• The Star Staff

Head of transition committee scolds HTA chief for slowness in funds usage

By The Star Staff

Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz, chairman of the incoming transition committee of governor-elect Pedro Pierluisi, chided Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA) Executive Director Rosana M. Aguilar Zapata during Thursday’s public hearings for the slow pace at which contracts have been awarded for the use of $169 million available in federal emergency funds for Urban Train improvements.

At a news conference later, Rivera Cruz said he was not trying to criticize Aguilar Zapata but rather to send a message to all agency heads that they should expedite the use of federal funds to avoid losing them. Aguilar Zapata has been criticized for the slowness of repairs to the infrastructure, a situation she blamed on red tape.

The controversy arose when Rivera Cruz asked Aguilar Zapata to offer an explanation of the reasons for the slow processing of contracts for improvements to the urban train after noting that only about $16 million has been approved since 2010 to renew the ticket office machines of the urban train, and that the money could be lost.

“Here we are on December 10. Why hasn’t a contract been signed today to take advantage of federal funds that can be taken from us if they are not used after a decade?” Rivera Cruz said, adding that he did not want to see a repeat of what happened in the Health Department, which has not used some $400 million.

Aguilar Zapata replied that the Financial Oversight and Management Board has said the contracts can be signed in the fiscal part, but that they do not comply with the federal “soul source” regulation.

“Well, director, we are going to do the following,” Rivera Cruz said. “If I have federal money in my portfolio and I have had it for 10 years, don’t you believe that as the director of an agency, the best thing you can do is try to run things quickly to take advantage of those economic resources?”

“Definitely,” she replied.

“You know the Financial Oversight and Management Board told you that you have until November 30 to submit the contract. And you haven’t submitted it yet,” Rivera Cruz noted. “And Puerto Rico can lose $16 million.”

Aguilar Zapata said the money was not going to be lost because they were working on the soul source problem.

“Well, at the rate they are going, we will sign it in the year 3000,” Rivera Cruz said.

In an interview with reporters, Aguilar Zapata responded to criticism regarding the quality of Puerto Rico’s roads.

She said potholes in over 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles) of highway have been repaired at a cost of over $1 billion.

However, Ángel Pinto Rivera, president of the PROSOL-UTIER Highway and Transportation Authority Chapter, on Thursday rejected the information given by Aguilar Zapata at the transition hearings, that delays in the reconstruction of public roads are due to the delay in the allocation of commonwealth and federal funds.

“The director of the HTA vilely lies to the transition committee and the people of Puerto Rico, saying that the delays in the repairs of the highways are due to delays in the allocation of funds, when there are close to $1 billion in funds allocated for these purposes,” Pinto Rivera said in a written statement. “The appointment [of Aguilar Zapata] to a second term to lead the Authority is a mistake and the governor-elect, Pedro Pierluisi, must amend it by withdrawing his appointment.”

He added that last Monday, Aguilar Zapata also “lied during her appointment” about the creation of jobs at HTA because the public corporation has not recruited personnel, only the work team was reclassified.

“We cannot continue to allow the country to be lied to,” Pinto Rivera said. “We need a change in staff at HTA, we need people who are responsible and committed to improving our country’s transit routes. Not a director who loves to lie to the country.”

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