(El Nuevo Día)

Members of the Legislative Assembly must serve the people and no interest other than the common good. It is therefore horrifying and offensive that, while our families live on limited resources, the House of Representatives engages in contractual practices that contravene sound public administration.

Signs of political interests, contempt for the principle of merit, ignoring possible conflicts of interest and excessive fees can be found in contracts in the House, in light of the findings of El Nuevo Día´s  investigation and data team on House contracts for legislative consulting and other services, from the beginning of the term until May 2019.

It is up to La Fortaleza, entities responsible for public oversight and the legislative leadership itself to implement measures that put an end to practices that impoverish the island and continue to undermine public trust in government institutions.

This newspaper´s investigation found that House spending on consulting contracts rose to $ 18.7 million from January 2017 to May 2019. Funds directed to those purposes represented an increase of $ 5.5 million compared to the 2013-2015 period.

It represents a significant contradiction that amid fiscal insolvency that forces us to austerity and a process of government resizing, they sign agreements that are far from the wise use of limited public funds.

Onerous contracts granted to new companies, with staff without legislative experience, for services that should be provided, for example, by the Office of Legislative Services, raise concern.

There is also concern about failing to comply with provisions of the Code of Ethics to avoid conflicts of interest, in hiring processes with people directly linked to officials or lawmakers.

It is also striking that a quarter of all contracts include former candidates, former lawmakers, and lawyers of the ruling party. That substantial portion represented $ 6 million of the $ 18.7 million allocated for external consulting services. It is outrageous that political affiliation is still used as a criteria for government contracting.

The series of investigative reports identified a frequent transfer of funds from the presidency of the House to the offices of certain lawmakers who granted diverse contracts with those funds. For example, the office of District 14 Representative José “Memo” González Mercado received $ 662,658 for consulting contracts that involved agreements that exceeded those of the President’s Office of Advisors. The justification for these transactions and their scope should at least be clarified.

On the other hand, these reports point to the need to comply with the principle of merit in the legislature after proving that they hired people without a university degree or experience in legislative matters with fees of up to $ 100 per hour. It is also necessary to review why professional services in certain contracts reach a monthly billing equivalent to the average annual salary of a public employee, with payments between $ 26,000 to $ 39,000 for four weeks' work or less.

At the same time, in the spirit of transparency and accountability that sound governance represents, it is also necessary to stop obstructing access to information on the services provided through these contracts, which is vital to corroborate and complete a legitimate oversight exercise.

All these legislative practices should be thoroughly investigated by the relevant bodies in order to discourage practices that undermine the principles of sound administration and affect the best interest of the people.

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