The capitol – The Finance Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by Representative Jesús Santa Rodríguez, held on Wednesday a joint public hearing with the Senate of Puerto Rico, to address House Resolution 149 and Senate Resolution 66, which carry out an investigation on matters related to the fiscal situation of the Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
In the first public session, the bodies of the Legislative Assembly summoned the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DTOP), to know first-hand the budgetary situation of the government agency.
However, the designated secretary of the DTOP, Eileen Vélez Vega, excused her attendance by means of a letter, in which she states that she has not completed the necessary process on what will base the budget of the agency and the attached public corporations.
In his initial turn, Santa Rodríguez explained that Vélez Vega’s action corresponds to a mandate from the Ministry of the Interior.
“On February 26, the presidents of both legislative bodies received a letter signed by the economic component of the Government of Puerto Rico that considered that the summons to officials of the Executive Branch are premature,” said the president of the Finance Commission and Budget of the Chamber in written communication.
The letter received on February 29, signed by Juan Carlos Blanco, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget (OGP); Mr. Omar Marrero Díaz, executive director of the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF) and authorized public accountant Francisco Parés Alicea, Secretary of the Treasury and Chief Financial Officer of the Government of Puerto Rico, requests that they be granted to Executive officials until a date after May 10, 2021, “so that, in coordination between the Executive, the Legislative Assembly and the Fiscal Oversight Board, we can approve a budget for fiscal year 2022,” the letter said.
For his part, Santa Rodríguez cited a letter sent by the presidents of the legislative bodies and the Finance Commissions to the economic component of the Government of Puerto Rico.
“It is our duty to clarify that it is never out of time to evaluate the proper use of public funds. Furthermore, the constitutional mandate to evaluate the budget is a ministerial duty of the Legislative Branch and this Assembly, unlike the previous one, will not resign, ”stated Santa Rodríguez.
“Of the 60 days on average that this Assembly has historically dedicated to the public evaluation of the budget, for fiscal year 2018 the proposed analysis was made in just 14 days; for fiscal year 2019, only 4 days were devoted to it. This translates into less time for serious budget analysis, less information and tools to counteract the unilateral justifications of the Fiscal Oversight Board, but, above all, less transparency and citizen participation in one of the most core processes of a democracy. This is the process in which it is defined how many resources will be assigned to our education, our health and the safety of our families ”, quoted Santa Rodríguez from the letter sent on March 1 to the members of OGP, AAFAF and Hacienda.
Also, Representative Santa explained that “what happened today is not only a gross breach of the ministerial duty of the officials who have been summoned, but it is an abuse to dispatch a matter as pressing as the country’s budget proposal, pretending that the members of this Legislative Assembly search the OGP portal without complying with and exhausting the necessary investigative resources to precisely ensure that this proposal complies with the Fiscal Plan ”.
On the other hand, the representative Luis Raúl Torres made a request, which was accepted by the president of the Commission, to inform the economic component who is scheduled for next Friday, March 5.
“If he does not appear, the Finance Commission and the Chamber will be going to court to demand the appearance of the public officials mentioned,” he said.
“The question that I am asking myself at the moment is, what prevents us from evaluating the budgets, if 95 percent of the items will not have changes?”, Asked Santa Rodríguez.
“I think that when we talk about a budget, apart from what the Governor suggests and what the Fiscal Control Board imposes, we are talking about more tangible things. We are talking about what the needs of each of the agencies are. These are important things that, despite the imposition of the Board, we have to be very clear about them. I insist that they (public officials) have to be summoned under the corresponding legal consequences ”, explained the representative for the Citizen Victory Movement, Mariana Nogales Molinelli.
Next Friday, March 5, 2021 at 9:00 in the morning, the economic component of the Government of Puerto Rico, which includes the secretaries of OGP, AAFAF and the Treasury, will be summoned to a joint public hearing.