Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced that last Monday, October 23, he created, through executive order, the Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office of Puerto Rico, (CRRO), an entity with extraordinary powers, which will be responsible for planning, administering, processing and overseeing all the work of reconstruction paid with state or federal funds after the catastrophe caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The agency, which will be under the umbrella of the the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A) in addition to adding a new office to the governmental organization chart, has the ability to approve or repeal regulations, audit policies and establish its own governmental ethics process that rule all the works related to the reconstruction.
The CRRO will also have power over the initiatives that are developed in the municipalities, most of which are under the control of mayors members of opposition Popular Democratic Party. The authority of this office applies to projects regardless whether they are financed with federal or state funds.
"Any governmental entity including public corporations or any of the seventy-eight (78) municipalities of Puerto Rico that wishes to develop its own proposal will have to submit such proposal to the OCRR for evaluation and approval prior to the formal submission to a competent authority", establishes the executive order.
In a press release, Rosselló Nevares explained that the CRRO seeks for a single government unit to take responsibility for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico in the short, medium and long term.
"It is essential that all available resources are proactively identified, acquired, coordinated and allocated in order to maximize their impact and avoid inefficiencies," the governor said.
For Mario Negrón Portillo, retired Public Administration professor, the very creation of a new government entity to administer the process, instead of assigning tasks to existing entities, is precisely an inefficiency, especially at a time when government revenues are scarce due to the weakened Puerto Rican economy paralyzed by the destruction of the cyclone.
Also, in the midst of the controversy over the $ 300 million contract that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) signed with Whitefish - a company that had two employees on its payroll by mid-September - the worst the government can do is casting more doubts about transparency in the hiring by giving flexibility to audit processes, said Negrón Portillo.
"In the middle of the disaster what they do is create another deception, within the scandal for the $ 300 million to Whitefish what they do is give powers to avoid independent audits. This does not make sense, "said the public administration expert.
Specifically, subsection J of the second section of the executive order establishes that the CRRO has the power to "frame, adopt, amend and repeal audit and compliance policies to ensure the use of the best practices and appropriate processes in the management of any resource or fund received, spent or disbursed. "
On the other hand, the next subsection allows the CRRO to develop and implement an ethics and audits program that guarantees "the independence of said functions and their personnel". These ethical and auditing groups would serve as direct liaison with the entities that oversee the use of public funds at the state or federal level.
El Nuevo Dia requested La Fortaleza additional information on these aspects, but there was no answer to the messages.
The authorized public accountant, Kenneth Rivera, said that an office that administers the billions expected for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico should have enough constraints to ensure transparency in the processes.
"We already started to see it in the Whitefish case, with all the questions that have been made public. It is not private money what would be managed but public money and that is why the system needs to have counterweights and enough oversight, "said Rivera.