SAN JUAN – Just one day before Christmas recess, the Legislative Assembly will see in extraordinary session a project filed this Monday, which seeks to convert the Central Office for Reconstruction, Recovery and Resilience (COR3) into a government agency with the purpose of managing all the federal recovery funds, multiple organizations claimed.
“House Bill 2626 (P. de la C. 2626), in essence, is a shortened version of Senate Bill 1639, which had been introduced at the end of the legislative session in September, and which was rejected by over 40 non-profit organizations, including Oxfam America, Sembrando Sentido, Espacios Abierta and the Center for Habitat Reconstruction, ”the organizations said in a written statement.
Project 2626 is much shorter than the original, but the main concerns of organizations remain latent.
“An inflexible and not very transparent recovery process is being institutionalized, which is not inclusive or responds to the needs of the community,” said Issel Masses, executive director of Sembrando Sentido.
The organizations also strongly reject that such an important issue for the future of Puerto Rico be approved lightly, without any process of consultation or public hearing, and through such a comprehensive and general bill.
“This project is the best example of everything that has been poorly executed in the recovery process under this administration: zero citizen participation, decisions taken behind closed doors and the centralization of funds,” said Luis Gallardo, co-director of the Center for Reconstruction of the Habitat.
“In a country with a democratic base, there is no justification to limit or exclude citizen participation from the legislative debate. Legislating without public hearings, behind closed doors and in a hurry is detrimental to our representative democracy, especially when it comes to matters of importance for many communities and that involve the investment of billions of dollars, “said Cecille Blondet, executive director of Espacios Open.
The organizations explained that the project does not establish transparency or accountability mechanisms, and gives full authority over federal funds to the executive director of COR3. Furthermore, P. de la C. 2626 does not establish or explain how this new agency relates to FEMA’s public assistance programs, or to the Bureau of Emergency Management.
“In reality, federal recovery funds, due to their diverse nature, are currently and have to be administered by different government agencies. If a coordinating agency is created, it should have its powers much more defined after public deliberation, and its role would be to facilitate effective communication, integrated and participatory planning, and transparency in processes. For all this, it is essential that civil society be included as a main component of said office, ”said Adi G. Martínez Román, Senior Analyst of Public Policy for Puerto Rico at Oxfam America.
Oxfam America has been advocating intensively for the decentralization of administration, planning and accountability of federal reconstruction funds, arguing that precisely concentrating all power over entities such as COR3 and the Department of Housing has been one of the main problems for the effective and transparent use of funds.
The letters in which P. del S. 1639 was rejected in September can be accessed at this link: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1eG_pRNLa91e2buiGGcWdWRDN6qFYf0hS?usp=sharing