Without any information on the process the government would have followed, Natalie Jaresko, the Oversight Board´s Executive Director, sent a letter to the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) assuming that the radio and television station will be transferred into private hands by the end of the first quarter of 2020.
Jaresko set the date for the transfer of the public corporation that operates WIPR and WIPM television stations, and the WIPR 940 AM and Allegro 91.3 FM radio stations, in a November 15 letter which also requires additional information on the matter.
"The Oversight Board wants to ensure that there is an appropriate process to transfer PBC to a functioning non-profit entity operating in collaboration with the Government within this fiscal year," reads Jaresko's letter addressed to the corporation's president, Eric G. Delgado.
According to Jaresko's letter, the government would have developed a feasibility assessment and workplan that was divided into four phases and presented to the Special Committee on June 3, 2019. This Special Committee was established to implement the transfer.
According to the Board's website, the public corporation submitted the workplan to the fiscal entity, but it is not available to date.
Before Ricardo Rosselló Nevares stepped down following mass protests over the Telegram chat scandal and corruption cases in his administration, the former governor created a working group led by the Fiscal Agency & Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA) to transfer WIPR into the hands of a private non-profit entity.
For the Board and the Rosselló Nevares administration, WIPR is not an essential entity, partly because public television and radio stations in the mainland are in the hands of non-profit entities and because the Puerto Rican public broadcasting corporation reports consistent losses, so its transfer would represent savings to the Treasury.
By fiscal year 2017, according to the audited report by BDO Puerto Rico, WIPR's operational expenses were about $20.7 million. About a quarter of that was covered with its own income, while the government contributed another $11.8 million, leaving a deficit of $4.7 million.
According to the budget requested by the government, WIPR has 128 employees and requested $11 million which meant a cut of at least 17 percent in just 12 months.
The WIPR would have asked for a meeting last August to discuss the document and file a budget plan that would allow operations to continue until June 2020, according to Jaresko´s letter.
However, in the letter, Jaresko rejected that plan.
"The Oversight Board disagrees with the intent to sustain operations until the end of the fiscal year as a government entity as this is inconsistent with the Certified FY20 Budget and the Certified Fiscal Plan," said Jaresko in her letter.
Jaresko asked Delgado for an updated workplan implementation of the transfer of ownership to a third party; a breakdown of the FY2020 “budget by program and detailed concept of spend”; “detail of ancillary revenues and collections generated over the last five fiscal years” and a “list of all the current exchanges (“intercambios”) with its corresponding price forservices.” The Board also requested the “agreements made with other governmental agencies to use space (e.g., antennas, property rental at no cost, etc.).”
Jaresko also requested a report of all the initiatives taken by the corporation to achieve efficiencies since 2019 and on the annual cost of the WIPR historical archive which contains over five decades of radio, television and film productions.
Last July, WIPR's budget situation was such that the corporation evaluated eliminating its news programs as a cost-containment measure.
Jaresko gave Delgado about 10 days to provide the information requested.