Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico governor presents zero debt payment budget under cloud of uncertainty

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 23, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
Puerto Rico Oversight Board director Natalie Jaresko said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s budget will have to be revised and may be rejected if the local government doesn’t follow through on a labor reform agreement. The governor released the $8.73 billion general fund budget on Friday and promoted it in a speech to Puerto Rico’s legislature Tuesday night. On Sunday night the governor and the board announced an agreement on a compromise on reforming labor practices as well as agreeing to other changes in the board-certified fiscal plan. In exchange for the board waiving its demands for the abolition of the Christmas bonus and reduction of the island’s mandatory 27 days of vacation and sick leave, the governor agreed to bring at-will employment to the island by repealing Law 80 from 1976. Jaresko, in a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, described this agreement as an “accommodation.” …

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Puerto Rico Oversight Board, Gov. Rosselló reach partial compromise
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, May 21, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
The Puerto Rico Oversight Board and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reached a partial compromise in their policy struggle over the fiscal plan for the debt-laden territory. The board said the proposed revisions are “a result of the commitment by the governor and legislature to approve labor reform before the end of this fiscal year, thus considerably reducing implementation risks of the fiscal plan and avoiding costly litigation.” Gov. Rosselló said the new fiscal plan “is not perfect, but it offers concrete results in benefits for our people, and allows us to enter the next phase with more certainty and less conflict. I am convinced that this is the way forward.” …

Puerto Rico’s rocky recovery is distracting from its pre-existing struggles, residents say
Source: E.A. Crunden, ThinkProgress, May 21, 2018
 
When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico last September, the island was already struggling. Cash-strapped and massively in debt, the U.S. territory has faced budget deficits for years. Before the hurricane, Puerto Rico already owed $74 billion in debt, with more than $53 billion outstanding in unfunded pensions. Fifty percent of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line and the island never recovered from the Great Recession the way the mainland did; more than 20 percent of Puerto Rican jobs have dried up since 2007. Mainland sympathy was always hard to come by. In 2006, Congress did away with tax breaks that helped Puerto Rico, while continuing legislation like the Jones Act. That World War I-era law mandates that only U.S. ships may transport U.S. goods domestically between ports, hurting islands like Puerto Rico in the process. According to a 2012 report, between 1990 and 2010, the Jones Act alone cost Puerto Rico $17 billion. Amid a struggling economy and little relief, more than 10 percent of the island’s population had left over the course of the last decade before Maria even made landfall. …

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Puerto Rico’s Teachers Battle for the Schools Their Students Deserve

Source: Jesse Hagopian, The Progressive, May 9, 2018
 
On May Day, thousands of Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students launched strikes and boycotts to push back against austerity measures that would close nearly 300 schools, lay off 7,000 teachers, convert public schools into privatized charters, and cut public sector pensions. I spoke with Mercedes Martinez, President of Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, about the neoliberal attack on the schools and public sector, the worker strikes and boycotts of May Day, and the brutal response of the police. …

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Puerto Rico Plans to Shutter 283 Schools
Source: AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 6, 2018
 
The Puerto Rico Department of Education announced late Thursday that it would close 283 public schools next school year, citing a decline in enrollment of nearly 39,000 students and the island’s ongoing budget crisis.  “Our children deserve the best education we are capable of giving them taking into account the fiscal reality of Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement issued in Spanish Thursday evening. “Therefore we are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.” In early February, Keleher and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a sweeping education reform plan that called for closing several hundred schools over the next several years and introducing charter schools to the island. The governor estimates the plan will help save $466 million per year by 2022, according to figures in his most recent fiscal plan meant to address the island’s staggering $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Those figures do not take into account the estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. …

6 Months After Maria, Puerto Ricans Face a New Threat—Education Reform
Source: Yarimar Bonilla, Rima Brusi and Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, The Nation, March 21, 2018
 
Six months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are understandably frustrated with their government officials. One might expect discontent to center around the head of the power company who oversaw months of blackouts or the governor who awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in private contracts with little or no oversight. But instead it is the secretary of the department of education, Philadelphia-native Julia Keleher, who has become the focus of people’s anger. In the past few weeks, Puerto Ricans have been calling for her resignation, making her the object of a viral hashtag campaign, #JuliaGoHome. On Monday, the school system was paralyzed by a strike as thousands of teachers protested the education-reform bill her office has spearheaded. …

