Recent experiences involving external consultants in decision-making processes and the exercise of powers vested in government officials should call to a serious review leading to a clear definition of boundaries that ensure sound administration and proper accountability.
Although necessary to provide services in areas where the government cannot get, outsourcing requires limits and controls. Allowing contractors to cross the framework of public service accountability may also be contributing to corruption. Banning this practice is responsibility of the heads of public entities, La Fortaleza and oversight agencies.
The Comptroller’s Office warned about the hiring of José Pérez Canabal as a PREPA consultant. The former vice-president of PREPA’s Governing Board has a contract, amended and increased twice, for strategic consulting services with broad powers. The Comptroller’s Office also warned that the latest amendment looks like a retroactive payment, which could be illegal. The Comptroller noted that the extent of the functions delegated to the contractor would require an audit to detect possible irregularities.
These functions range from defining work objectives along with the executive director and directors, ensuring the execution of projects, solving complex problems and interacting regularly with PREPA executives, advisors and people in key roles and determining methods and models of studies for decision-making and advises the Steering Committee of the Energy Sector Office and the PREPA Governing Board Infrastructure Committee.
The corporation argues that it has no internal talent to perform these functions and that Pérez Canabal does not make decisions, a role of the executive director. But according to recent reports, including internal electronic communications, his guidelines allegedly come as from the management. Reports also place him in PREPA activities four months before his first contract.
It is up to authorities to specify the details of such a contract and to take the necessary corrective measures.
The Comptroller’s Office has intervened before in what it describes as practice in PREPA related to disbursements for services without formalizing contracts, among other related deficiencies. Such practice must end.
The potential scope of the interference of external resources in government decisions arising from federal accusations against the heads of the Education Department and the Health Insurance Administration should be enough proof to look into this practice. Agencies perceived Alberto Velázquez Piñol, also facing federal charges, as someone coming from La Fortaleza with decision-making power.
The responsibility for designing, deciding and directing public policy should always, and only, lie on government and agencies heads, and their teams, all employees subject to the rules governing public service. Public officials should clearly know that these officials are the ones in the lines of command.
The Comptroller’s Office Legal Division ruled that a consultant cannot perform functions corresponding to a public office because it would violate laws and regulations. When necessary, these contractors should limit themselves to providing consultancy services supported by a solid academic and professional background in the areas for which they hired.
The resources of the people – employees, information, equipment and decisions – cannot be at the mercy of external advisors or those close to power who are not subject to controls, oversight or accountability.
After last months' bitter experiences, it is time for public service to conquer a place of privilege through merit, high ethical values and deep respect to carefully look after the resources of the people.