News like the criminal charges against Senator Abel Nazario should not be considered as usual in Puerto Rico.
Let's be clear: the federal authorities’ decision to charge the Senator, for the second time, of participating in a fraud scheme, when he was Yauco mayor, leaves our people suffering from the deficiencies of the campaign financing system. These deficiencies facilitate the diversion of public resources to partisan or personal pockets, thus violating the interest of the people.
It is time for our institutions to take the necessary steps to ensure that public resources promote only the well-being of citizens and the island´s growth. Our leaders and the parties that brought them there through elections cannot continue to ignore corruption schemes that emerge in their structures and then increases and remains in the government structure.
It is the political class's responsibility to forge an infallible shield against the use of public resources to subsidize political campaigns or benefit those who betray the voters’ trust. The opposite is to betray the island’s opportunities to overcome its economic and social challenges, with the fiscal crisis, poverty, and criminality being at the top of the list of the most critical ones.
Nazario is accused of using federal funds to pay people who worked in his campaign for Senator. According to the indictment, those people helped the campaigns of other politicians. All those who have participated in the scheme should face the weight of the law.
Charges against Nazario seriously affect his political party as well as the Municipality of Yauco and the Senate. The ghost employee scheme would have allegedly occurred when Nazario was Yauco mayor and was running for senator.
This time, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz filed an ethical complaint against Nazario after he refused to resign. When Nazario was charged in 2018 with alleged crimes related to Yauco's payroll, Rivera Schatz regretted the arrest but praised the Senator.
Yesterday's arrests join other recent events that undermine public confidence, in this case, in the Legislature. In the Senate, two contractors pleaded guilty in Federal Court for crimes including conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In that Legislature, the former executive director of the Senate Office of Government Affairs, Ángel Figueroa, pleaded guilty to participating in a fraud scheme, which included false invoices for work that was not done.
The departure of Representative Guillermo Miranda, allegedly involved in extortion against an employee to raise funds for his campaign, joins this list which also includes the hiring of companies related to the Legislature Superintendent José Jerón Muñiz which is being investigated in agencies such as the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, whose head, Tania Vázquez, resigned amid a federal investigation.
Measures against corruption should include an obligation to return illegally diverted public funds.
It’s not the time for shy reactions. It is up to government leaders, including mayors and lawmakers, to demonstrate the honest use of public funds. Puerto Rico calls for measures to stop government fraud. It is urgent to stop corruption schemes that seriously damage Puerto Rico’s image and limit the allocation and distribution of federal funds to Puerto Rico.
It is convenient to study models that regulate political campaigns funding in order to avoid politicians who are interested in benefiting from the government to the detriment of a transparent administration. Amending the law on campaign financing, within the framework of constitutional margins, is an essential step to take.
It will also be crucial for citizens to understand that this problem damages sound government administration. Turning the government of Puerto Rico into a model of public service is a goal we must all work for.