In listing his priorities as Federal Reconstruction Coordinator for Puerto Rico, Rear Admiral Peter Brown said yesterday that he will seek to promote sustainability, avoid corruption and move from the emergency caused by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017 to permanent infrastructure works.
During his first press conference after the White House appointed him as its special representative for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery- and to questions from El Nuevo Día - Brown said that his main concern regarding the situation in Puerto Rico is sustainability.
"My main concern is sustainability. This is not a one-time injection of money into the economy or infrastructure of Puerto Rico," he said and added that as a long-term effort, continuity in government agencies and the programs they are handling is "vital." The official stressed the importance of staff development and warned that recovery will take years.
The comments by White House special representative for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery came after he met with governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and agencies heads at La Fortaleza.
He told reporters that there is a "new atmosphere of cooperation" with the island's government.
Brown stressed that his priority is the people who lost their homes after natural disasters, and said he will make sure that they achieve "permanent" housing.
Regarding the earthquakes that hit the island's southwestern region last month, he said that after the debris removal process and demolitions, he wants to see what permanent works will be needed.
As for the whole recovery process, he explained he is trying to move from emergency to permanent work.
The U.S. Congress approved $20.5 billion through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CBDG-DR) to help with the island´s recovery process. Of that package, they have disbursed $1.5 billion, and a second grant agreement signed in the last few days will allow the disbursement of an additional $8.2 billion.
Brown left the door open to meet with entrepreneurs, whom he considers key to achieving his goal in Puerto Rico, particularly fighting corruption.
He denied, however, having held a meeting with representatives of the law and lobby firm McConnell Valdés, where former Chief of Staff Marcos Rodríguez Ema currently works.
According to Brown, "the business community is key to Puerto Rico´s long-term sustainability. We share the same concerns about corruption in Puerto Rico,” and added that federal authorities and state agencies have developed strong internal mechanisms to stop any corruption attempt or misappropriation of funds.
"In my opinion, there is no room to allow corruption because it diverts resources away from the beneficiaries, who are the Puerto Ricans," he added.
He said projects are advanced and that they are working positively and collaboratively.
Brown said President Donald Trump is committed to helping the island recover from Hurricanes Irma and María, as well as from recent earthquakes.
When asked why he understands works in Puerto Rico have advanced despite criticism about delays in releasing relief funds, Brown said that "coordination between agencies has dramatically improved in the past few months."
He referred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Housing Department and the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resilience (COR3).
He said over the past few months, the pace of recovery has changed dramatically with this new environment of cooperation, collaboration, and trust.
Governor Vázquez Garced shared Brown's impression and said the second grant agreement to release CDBG-DR funds has already been signed and the "money is already being made available. We have seen a change that is favorable, beneficial for Puerto Rico´s reconstruction process."
She also said she is confident that Brown will be "a great step” for Puerto Rico to access funds and to achieve reconstruction, which the island needs the most.