SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s main business organizations called on Gov. Wanda Vázquez to “immediately address” what they called deficiencies in the new permitting regulation, citing the reality local business owners and entrepreneurs are facing amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The president of the United Retailers Center (CUD by its Spanish initials), Jorge Argüelles, said in a media release that the “constant executive orders in response to the pandemic have placed local businesses in an unprecedented crisis, and the Permits Regulation , established by the current administration further aggravates the already precarious situation. "
Businesses and companies “are in a situation of total helplessness and paralysis,” Argüelles said. “On one hand, they are mandated to close or operate below capacity, which will cause operations to cease for many, and on the other hand, they impose greater economic burden on businesses, as is the requirement of the Single Use Permit and all that it entails. There is no way businesses can get up under this scenario. "
This is the second time the Superior Court annuls the Joint Permit Regulation for failing to comply with the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (LPAU by its Spanish initials).
However, Puerto Rico Planning Board attorneys Valerie Rodríguez Erazo and Héctor Morales continue to litigate, contrary to the “law and public interest,” according to the release.
Meanwhile, the executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym), Manuel Reyes, noted that “the cost impact can be significant, at a time when the commercial sector is [experimenting a] concerning weakness. "
The aim of the law, Reyes said, was to “simplify processes and minimize associated requirements, but the regulation has not met that objective. The Planning Board and the Permits & Endorsements Management Office [OGPe by its Spanish acronym] should not lose [from] perspective that the Single Use Permit, as contemplated in the law, established a simple register where all permits and operating licenses of a business would be consolidated, under the same folder. "
Besides CUD and MIDA, several other major trade organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce of Puerto Rico (CCPR), the Gasoline Retailers Association, Entrepreneurs for Puerto Rico, the Chamber of Manufacturing of Labels and Advertisements (CIRA by its Spanish initials ), the Inspection Centers Association (ACI by its Spanish initials), Coopharma, the Puerto Rico Funeral Home Association and the Federation of Prolonged Care Institutions have denounced the permits regulation for months.
These organization have noted that although the governor had made a commitment to address their concerns, "to this day nothing has been done."
CCPR President Juan Carlos Agosto stressed in the media release that the regulation “does not simplify processes, but imposes more complex ones, which does not reduce costs, but increases them,” and for “brings new and onerous requirements, contrary to the reiterated suggestion [s] made in surveys such as in World Bank Group 2020 Ease of Doing Business ”August said, adding,“ Integrated changes do not encourage greater economic development…. ”
The organizations called on the governor to make the permits issue a priority and address it.
“We have no doubt that the governor has a genuine intention to build changes that are the basis for Puerto Rico's transformation,” Argüelles said . “She has a unique opportunity in her hands and we trust that she will do it. There was a commitment from La Fortaleza [governor’s office] to address the matter and we hope that commitment will be carried out… ”
Gasoline Retailers Association President Rafael Mercado added that the regulation not only turns the Single Use Permit into one permit“ but it also integrated into a new modality of the business segregation, based on uses, even though these are part of the same operation for which the business had already obtained the government's authorization, through the use permit. "
“In simple words, the Single Use Permit is used by the government to impose an additional contribution on permits already obtained,” Mercado said.
While, Entrepreneurs for Puerto Rico President Elliot Pacheco said the regulation only benefits "an exclusive group" of people, "in detriment of the entire business chain."
“While thousands of companies are debating the continuity of operations, we have an agency investing substantial amounts [of funds] in lawyers, to defend a regulation that is directed for its productive sector,” Pacheco added. "Is this the step forward to propel the economic growth we were promised?" Pacheco questioned.
The organizations warned that even though the governor granted a business license, permit and certification moratorium, agencies are requiring renewals from retailers.
The organizations said the Joint Permit Regulation and the Single Use Permit, as adopted by the OGPe and the island's Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), constitute a decades-long setback in the advances made by the business sector in simplifying the permitting, licensing and renewal process.
Furthermore, the business leaders explained that House Bill 2404 addressed the issue; however, it was not passed during the last session. The group called on the governor to include the bill in a special session.
“The government should focus its efforts on addressing the claims and issues that have been expressed by more than a dozen business organizations,” Argüelles added. "We feel that the governor is not receiving the correct information or that she is receiving it from entities that have economic interests in the matter."