If anything dramatizes the reasons why Puerto Rico is bankrupt and is under the federal government’s distrust, it is that municipal government have misused multi-million dollar funds on unnecessary, incomplete or ill-conceived projects.
37 municipalities have lost nearly $ 64 million in nine years in projects that were either half done or left on paper, with no major consequences for mayors, some of whom remain in office.
Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso described the practice as irresponsible. And it is, indeed, irresponsible in Puerto Rico, where investment capital is limited and half of the people live in poverty, while many municipalities request financial assistance as if it were an acquired right. Municipal financial rampage undermines adequate public services while draining hope, time and energy. This waste demonstrates the lack of government vision and administrative negligence that mock the opportunities for people's socio-economic mobility.
For example, since 2002, Naranjito spent almost $ 21 million on an unfinished building while 57 percent of children and teenagers were living in poverty between 2013 and 2017, according to the Youth Development Institute’s Well-Being Index. In this mountain village, 50 percent of households with children are under the Nutrition Assistance Program. And almost half – 47 percent – of the grandparents who live with their grandchildren are fully responsible for them.
Without budgetary planning, the municipality spent money to build a coliseum on unstable land. After years of abandonment, the municipality is now seeking to finish it with patches, using federal relief funds in a town almost destroyed by Hurricane María. The municipality claims the building will now become a shelter. Last October, there were still more than one hundred families living under blue tarps in Naranjito.
In Gurabo, the municipal government had $ 1.1 million to buy a 65-feet high bronze statue. The stored pieces of the statue called the Christ of the Mountain are now waiting for a buyer, however the municipality seems inclined to keep it without any studies to support its benefit.
And that’s not the only municipal luxury in Gurabo. Between 2000 and 2015, the local government invested $ 2.3 million in other bronze pieces, including a 16-foot high water fountain. Its former mayor, Víctor Ortiz faces federal charges of bribery and extortion from a contractor. In contrast, a third of the children in Gurabo live in poverty, and nearly a quarter of young people between 16 and 19 neither study nor work.
These inconsistencies between the misuse of public funds and the real needs of the population seem to spread across the island. They are an x-ray of government styles and patterns that need urgent oversight and that must be eliminated because corruption may come inthrough those gaps.
This data reflects decisions made by mayor who were elected but have not responded through the efficient exercise of the government mission. The comptroller attributed this vicious circle to the mayors' aspirations to leave a legacy. Any bet using Treasury funds and that does not contribute to the public interest is unjustifiable.
The revitalization of Puerto Rico demands to invest every single public dollar in projects related to comprehensive and realistic economic and social development plans. The true legacy that a public servant can leave is the full well-being and development of the people.
It is up to citizens to evaluate the merits of each politician who seeks their vote, in light of the lessons learned last summer when Puerto Rico showed the world the strength of its democracy.