Washington - The Center for a New Economy (CNE) proposed to Congress and the island’s government to create the Puerto Rico Development Authority -which would integrate Puerto Rican and federal officials- to lead the reconstruction process and avoid friction over restrictions in disbursements imposed by the US government.
Sergio Marxuach, director of Public Policy at CNE, considers that this new authority could reconcile the differences between the federal government and the Ricardo Rosselló administration about the conditions required to disburse assistance to the island, which along with partisan struggles in Congress, delays access to funds to mitigate the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María.
According to the CNE proposal , the government of Puerto Rico would legislate the creation of the new authority.
In a proposal brought to Congress, the CNE suggests a management board of 11 people. The governor would appoint four of them, including the president. The Oversight Board in charge of the island's public finances would appoint three others, and the remaining four would be appointed, one each, by the heads of the US Treasury, Housing, Homeland Security and Energy departmentss
Due to what he considers is an insistence by the Budget Office of Donald Trump government to grant more powers to the Board, Marxuach suggested creating the authority within the third resolution of supplementary allocations to attend disasters, pending in the Senate.
For Marxuach, the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office (CRRO), created by the government of Puerto Rico, "would probably result in significant delays in the recovery process." This office is attached to the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A), has only three employees and a budget of $ 32 million, mostly dedicated to paying contractors.
The P3A was established to fulfill a different mission, Marxuach said, such as "negotiating and managing public-private partnership agreements and not overseeing the disbursement of billions of dollars."
Meanwhile, Marxuach recalled that the presidents of the committees with primary jurisdiction over Puerto Rico and the PROMESA law - Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, head of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; and Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, leader of the House Committee on Natural Resources, are only two of the members of Congress who have expressed "strong reservations about the ability of the governor and his executive team" to distribute billions of dollars in federal assistance.
After the Whitefish scandal, the Republican majority in Congress is leading the demand for the government of Puerto Rico to be transparent in the management of its contracts and to avoid the misuse of funds. "Whitefish raised serious concerns about the government's ability to prevent misuse, fraud and waste of federal funds," Marxuach said.
Following the Whitefish scandal, there have been several instances in which the federal government has made it clear that there will be restrictions on access to emergency funds. For example, Trump´s government appointed FEMA coordinator Michael Byrne as supervisor of the process that CRRO might establish.
Meanwhile, Congress has legislated new powers for the board to certify access to reconstruction funds and a pending resolution in the US Senate would require the government of Puerto Rico to report periodically on a recovery plan with a range of 12 to 24 months, under the oversight of federal agencies and the Board.
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