Comptroller finds myriad irregularities in Barceloneta’s fiscal operations
By The Star Staff
The Comptroller of Puerto Rico on Tuesday issued a report on the fiscal operations of Barceloneta that revealed the municipality signed numerous capital works contracts without the required permits and lacked controls.
The report reveals that the municipality did not hold a public bid on permanent improvement projects for the Head Start Program. Contrary to the law and current regulations, quotes were requested from specific suppliers and the projects were divided into 40 contracts and 14 amendments that totaled $4.1 million.
The audit of seven findings indicates that the municipality did not obtain permits from the Permits Management Office (OGPe by its Spanish acronym) in 47 demolitions, 35 uses, 34 environmental permits and seven constructions. In addition, in 45 of the 53 projects evaluated for $4.3 million, the northern coastal town obtained the construction permit up to five years after the awarding of the contract, and did not formalize contracts in the construction of gazebos, fences and roof sealing at 18 Head Start centers.
These situations prevent free competition between bidders and do not allow the OGPe to exercise its oversight function, nor do they protect the interests of the municipality in the event of noncompliance by the supplier, the comptroller’s office said in a press release.
Contrary to Act 81 of 1991 of Autonomous Municipalities, nine municipal employees were transferred to the Barceloneta BBQ Chicken Municipal Co. without making the changes to their status and condition to that of private employees. In addition, one of the employees was promoted to a municipal position for which she improperly received $16,100. The municipality did not obtain the reimbursement of the outstanding chef’s salary of $37,893, as established in the collaborative agreements, and eliminated the debt of $11,440 in the accounting books without the approval of the municipal assembly. The municipality’s Internal Audit Unit did not conduct audits or monitoring of the operations of the BBQ Chicken Co.
The comptroller’s auditors identified the appointment of a person who had been convicted, without having been authorized by the Public Service Qualification Office in accordance with Law 184-2004 for the Administration of Human Resources in the Public Service. That situation was referred to the Department of Labor and Human Resources on July 19, 2019, which concluded that the municipality had failed to comply with labor legislation. In this regard, the municipality had to return $11,932 for the employee’s wages to the Bureau for the Promotion of Work Opportunities.
The report indicates that Barceloneta registered and forwarded up to four months later, copies of 156 contracts and 65 amendments for $6.8 million to the Office of the Comptroller of Puerto Rico (OCPR). Contracts have to be registered with the OCPR 30 days after they are signed. In addition, for the audited period, the town sent the payroll report up to 83 days later, and 53 days later, sent the Annual Report on the State of Privatizations to the OCPR. Those situations, contrary to current regulations, deprive the government and citizens of updated and accessible information on public documents, the comptroller said.
The audit comments that the municipality disbursed $140,000 without receiving any benefits, due to settlement payments for lawsuits in court: $130,000 to an employee for political discrimination and $10,000 to an employee for unjustified dismissal.
In addition, as of Feb. 28, 2019, the municipality owed $1.4 million to the Government Employees Retirement Systems Administration and the judiciary. That amount includes $49,844 in interest.