Hurry up and wait
In part 2 of an exclusive interview, the mayor of Caguas discusses the frustrations of bureaucracy on a number of reconstruction fronts
By Richard Gutiérrez
Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres, in a recent exclusive interview with the STAR, discussed in detail the city’s reconstruction and rebuilding process, explaining how long it is likely to take -- seven years, specifically. The interview went on to cover more details on the reconstruction of the Caguas, along with other topics such as politics and security.
With regard to projects that have yet to be finished, the mayor offered a very interesting answer to the two-part question, “What’s going to happen with projects that haven’t been dealt with yet? Why have they taken so long?”
“First we need to firmly establish what is municipal and what belongs to the state,” Miranda Torres told the STAR. “That is another challenge that municipal managers have to deal with as well. If you ask most people what the state’s responsibility is, they’ll say health, security and education, and when you ask them what the municipality is in charge of, they’ll simply say: ‘Everything else,’ and that’s not the case.”
As was discussed in the first part of this interview, street repairs are the biggest example of how this confusion over jurisdiction applies in terms of infrastructure, the mayor noted.
“It is a rather frustrating subject; I wish there was more rapid action toward fixing these issues,” Miranda Torres said. “Back then [prior to Puerto Rico’s current economic crisis], you were able to do 40 projects a year; nowadays we don’t have the same amount of resources. The reality is that all projects are in a waiting line, waiting to be fixed. Some projects will take longer while others will be quicker. It’s a schedule; some projects are going to be [completed] farther away than others.”
“What we are hoping for is that there are more contractors and more workers to continue helping to rebuild the city,” the mayor continued. “If we want even more contractors, materials and workers, that is another complicated process that requires the intervention of many people. Even the federal government must be involved.”
Last month, the Popular Democratic Party denounced the current central administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia of not using federal funds well enough, spending only 0.11% of the federal funds provided for the reconstruction of the island.
“You have the fund; I tend to think that the people who are in charge of putting all of this to work don’t have the requirements that are needed to make this work at the pace it needs to run,” Miranda Torres said. “If a municipality has 719 projects, all of that multiplied by 78 municipalities, on top of only four people managing all of them, and in every single one of their projects they have to go and make sure everything is settled, obviously they will never finish. If the bureaucracy was already an issue when you started, this only complicates the process even more. Funds are not eternal; they need to develop strategies and let themselves be helped. For example, if I have the capacity to move things quicker as a municipality, whatever responsibility we can take care of, give it to us. Use the funds to your advantage as much as possible.”
LUMA Energy, the company in charge of operating the island’s electric power transmission and distribution system, and its relationship with Caguas was another topic of discussion.
“We would’ve expected more from this company,” the mayor said. “For us we have three priorities, which are infrastructure, city maintenance and cleaning, and lastly, lighting. Lighting is not my responsibility; however, it is my third priority, because everyone needs these issues to be solved already. While as a municipality we cannot solve every one of these issues, we most certainly take in the complaints and have a group of people who work on that specific situation. In a sense, they work with LUMA to try and resolve these issues.”
“Even though we would’ve expected more from this company, I need to be fair with them, because LUMA doesn’t have enough personnel,” the mayor added. “The transition from PREPA to LUMA caused a lot of people with a degree of preparation to leave the company to do other things. Furthermore, their plan is scheduled to last 10 years, and just like me they are starting to settle this, so by 2033 the island’s electrical system should be in a much better state, and every day the process becomes a lot more difficult for them considering many people are moving on to solar energy.”
In other words, the reconstruction of the city’s electrical system might take a little bit longer than the reconstruction itself.
Caguas has also invested a substantial amount of money on security, about $2 million between body cams, new vehicles, surveillance cameras mounted all over the city, and drones. “Some of the initiatives that we announced a couple of months ago are still in progress, like the C.A.D [Computer-Aided Dispatch] System and the drones, on top of a specific training that will be offered to the municipal police officers,” Miranda Torres said. “We are hoping that in the next few months everything gets solidified, and we can continue to see the effects of the implementation of these new acquisitions in the city’s overall security. We recently recruited seven new cadets and will continue accepting more people in the [municipal police] force until January 2024.”
In an earlier STAR report, it had been noted that the drones were probably going to be available by September, but they have yet to arrive. However, the mayor said, the personnel who will handle this equipment have already been trained.
“Last I heard, we are very close to getting the drones, but we need to keep checking on it,” Miranda Torres said. “I would personally like more things to be around in terms of security by November 24, or at the very least by the end of this year and the beginning of next year. I’d like to have a lot more in terms of security. By then we could start to see the effects of these new acquisitions.”
Lastly, party primaries are close, and even though the city has a large population, and the mayor is well known around the island, he prefers to stay home and dismissed the probability of running for anything other than mayor of Caguas.
“It is important for me to continue working with the city,” Miranda Torres said. “If the administration changes the processes and money has been given, [then administrating the funds] could be more complicated and difficult. I want to take care of my city.”