police does not mean that there will be fewer cuts, but that the Board will be in a position to approve the move of other allocations within the same government budget.

"We came to an understanding that the Board fully supports the Reform. The budget and the Fiscal Plan reflect it, providing the necessary funds for the Reform plan," said Jaresko.

She added that "the government needs to identify the additional resources they need, if they need them, and has to request a reprogramming of funds from somewhere in the budget."

"If there are funds that are needed, since the Police is a priority, we will support those reprogrammings," the executive said.

Since the Board’s budget – for fiscal year 2018-2019 - was submitted last summer, the government has warned that the Police item would not be enough due to cuts of more than $ 30 million. Even the Secretary of Public Safety, Héctor Pesquera, said that he could run out of money to pay the payroll sometime next year.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Henry Escalera requested flexibility in the budget in order to be able to comply with Gelpí´s order and to start recruiting cadets as of February 2019.

"They promised us that the government would have that budget flexibility to comply (with the Reform)," Orona said as he left the meeting. "We hope that those promises we were made today (yesterday) are fulfilled."

However, Orona admitted that yesterday they did not speak of specific amounts "because it was a meeting where general concepts were discussed".

"The purpose was to let everyone know that compliance with the Reform goes beyond the $ 20 million a year for the Reform initiative, but that it is tied to the entire Police budget and that, therefore, we needed the flexibility to reinvest in the Police and 'staff' recruitment and other areas," he said.

He did not specify when they expect to have an estimate of the funds needed, but he noted that, in the coming weeks, he hopes to begin the process of recruiting cadets, whose amount will dictate part of the necessary money.

According to the budget certified by the Board, the allocation for the Police was of $ 887.3 million for fiscal year 2018-2019.

That total includes $ 18.8 million for payroll and the salary increase of $ 1,500 for police officers.

The budget also separates $ 122 million to mitigate the $ 360 million debt of the Police on late payments for promotions, and another $ 14 million to begin paying Social Security for police officers.

Also, the Board’s director said that the budget they approved for the Police includes the salary of civil employees to do clerical work currently performed by thousands of police officers so that officers can go out to the streets.

"The Reform plan, developed between the federal government, the Police and the government of Puerto Rico, was what was used to draw up the budget," Jaresko said.

The plan is based on the study conducted by the V2A company, as part of the Reform process, which concluded that La Uniformada requires at least 11,680 police officers on the streets, which last April - when it was published - implied an increase of 11 percent .

According to Jaresko, the Police can also pay the salaries of cadets, using the money they have not paid to the hundreds of officers that have left la Uniformada in the past months.

"If the Police is a priority, we need to put the money available in the budget for the Police, but it is a public policy decision that the government takes," added Jaresko.

Jaresko expressed her position and received strong criticism from senators in a meeting last week with legislators.

"The solution is to remove it from another area. Where are we going to take it away from? Education, Health? It does not seem possible, there is no more," said the president of the Senate Safety Committee Henry Neumann. "It shows that they only seek to reach numbers to comply with the creditors without caring how they affect citizens quality of life".

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