By Franklin D. López
former United Press International and The Associated Press writer.
@trueblue51 Facebook/Fuerza Estadista, Pinterest, Intagram, Medium
Corruption in Puerto Rico is harder to fight than to find a cure for cancer or it is because “greed” may be a genetic thing! I have been involved in Puerto Rico politics and public affairs for at least 50 years. I have seen the evolution of government public integrity from mild to the level of crisis. Some Vendors visited city hall promoting their lines of products giving small gifts like tickets for concerts, chocolate boxes etc with the objective of getting an advantage over their competitors. But now the corruption virus is at a level of an epidemic and the government as whole is on collective coma to the level it has resonated in Washington, D.C. to the point that the Federal Office of Management and Budget is considering appointing a high level government executive to supervise the use of Federal Funds in Puerto Rico.
During the 1976 territorial campaign in a “Foro Libre” meeting, at the Banker’s Club I asked then PDP Senator Rafael Picó, then chair of the Senate Commerce Committee “if there was a conflict of interest” of him being Vice-president of the Board of Director of Banco Popular and him being a member of the Senate and chair of the Commerce Committee?”. He responded with a big smile, “There is no conflict of interests!” A few months later, I was appointed member of the First Circuit Court Judicial Appointment Commission. One the member of the Commission was the Executive Director of the Conflict of Interest Commission of the state of Maine and Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of that state. I became friend and requested her to provide me with a copy of the legislation that created the Commission. I gave the legislation to our attorneys in order to draft legislation for Puerto Rico. I thought that the measure was going to be easily approved and adopted. I was wrong! On the contrary I received several threatening calls and some “friendly advise me” to forget about the measure!”
AT least we tried! But there was a lot of opposition from the legislators. In 1992 after the NPP won the elections and after serving Dr. Pedro Rossello’s campaign as political strategist,I made it a personal commitment to promote measures to fight corruption. Among the measures I promoted were the following;
1) Identification requirements of people making significant political donations to candidate and political parties
2) Senatorial Citizen’s Committee for Electoral Reform, appointed by President Charlie Rodriguez with representation from all political ideologies
3) The creation of the Office of Inspector General, following the Federal Model, to prevent acts of mismanagement and corruption before they happened
4) Amending the criminal code to establish the sentence of life without parole for people convicted of running drug trafficking criminal organizations. It was approved by the NPP legislature and signed by Governor Rossello on August 4, 1994. Since it’s adoption the law has not been enforced neither a single drug trafficker has been charged or prosecuted!
Th Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico has revealed in numerous reports that the people of Puerto Rico losses a minimum of 10% of the archipelago’s operational budget in government waste, mismanagement and corruption. This 10% amount lost in mismanagement and corruption was first made by Manuel Díaz Saldaña in the early nineties. If you multiply that by the last 20 years. Puerto Rico lost more than $20 billion dollars in government waste, fraud and corruption. I strongly believe the time has come for a complete and totral reform of all the agencies dealing with public funding use and oversight. Puerto Rico needs to bring the anti and preventive measure against corruption to the 21st century. The strongest arguments to do this reform are the following:
1) Washington’s absence of trust in the ability of the government to administer Federal funding on the Islands. The Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Treasury Department are seriously considering the establishment of a Federal Oversight entity attached to OMB to supervise and monitor Federal funds in Puerto Rico. Specially, since the allocation of more than $20 billion plus dollars for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico after the disaster of hurricane Maria.
2) The bankruptcy of Puerto Rico, since the Tobin report alerted colonial governors of bankruptcy in the horizon IN DECEMBER 1975, if spending cuts and austerity measures were not adopted,The political establishment ignored ALL the subsequent studies on the fiscal situation, KREPS REP[ORT, ECHENIQUE REPORT ETC. The Kreps report was the result of a Federal Commission appointed by Jimmy Carter and chaired by his Commerce Secretary Junita Keps on Puertto Rico ecvonomic conditio0n in 1980. As a direct result of this failure to enforce prudence on government spending, all governors since 1975 are responsible for the crash and the bankruptcy the ‘Showcase of the Americas”. Of the $104 billions of accumulated public debt at least $ 10 billions was lost in corruption activities EVERY YEAR!
3) The Governor must consider establishing the Department of Public Integrity and Conflict of Interests and work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity division and Federal law enforcement agencies to eliminate corruption and public conflict of interests. The Office of government ethics and the Comptrollers’ Office roles must be reviewed. If and corruption record you look at the conviction levels by states, Puerto Rico is a heaven or corruption and conflict of Interests. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_state_and_local_politicians_convicted_of_crimes. Many states’ governors have been convicted and jailed for acts of corruption and conflict of interests. Puerto Rico has an abysmal record. There in an unwritten law among the principal political parties “if you don’t investigate and prosecute me I won’t investigate and prosecute you!”
4) It should be a paradigm policy of zero tolerance against corruption and conflict of interest. a new set of laws attacking both corruption and conflict of interest should be enacted to cover former governors, legislators and mayors. Stronger audited financial information enacted and enforced for candidates and members of the executive branch before they are elected or appointed and after they leave office.
5) The U.S Justice Department should consider assigning additional FBI agents AND REASOURCES with experience in fighting public corruption and making it a top priority.
6) A forensic audit of Puerto Rico’s public debt must be made if the local territorial government wants to regain the people’s trust.
7) Total transparency of public official financial information must be placed in effect and a modern conflict of Interest and anti-corruption laws must be a priority in the new year if the Puerto Rican government wants to regain Washington trust! Passivity and ignoring this urgent public policy reforms, are not an option! The time to act is now!
8) A new Electoral Fund raising Law must be enacted. “The Seattle Project” should be emulated. See; ¡El proyecto de Seattle: para erradicar la Corrupción y salvar a la Democracia! https://franklindelanolopez.com/2018/11/06/el-proyecto-de-seattle-para-erradicar-la-corrupcion-y-salvar-a-la-democracia/ via @trueblue51 . To begin with political parties that do not meet a 15% threshhold of electoral support should not qualify to get fund from the public electoral fund!
9) The Statehood Commisssion should take the lead on this matter because of it’s direct impact on the struggle for political equality!
If the territorial government does not shows a strong and genuine policy for fighting corruption the bus of equality and statehood will leave us!
According to the latest Census Bureau date Puerto Rico lost between 2000 and 2018 531,000 people who have moved to the lower 48.The projection for 2050 is that another 500,0000 will leave the archipelago! Puerto Rico will be in peril as a viable society! Bringing the number of Puerto Rican enjoying political equality to 5.3 million of total of 8.6 million. Meaning that 66% of Puerto Rican prefers living under a state of the union than in the territory. These recommendations should be a starting point. Ignoring them or assuming a passive public posture is not an option. The Time to act is NOW OR WE LOSE THE EQUALITY BUS! The up-coming indictmets from the U.S. Attorney’s office of the Southern district of New York will open a public discussion on this very soon!~