Governor calls 6th special session to ‘fight corruption’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced summoned the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday for a sixth special session that begins today and in which 25 bills that address health, education, safety, transparency issues will be taken up, along with other matters that remained unattended in earlier sessions.

One of the administrative bills is intended to “fight one of the most terrible situations that Puerto Rico has confronted, corruption.” The measure proposes that all professional service or consulting contracts from governmental entities should indicate under oath if there are natural or legal persons who would be part of or have a direct interest in, including affiliates or subsidiaries, the gains or benefits resulting from the contract by reason of any verbal or written agreement for subcontracting, intermediation, shared profits, gains of success by hiring, lobbying or a similar nature.

Meanwhile, the governor submitted for the Legislative Assembly’s evaluation an amendment proposal for the Contract Registration Law that requires every person who awards a contract to any government or municipal entity should be obliged to enroll and present a subcontract copy to the Office of the Comptroller and its relevant agency.

“As former Justice secretary, governor, and other experiences through public service, we believed that there were some measures that must be submitted through this assembly to try tackle corruption in the government system. I want to promote through my measures that, in future governments, whoever enters the government should serve and not be served,” Vázquez said. “Enterprises that were created at the beginning of a new government or in the middle of an emergency to acquire contracts with the government as part of the narrative we have listened to every four years, these businesses would get juicy contracts that resulted in benefits for people close to this new administration.”

The governor also submitted House Bill (HB) 403, which would authorize a “virtual driver’s license” that could be processed directly from the Driver Services Center (CESCO by its Spanish acronym) mobile app and give the digital document legal power. The governor said the bill’s objective is to “make citizens’ lives easier and … so that they won’t have to go to a CESCO each time they have a problem.”

Meanwhile, another bill that the governor submitted for the special session was HB 2036, which intends to amend the Puerto Rico Vehicle and Traffic Law by expanding the terms for requesting both analog and digital driving license renewals before the expiration date and extending the life of the license from six to eight years. Vázquez said the bill is “a step toward advancement and a benefit toward all citizens.”

Another bill, HB 2581, proposes to amend the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety Law to establish as criminal conduct not complying with the use of face mask coverings amid a pandemic or epidemic as it is a breach against an executive order enacted by the governor. When the Star asked why such a bill is necessary, given that the standing executive order states that violators could be fined $5,000 and spend up to six months in jail, Vázquez responded that “as … the executive order reaches its deadline, we know that COVID-19 and any other public health emergency could happen at any moment, and not necessarily spur an executive order.

“That’s why the law establishes that when a public emergency is declared, any citizen who doesn’t use it [a face mask covering] is committing a crime,” the governor said.

During the press conference, Vázquez also appointed Laa Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Osvaldo Soto García as commonwealth comptroller. The appointment now goes to the island House of Representatives and Senate for confirmation.

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