• The Star Staff

Governor proposes public debt audit, return of retirees to central gov’t

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Wednesday the filing of his first package of legislative measures, among which are House Joint Resolution (HJR) 63, which proposes to audit Puerto Rico’s public debt, and House Bill (HB) 533, which opens a window so that all pensioners or retirees from the central government who resigned on an incentive basis can work partially without affecting their pension.

“These pieces of legislation are part of our programmatic commitments as a government, they are necessary to be able to effectively carry out our work, and they accompany the presentation we made on the next budget several weeks ago,” Pierluisi said in a written statement.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez asked for time to study and work on the measures and promised that the lower chamber “will not be an obstacle.”

“To avoid problems from the past, and a great deal of self-criticism -- in my case I administered measures that were not handled in the case that due process was given -- I am going to ask the country not to criticize them, to simply lift your voice, what are your concerns and we will address them,” said Hernández Montañez, who met with the governor along with Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago. “We are not simply going to be against it, because we have to keep our word with the governor to attend to the measures, and if we have to make adjustments, if they end with a vote or no vote, then that will happen in the process.”

“The responsible thing is to keep our word to give way, not to be an obstacle in the country’s development process and to improve it if it has to be improved or if it has the support of all legislators in solidarity, then approve it,” the House speaker added. “The Legislative Assembly cannot be a stone in the road. It has to be a facilitator and we have four initiatives from the governor that we are going to respond to responsibly.”

HJR 63 establishes that the Office of the Comptroller will carry out an audit process of the debt issued by the government of Puerto Rico, its public corporations, instrumentalities and municipalities from 1952 to 2016. It also empowers that governmental entity so that, on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico, it may make those referrals of people it deems pertinent, if any, to the Department of Justice, the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel or any federal agency with jurisdiction over the matter, as well as evaluate the challenge in the competent forums with jurisdiction of any debt issued illegally.

With HB 533, the governor proposes to open a “window” so that those pensioners who have retired from the government or employees who resigned on an incentive basis, such as teachers, social workers and policemen, among others, can work partially in the government again, and without their pension being affected. All of this temporarily exempts them from any law or agreement signed that prohibits their return to public service.

Another piece of legislation in place is HB 534, which proposes to centralize the recruitment of all government personnel in the Office of Personnel Administration of the Government of Puerto Rico, formerly known as OATRH by its Spanish initials, always following the principle of merit. Therefore, all public agencies and instrumentalities are ordered to transfer to that office the specialized human resources personnel required by it for the recruitment process, together with the budget corresponding to the payment of payroll and employee benefits.

Similarly, an electronic portal will be enabled where citizens can submit their job applications.

The fourth measure, HJR 64, empowers the Administration for the Care and Comprehensive Development of Children (ACUDEN by its Spanish acronym) to acquire real estate for the Head Start program.

Pierluisi said the island government has corroborated and confirmed with the Office of Head Start, New York Region II that there is availability of millions of dollars in recovery funds through Disaster Recovery Funds that could be requested by ACUDEN as a grantee. This is so that the Family Department, on ACUDEN’s behalf, can acquire real property and other real property rights to establish new and modern Head Start facilities.

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