Lawmaker seeks probe of ‘wasteful spending’ on UPR board meeting at hotel
By The Star Staff
New Progressive Party Rep. María de Lourdes Ramos has filed a resolution ordering a probe into the “wasteful spending” of close to $30,000 on a weekend meeting at an Isla Verde hotel by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) governing board at a time when the institution has budget limitations.
However, the STAR learned that several UPR board members on Thursday were slated to ask for the resignation of Governing Board President Mayda Velasco at a scheduled meeting, arguing that she did not inform the governing board about the activities and that the expenditures were not approved by the board. Velasco had convened the meeting but told board members its contents were not going to be aired. At press time, it was not known if the board members had asked for her resignation or not.
Ramos’ resolution, HR 686, also calls for a probe into the UPR’s interference with the institution’s retirement system after an appeals court decision from September 2021 that ruled the system was not under the governing board’s jurisdiction. Velasco tried to get the board to pass a ruling stating that the board was not going to comply with the appeals court ruling, but the board rejected it.
“Although the board rejected it in a majority vote, Velasco, nonetheless, issued a certification, stating that the board had approved it because two abstentions were not counted toward the vote,” Ramos told the STAR.
The UPR governing board wants to change the retirement system to a defined contribution system composed of 401-K accounts.
Regarding the wasteful spending, Ramos said that when she asked Velasco for an explanation about the hotel expenditures, the UPR board president insulted her.
Ramos confirmed that several UPR board members told her that they never authorized the activity or the amounts spent.
Former UPR President José Saldaña told the STAR that such excessive expenditures on an activity related to the board should have required the board’s approval.
In a single weekend, the governing board spent $25,187 between hotel accommodations, food, internet and other services, according to invoices contained in the resolution authored by Ramos.
Of that figure, $10,194 was spent on 13 “Deluxe” rooms between Feb. 3 and Feb. 6.
The money was spent on the Second Meeting of the Committee of External Collaborators of the Institutional Transformation Office (OTI by its Spanish initials), which is attached to the governing board and was created in 2018. OTI collaborators are in charge of evaluating the operation of the Medical Sciences Campus.
Ramos said the Medical Sciences Campus has very nice facilities in which the collaborators could have stayed and that there was no need for the excessive expenditures.
Ramos said she is also seeking to investigate claims that among the external collaborators are officials from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, which is where Velasco teaches, because of a possible conflict of interest.
On the weekend of Nov. 18-20, 2021, UPR funds were used for another meeting at a hotel in Isla Verde that at the time charged $1,757 per day for 10 rooms.