• The Star Staff

PDP legislator demands ‘a clear agreement’ to unite WIPR with Education Dept.

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Even though Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Eric Delgado Santiago told The Star on Sept. 4 that he was hopeful that WIPR, as the public corporation is known by its Federal Communications Commission call sign, would operate as a public entity through independent income, both House Bill 2524 and Senate Bill 1640 say otherwise as they order the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish initials) to create a non-profit corporation to transfer WIPR’s assets, which are valued at around $15-20 million.

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, along with WIPR employees and actors, demanded Sunday that both legislative bills be halted because they are a “run-over attempt to wrap up million-dollar assets that the country has in WIPR to benefit and profit people whom [the government] has yet to introduce,” and called on Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to bring WIPR back to the Department of Education (DE).

“At this moment, the people of Puerto Rico are rediscovering the necessity of the government’s [broadcast] stations, particularly in their original function, which was to assist the DE in providing public education,” Vega Ramos said. “In the midst of a pandemic, during the disaster at the DE where computers and modules for students have not arrived, where there is no internet service in remote places, one of the options, which should be for a short, medium, and long term, is to broadcast educational programs for the students of the public education system.”

Vega Ramos added that turning WIPR into a non-profit organization might put at risk the television project “En Casa Aprendo,” which has provided the only source of independent income to the entity.

Both bills would let AAFAF put five members on the proposed non-profit corporation’s board of directors, which will be appointed by the governor. The board meanwhile could name six members to work for the Advisory Committee. The PDP lawmaker compared this issue to the development of the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) at the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., where a separate agency was created with the intention of promoting the island as a premier destination for leisure, business and events, about which Vega Ramos said “they filled it with people and supporters of the government’s party, and they gave away $25 million in public funds annually, for which the DMO does not want to be held accountable.”

Meanwhile, Vega Ramos said the WIPR’s operation issue can be solved with an order from the governor and DE Secretary Eligio Hernández to come to an interagency agreement with the corporation and provide $4-5 million, which he said would be easy to provide as DE’s annual budget goes up to $4 billion. Furthermore, he said, if either bill is approved it would not guarantee employment for 120 WIPR workers, members of the Actors Association, and freelancers during the transition.

“We need to make a clear agreement to keep the [public broadcasting] corporation working for the rest of the year,” Vega Ramos. “We’re in October, and it’s more than clear that the next semester in January will not have a complete in-person function at schools. I hope that the DE secretary recognizes that we need this asset in our hands, not only for this year, but for the following years too. Let’s design a new structure that lets the corporation have its structural, organizational, and fiscal autonomy, and preserves its academic and cultural offerings.”

Later in the day, Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón expressed opposition to SB 1640 and called on the New Progressive Party majority in the Legislature to “desist from obeying the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s commands.”

“Once again, the government’s response to the fiscal and administrative crisis is privatization and the delivery of the country’s assets, on this occasion, to the detriment of artists, producers, technicians, and diversity of workers involved in the world of communications,” Márquez said.