The serious credibility problem of the Puerto Rican government is what caused Congress to consider imposing severe conditions on the allocation of federal funds to address the emergency left by hurricanes on our devastated island.
But it is equally true that a good part of our population has been suffering extreme vulnerability for the last four months, when Hurricane Maria, the most powerful in a century, hit Puerto Rico.
Half of the territory lacks the so essential electricity service, production activity goes into free fall and the mass exodus does not stop. A threat on the health system, product of the insufficiency of $ 1.2 billion to keep the Mi Salud (“My Health”) program alive adds to exacerbated social problems.
In this scenario, federal financial aid is an urgent need. The aid and measures to mitigate the damage caused by the hurricane must be adjusted to this reality.
An allocation of nearly $4 billion, which is already a law, to give the government liquidity, has not been disbursed. The disagreement between the local and federal governments regarding the conditions for this loan puts the disbursement of the funds on hold.
With this experience as background, we maintain that Congress can still articulate mechanisms to guarantee the wise use of the funds in its emergency allocations bill, without this translating into further delays in the recovery work of Puerto Rico.
Within this harmony is the key to direct the infrastructure and housing rehabilitation projects, as well as the restoration of basic services under parameters of responsible public spending.
The bill approved at the end of last year in the Federal House of Representatives, which is now pending in Senate, includes restrictions directed only to Puerto Rico. In order to request a line of credit of about $ 4 billion, the measure requires the submission within 180 days of an economic and recovery plan that has the support of the Secretaries of the Treasury, Energy and other federal agencies, and the Board. It includes a detailed list of priorities, goals and compliance metrics. It also demands monthly progress reports to Congress and the approval, of the Board, of contracts higher than $ 10 million.
We do not intend to ignore the historical administrative negligence of the local government. Puerto Rico should have had an economic plan, viable and well documented for some time. The long history of budgetary deficiencies and excessive indebtedness has cemented federal suspicions of the island´s government's managerial capacity.
The debt default, added to recent events such as hiring the fledgling company Whitefish to rehabilitate the complicated power grid, and the attempt to distribute $ 100 million among the municipalities, objected by the Board, fuel mistrust in the federal scene.
We recognize the intention of Congress to ensure that the island´s government complies with the purposes for which the funds are allocated. It is a reasonable request, framed in the accountability that should not be an exception for any jurisdiction.
But creating cumbersome and overwhelming processes that delay the disbursements for recovery will not help the island overcome the emergency or generate a healthy economy.
What is necessary is to eliminate the ambiguity in the language of the legislative piece, to close the way to arbitrariness in the oversight of the use of money. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico has to create a culture of compliance with its promises and obligations, with the people, the federal government and the creditors. There is no better time than now to introduce transparency as a habit in public decision-making. Confidence is born of concrete actions. We must already exercise that transparency and avoid stopping the flow of money. Overcoming the emergency is a condition for Puerto Rico to direct its economy.
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