The San Juan Daily Star
Lawmakers prepare to file get-tough anti-corruption bill
By The Star Staff
Rep. José Enrique “Quiquito” Meléndez Ortiz, along with Rep. José “Ché” Pérez Cordero, announced that on Monday, when the next ordinary session of the island Legislature starts, or soon thereafter, they plan to file a bill to combat the rebound in corruption cases in Puerto Rico.
“We must establish mechanisms that force officials to understand the risks of engaging in corrupt conduct,” Meléndez Ortiz said in a written statement. “President Ronald Reagan used to say, if you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat. I believe that this quote directly describes what we have to do to stop this wave of people from failing [our] trust.”
“The vast majority of public servants are upright and committed officials. Despite this, some, with their unlawful actions, have tarnished the good name of all and damaged the people’s trust in government institutions,” Meléndez Ortiz added. “Therefore, we as legislators are obligated to present initiatives to avoid this type of unfortunate conduct.”
The New Progressive Party at-large lawmaker noted that “[t]he initiatives included in this bill have no historical precedent in Puerto Rico due to their aggressiveness.”
“We believe that some people might find them unpleasant, but although we can understand their concerns, we have a responsibility to fight against corruption,” Meléndez Ortiz said. “It is very sad that this legislation is necessary, but we have to respond with force if we want our people to regain confidence in their government.”
Some of the proposals in the bill include making a preventive embargo of assets of any official accused of committing a crime; in case of acquittal, the goods would be returned. Otherwise, they’d be confiscated and liquidated.
The bill also contemplates freezing benefits for any official accused of committing a crime under the Organic Law of the Office of Government Ethics, the Puerto Rico Penal Code, or the Anti-Corruption Code. If convicted, the official would lose the benefits.
Also proposed in the bill is the definition of the term “contractor” as one who receives a contract for professional, advisory, construction or any other type of services with executive agencies, the judicial branch or the legislative branch, or is granted an economic incentive.
Any wrongdoing of a contractor would result in the revocation of the certificate of incorporation and the dissolution of the corporation and, in the case of it being a public official, in being permanently disqualified from holding any public office or job within the government. In the case of legal entities, the ban extends to any person who performs equivalent functions for the legal person.
The proposed bill also creates a revolving fund in the Department of Justice, known as the “Anti-Corruption Revolving Fund,” for the exclusive purposes established by the Puerto Rico Anti-Corruption Code.
The bill also proposes that the Puerto Rico Police Bureau is authorized to issue criminal record certificates to clarify that the crimes that are part of the “Registry of Persons Convicted of Corruption” will be permanently included in the Criminal Record Certificates.