Yesterday, Fernando Gil Enseñat, Puerto Rico's Housing Secretary, criticized the Oversight Board intervention in the process for the release of the first $ 1,5 billion in relief funds for Puerto Rico.
Specifically, the official referred to the letter sent by the Board's Revitalization Officer, Noel Zamot, to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), stating that he was willing to help to ensure that funds from the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) are properly used.
"Right now, every contract over $ 10 million has be reviewed by the Board. That is what we did with FEMA projects and we will keep on doing it, but there would be two federal entities, the Board and HUD to act as channels for those funds. If it is a matter of oversight, we are already fulfilling it ... Do they want more oversight? More control to controls? What we have to do is to follow the existing controls," said Gil Enseñat in an aside with El Nuevo Día at a hotel in Isla Verde.
Gil Enseñat alleged that the Board does not have the structure or expertise to handle these federal funds. He indicated that, in the last budget, the Board tried to reduce the Public Housing Administration (AVP, Spanish acronym) budget by $ 100 million when federal regulation did not enable that.
"They don´t have the knowledge about how federal funds work and they want to do that,” said the official. He also alleged that PROMESA, which created the Board, prevents them from intervening in the implementation of federal programs on the island.
"Noel Zamot is an excellent person, but he and Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Board, they earn about a million dollars a year, this without counting benefits, and the only critical project they carried out is a senior home that already counts on tax credits ... We have nine projects, $ 1,5 billion and a comprehensive action plan on economic development, infrastructure and housing," Gil Enseñat bragged.
Zamot's letter was addressed to HUD Deputy Secretary, Pamela Hughes Patenaude. In the letter, the Revitalization Officer stated that they would like to work with the HUD team and other interested parties to ensure that the funds will be used for the immediate benefit of the residents of Puerto Rico.
The letter was sent before HUD confirmed that, in order to begin the disbursement of the first $ 1,5 billion of CDBG-DR funds, the government of Puerto Rico must prove that they are capable to manage the funds.
The agreement on these funds was signed on September 20, 2018, during the commemoration of the anniversary of Hurricane María. Three months later, none of the initiatives agreed in the document has been implemented yet.
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