Island House of Representatives to hold hearings on use of federal funds

By John McPhaul

A group of legislators from the island House of Representatives announced Sunday that they will summon several directors of government agencies in charge of handling federal funds to public hearings to follow up on the use and management of federal resources, programs and funds by Puerto Rico’s public agencies and corporations.

The public hearings will begin in the first weeks of March, headed by Reps. Ángel “Tito” Fourquet Cordero, who chairs the Public Funds Inspection Committee; Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo, who chairs the Preparation, Reconstruction and Reorganization in an Emergency Committee; and José Aníbal Díaz Collazo, who chairs the Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Works Committee.

The legislators said the first officials to be summoned will be Manuel Laboy, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience of Puerto Rico (COR3); Andrés Rivera, executive director of the Public Buildings Authority; Miguel Colón, director of the Office for the Improvement of Public Schools; Mari Carmen Rivera Santos, who is in charge of directing PREPA’s federal funds program; and Mirella Rodríguez, who is in charge of PREPA’s contracts and bidding.

“The intention is for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to have the opportunity before the people to present the plan to improve the power generation and distribution system that they have been working on in recent years for Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra,” Fourquet said. “Yesterday’s [Saturday] major announcement by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez that ratification of the $9.46 billion allocation can be used to design and build a more resilient system while protecting the environment gives us a unique opportunity to promote, through a coordinated effort, the economic and social development of our island. This will help us to offer alternatives for infrastructure and housing improvements that will finally allow us to start our country’s reconstruction phase.”

“As part of the jurisdiction of our committees, we have the responsibility of overseeing the proper use of public funds in Puerto Rico,” the lawmaker said. “In addition, [we have the responsibility to see to it] that the reconstruction of our country is done in an orderly manner and meeting the needs of our people.”

Díaz Collazo, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of ensuring that all federal funds are well used, and that acts of corruption are not committed as has occurred in the past.

“Power struggles for positions that will have an influence on the management of federal funds have already been publicly disclosed,” he said. “These struggles in the Department of Education make us raise a flag and it is our responsibility in the House of Representatives to ensure the proper use of these funds.”

For his part, Ortiz Lugo said the announcement by Schumer and Velázquez is another great opportunity that “we cannot lose” due to allegations of corruption.

“We cannot miss this opportunity to start Puerto Rico’s well planned reconstruction phase,” he said. “The House of Representatives wants to take an active role, helping in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, and the first step is for these officials, starting with COR3, to render an account on the management of these federal funds.”

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