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Puerto Rico looks to privatize its prison system

Source: Beryl Lipton, Muckrock, April 24, 2018

As part of efforts to rebuild and restructure Puerto Rico after last fall’s destructive hurricane season, the island territory is actively planning to use private prisons on the mainland to house a third of its current inmate population. The “New Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico,” approved last month by the Puerto Rico Fiscal Oversight Board, included “externalization of imprisonment services” as a key part of the Department of Corrections Transformation Plan. According to the proposed estimates, the move, if successful, would decrease costs for the affected population by about 15%….No company in particular has yet emerged as a front runner in the current Request for Proposals bidding process. An informational meeting was held today for interested parties, all of whom were expected to bring a 5% “bid bond.” ….

FEMA faulted for failed contracts to deliver hurricane aid

Source: Associated Press, April 10, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts for hurricane supplies without adequately researching whether winning bidders could deliver what they promised, according to a new investigation by Democrats on a Senate oversight committee. The investigation followed disclosures by The Associated Press in November that a newly created Florida company with an unproven record had won more than $30 million in FEMA contracts to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting for repairs after Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico. That vendor, Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida, never delivered those urgently needed supplies. The report from Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs described failures by the Trump administration that prevented timely delivery of tarps and sheeting to hurricane victims after the summer’s storms. It focused on the Bronze Star contract and another awarded to Global Computers and Networks LLC of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. …

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Lawmakers seek probes of award for Hurricane Maria tarps
Source: Tami Abdollah, Associated Press, December 1, 2017

Democrats in Congress are pushing for investigations into how the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts worth $30 million to a fledgling company for Hurricane Maria disaster supplies that it failed to deliver to Puerto Rico. The senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, wrote Thursday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, seeking more information about how FEMA evaluated Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida. The Associated Press reported this week that FEMA awarded the small firm contracts for tarps and plastic sheeting that were never delivered. The agency ultimately terminated the contracts earlier this month without paying any money, but the episode caused a delay of four weeks. …

… Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., wants the Homeland Security Department inspector general to investigate. He sought the review in an amendment to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2017, which cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. Maloney’s amendment cleared the committee with unanimous bipartisan support, though it was unclear when the House will vote on the measure. The amendment specifically requests an inspector general audit of all contracts awarded for tarps and plastic sheeting for the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The review would include the contracting process used to evaluate bidders and award the contracts; the assessment of past performance and technical capacity to fulfill the contracts; and how FEMA ensures the contractors meet the terms. …

Plan to dismantle Puerto Rico’s statistics agency gets green light

Source: Giorgia Gulielmi, Nature, April 5, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s senators this week approved a plan to overhaul an independent statistics agency tasked with coordinating the collection and analysis of crucial data — including the impact of hurricanes — on the island. The reorganization will wreck the US territory’s ability to produce credible data about itself, including updated estimates of the death toll from Hurricane Maria, critics of the plan say. The 2 April decision paves the way towards restructuring several government agencies, including the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS). Lawmakers must now approve legislation dismantling the laws that established PRIS in order to make the reorganization official. Under Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s plan to reduce the size and cost of government agencies, first introduced in January, PRIS would become an office in the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, which would outsource the institute’s duties to private companies. …

FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

Source: Patricia Mazzei and Agustin Armendariz, New York Times, February 6, 2018
 
The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.  For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help. … By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.” …

Whitefish stops work on Puerto Rico power grid over payment dispute

Source: Brandon Carter, The Hill, November 20, 2017
 
Whitefish Energy, which is under scrutiny over how it was selected for work in Puerto Rico, is halting its efforts on the island’s power grid because it says the local power authority owes it millions of dollars.  In an interview with CNN published Monday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said the company is owed more than $83 million by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and is stopping work because its repeated requests for payment were not fulfilled.  “We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business,” Techmankski said.  The company’s CEO said that it has employed more than 500 contractors and subcontractors on its work to restore the island’s power grid following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ricardo Ramos, embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility, resigns
Source: Phil McCausland, NBC News, November 17, 2017
 
The embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned on Friday, the latest controversy to hit the island as it struggles to bring its electric grid back online. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency, submitted his resignation to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office only a few days after he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee over the controversial contract he approved with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.  A few hours after Ramos resigned, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló recommended the appointment of engineer Justo González as interim director of the public utility.

