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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Land Authority seeks budget hike

The head of Agriculture, Ramón González Beiró, assured that the agency has addressed the deficiencies publicly pointed out by Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso.

By The Star Staff

With an outstanding public debt of $40.6 million, the Land Authority asked the House of Representatives Treasury Committee for $12 million to continue its operations during the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

The agency explained in recent hearings that the amount represents an increase of more than $5 million to the $6.8 million budget recommended by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (fOMB).

“For the agency to operate efficiently and comply with public policy and programmatic commitments, it is essential that we approve the budget submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OGP) for the fiscal year 2024-2025,” said Land Authority Director Irving Rodríguez Torres, who was accompanied by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Ramón González Beiró.

Rodríguez Torres explained that the outstanding debts to be paid as of February 28, 2024, are first broken down into $7.4 million with the Environmental Protection Agency from fines the agency must pay.

González Beiró indicated that past administrations agreed to settle the debts acquired in three cases, but “they did not do so, and that has continued to accumulate.”

The Authority also owes $11.7 million to the Municipal Revenue Collection Center (CRIM) due to increased cadastral numbers, even though the court exempted the agency from paying for its land a few years ago. The list that was presented at that time with the cadastre numbers has never been purged, Rodríguez Torres commented.

Officials detailed that the Authority had paid up to $2 million in debt, but the court withheld the money. “What remains there is what was pending in the lawsuit. There was an amount of money deposited in the court and the last effort was to release that and pass it on to the CRIM,” González Beiró clarified.

The Authority also has a debt of $2.4 million with the Innovation Fund for Agricultural Development (FIDA) and another $18.9 million with the PayGo direct payment system for pension obligations.

Rodríguez Torres highlighted that the agency generates its own funds from land leases with agricultural development, bank interests, royalties, sales of non-agricultural land, among other rentals. It also receives 5% of the allocations from Law 173-2020.

The agronomist explained that the agency faces economic challenges, which is why he asked the Board for an increase of $1.5 million to the budget for the current fiscal year, which the federal agency approved on March 11. This additional item raised the budget to $11.6 million, with a spending projection of 100% by June 30.

González Beiró informed the House committee that the Authority has not yet received the audit report sent by the Comptroller’s Office on the use of funds from the Rural Infrastructure and Permanent Improvements Program and has not received an official communication that breaks down the failures.

The head of Agriculture assured, however, that the agency has addressed the deficiencies publicly pointed out by Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso.

“Those flaws that she points out are the ones that I pointed out. She made referrals to Justice. I sued two entities to recover money. We did the work. We did everything she mentioned two years ago,” said González Beiró, while affirming that the allegations submitted to Justice were referred to the Panel on the Special Independent Prosecutor (PFEI).

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