House proposes merger of anti-corruption offices to fight white collar crime
By The Star Staff
A House panel proposed on Wednesday to merge the Office of the Independent Special Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI by its Spanish initials), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Ethics Office (OEG) to create a more efficient anti-corruption tool.
The House Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Committee proposed the idea during an analysis panel and public hearing to address the corruption problem in Puerto Rico.
The event, which took place at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico Law School, brought together experts, academics and legislators to discuss proposals to address House Bill 1701, which seeks the creation of the Office for Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity (OAIP), and House Bill 1702, aimed at creating a new Anti-Corruption Code. Both bills have been filed as forceful, confrontive responses to corruption on the island.
Both bills contemplate the merger of the OPFEI, OIG and OEG, thus establishing an independent and autonomous entity with the capacity to lead the prosecution of high-profile crimes committed by public officials and former public officials under its jurisdiction.
Among the participants in Wednesday’s hearing were Reps. Héctor Ferrer Santiago, who chairs the House Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Committee, Juan José Santiago Nieves, Deborah Soto Arroyo, Denis Márquez Lebrón, José Bernardo Márquez Reyes and Lisie Burgos Muñiz.
Ferrer Santiago pointed out that “the participation of experts and academics in the discussion of these bills will strengthen the legislation and contribute to a fairer and corruption-free Puerto Rico,” highlighting the importance of having “varied and well-founded perspectives on the matter.”
Santiago Nieves, meanwhile, stressed the relevance of legal experts in enriching the discussion and guaranteeing the proposals’ applicability. Likewise, Soto Arroyo emphasized the need for a collaborative effort between legislators, academics and the community to develop solid laws promoting integrity at all levels of Puerto Rican society.
“The creation of the Anti-Corruption Office and the new Anti-Corruption and Ethics Code represent significant steps in the fight against corruption in Puerto Rico, to ensure transparency and justice in all spheres in the country,” Ferrer Santiago said.
Public hearings will continue on Aug. 23, 24 and 25 at the Capitol, providing a platform for diverse and representative participation from various entities and agencies.
The panel of experts included prominent professionals in the field, including:
* Julio E. Fontanet Maldonado, dean and professor of the Law Faculty at Inter-American University, shared his experience in criminal procedure, criminal law, evidence law and international criminal law.
* Javier Morales, president of Competitive Consulting Group, provided knowledge on industrial/organizational psychology and criminal justice.
* José Efraín Hernández Acevedo, associate professor and director of the Department of Social Sciences at Inter-American, contributed his expertise in law.
* Issel Masses, of Sembrando Sentidos, is noted for her work promoting transparency and civic action.
* Leo Aldridge, an attorney specializing in federal criminal cases, added valuable perspectives to the conversation.