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 14, 2017

The governor of Puerto Rico and the chief executive of its beleaguered electric company faced hours of questioning on Tuesday in Congress, where skeptical legislators questioned whether to give the island an enormous aid package on the heels of a botched high-priced contract to fix its power grid.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló came to Senate and House committees with a huge ask: $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico “build back better” after Hurricane Maria destroyed or damaged 472,000 homes and knocked out the island’s electricity. He also said that Puerto Rico should have more authority over its own fiscal affairs, and that he had “zero role” in awarding a highly criticized $300 million deal to a small Montana firm to help restore power. …

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Puerto Rico activists fight to keep beaches public

Source: Caribbean News Now, August 10, 2016

Environmental activists and experts in Puerto Rico breathed a sigh of relief when a law that sought to privatize La Parguera, a public maritime zone in the western coast of Lajas, was rejected. But their battle is far from over. Several public beaches and maritime zones are fighting privatization proposals. Project #1621, the bill that was recently rejected, intended to legalize floating water houses or casetas. Illegal casetas have existed in La Parguera for decades. The bill would have legalized these homes, allowed the owners to rent the property for up to 40 years and it would have turned the free public space along the casetas into an exclusive tourism zone. … Project #1621 was only one of several bills that intended to commodify public spaces on the island. In November 2015, an altercation between Marriott hotel’s administration and environmental activists made headline news after a ten year struggle erupted into a protest in Isla Verde Beach in Carolina. The organization Coalición Playas Pa’l Pueblo had established a camp site in Isla Verde over ten years ago to protect free public access in a beach located in the northern city of Carolina. … Another bill proposed this year by the House of Representatives was Project #2853, which intended to legalize the privatization of Puerto Rico’s coastal zones. This project would have created a Trust for Ecotourist Conservation in Puerto Rico under the Department of Natural Resources for granting special licenses for the private use of the coastal maritime zone. The bill was rejected by the Senate, and during the night of its hearing, activists gathered outside the Capitol of Puerto Rico to protest, and activist Alberto de Jesús, better known as “Tito Kayak”, climbed a flag pole and replaced the American flag with one that read “Beaches belong to the people.” …

Puerto Rico governor supports privatizing power production

Source: Associated Press, June 4, 2015

Puerto Rico’s governor said Wednesday that he supports privatizing electricity production in the U.S. territory as officials seek to restructure the island’s troubled public power company.

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Puerto Rico Leaders Battle on Potential PREPA Privatization
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, March 24, 2014
(subscription required)

Puerto Rico’s leaders are at odds over a potential privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. On March 20 Puerto Rico’s Senate passed a series of bills for reforming the commonwealth’s electrical system. …. . One of the bills opened the path for a possible quick privatization of the provision of electricity on the island. This is one of the key things García Padilla opposes about the bills, the governor’s chief of staff, Ingrid Vila Biaggi, told The Bond Buyer.

Puerto Rico Dumps Traffic Cameras, Orders Refunds/ After just a few months, Puerto Rico cancels automated ticketing machine contract, refunding all citations.

Source: theNewspaper.com, January 16, 2015

The public in Puerto Rico complained so loudly about the photo enforcement program that the territory’s government listened. Red light cameras went up at three intersections in October dealing out $250 tickets for making rolling right turns, speeding or having a recently expired vehicle registration. On Thursday, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) had his transportation department refund every ticket issued. … Haste was important, since the program had not become fully operational. A contract clause allowed the transportation department to cancel the deal without paying the $6 million termination fee at any time before the installation was complete. Transportation officials also insist that the photo ticketing firm failed to deliver on its end of the bargain. A no-bid contract was awarded to International Traffic Systems, which also operated in Puerto Rico under the name “National Public Safety Consortium.” In the United States, this entity goes by the name InsureNet, a company run by Jonathan Miller of Georgia. InsureNet sells automated license plate readers and has unsuccessfully lobbied to have automated cameras issue tickets to drivers whose insurance or registration has lapsed in states like Oklahoma and Illinois….