Governor: Dismissal of gov’t employees ‘is not an option’ for retaining public retirement system

Vázquez knew about oversight board’s request

By Pedro Correa Henry

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced said Tuesday that she has known since last week of the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s (FOMB) intention to dismiss public employees as part of the cost of implementing Laws 80, 81, and 82, which include major benefits for civil servants’ retirement system, and that she has not budged in her opposition to the board’s position.

“We had a virtual meeting with FOMB Chairman David Skeel, where Executive Director Natalia Jaresko was also present,” Vázquez told the press during a press conference at the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Service where she signed a bill to extend the driver’s license validity period to eight years. “Before this meeting, we had a meeting with her [Jaresko] where we were [informed] that this was a possibility.”

The governor said she “clearly and thoroughly” rejects any suspension or dismissal of public servants, noting that the laws were submitted and signed because it was understood that there’s documentation that confirms that there were public savings ahead, and that passing the aforementioned bills was “beyond the social justice that is done for all retirees who more than deserve it.”

“So in these conversations, we have continued looking for alternatives so that resources are obtained and a dignified retirement can be given for these people without the dismissal of public employees,” she said. “This is not, nor it will be [considered], an option.”

The governor insisted meanwhile that “anyone who wants to retire and who qualifies, we have to give them the opportunity to follow the process.”

“The process has continued, and especially the conversations with the [oversight] board to look for these alternatives so that Laws 80, 81, and 82 are passed,” she said.

As for the Christmas Bonus for public employees, Vázquez said she is making sure that it will be paid.

“Without a doubt, we are already working with the FOMB to identify the resources for the payment of the Christmas Bonus,” the governor said, adding that she will meet with the federal entity that regulates the island government’s budget and that, as happened in 2019, “this year will not be the exception.”

The oversight board informed the local government earlier that in order to mitigate the costs of the major retirement benefits that were defined under the aforementioned laws, it required “significant reductions on public employees, more than those provided for in the Certified Fiscal Plan.”

Jaresko said that if the government is committed to enforcing the laws, “they must make a difficult decision.”

“The government will have to cut spending, including cuts to police, firefighters and other government employees to pay for these laws,” Jaresko said.

She added that the governor enacted all three laws in August without sufficient analysis of how much the laws would cost and where the savings would come from to cover those incremental costs. Even after repeated exchanges with the oversight board, the government’s analysis remains incomplete, while the board’s analysis found that the impact of the three laws combined could increase government spending by up to $8.3 billion over the next 30 years.

Governor mum on PFEI determination to sit on Telegram chat report

Regarding the determination by Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (PFEI by its Spanish initials) President Nydia Cotto Vives to hold back the report on the infamous Telegram chat released last year, Vázquez reserved comment.

The Telegram chat scandal led to a two-week protest two summers ago that ended with then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’ resignation.

“Regarding the PFEI question, it’s a determination from the panel,” the governor said. “They will make the decision according to the reasons provided by the prosecutors. About this particular case, I won’t make any statements.”

The PFEI president told NotiUno 630 that the investigation came to an end, resulting in a “voluminous report [which contains more than] 100 pages.” As for the 10 additional days that were requested by the prosecutors assigned to the case, she insisted that “it wasn’t meant to throw in the towel on anyone.”

In addition to Rosselló, former oversight board government representative Christian Sobrino Vega, former La Fortaleza legal adviser Alfonso Orona, former Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario Cortés, publicist Edwin Miranda Reyes and lobbyist Elías Sánchez Sifonte are under investigation.

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