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Gov’t Mishandles $2B In Public Funds, Spends $17.8M For Publicity, Democrats: Governor Can Support Any U.S. Candidate, Residents Skeptical Of Long-Term Gov’t Commitment, Island Gets $4.89M For Antiterrorism Plan, CRB: Navy’s Exit Benefits NPP, Police Take Over 2 Rio Piedras Housing Projects, Campaign Reform Bill Amendments Seek to Overcome Opposition

Government Loses $2 Billion In Mishandling Of Public Funds

October 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – According to information of the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office, the inappropriate management of public funds, as well as peddling schemes and poor services, have cost the government $2 billion.

However, Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña said in published reports that this doesn’t justify the cost of Gov. Sila Calderon’s proposed bill to finance political campaigns with public funds.

Diaz Saldaña told the Electoral Reform Special Committee that historic findings have shown that up to 10% of the government’s budget is lost to corruption and bad management, compared to 6% in the United States.

Nevertheless, the comptroller supported the idea of financing political campaigns with public funds to fight government corruption.

Government Spends $17.8 Million In Publicity Contracts

October 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – From January 2001, 15 government agencies have spent $17.8 million in public relations contracts despite having personnel in charge of their communications.

According to published reports, this amount is in addition to the $14 million the 130 agencies and public corporations may invest in mass media communication in Puerto Rico. This information was extracted from the Central Communications Office of La Fortaleza.

However, it is not known how much money has been invested per agency, since the government doesn’t carry an inventory of expenses, Public Affairs Secretary Jorge Colberg Toro said.

The public official didn’t rule out the possibility that the total expense could exceed $40 million.

Most of the public relations contracts benefit 12 companies, eight of which were closely linked to the Popular Democratic Party political campaign in 2000.

On the other hand, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) increased its public relations spending by 144% in less than a year.

According to published reports, Prepa’s data show the corporation spent $1.8 million during fiscal year 2001, compared to $4.4 million during the current fiscal year.

Democrats: Governor Can Support Any U.S. Candidate

October 22, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The president of the Democratic Party in Puerto Rico, Eudaldo Baez Galib, said Tuesday that Gov. Sila Calderon has free will to support the candidates she wants because she is not affiliated to any North American party.

"I am not justifying what she is doing, but I can’t judge it because she is not a member of the party, nor is she affiliated. . .I would like her to be part of the Democratic Party," Baez Galib told The Associated Press.

As president of the governmental Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Calderon has moved away from the old tradition of linking the party to the U.S. Democrat Party.

The close relationship between the two political parties dates back to the time of the government administration of Commonwealth founder Luis Muñoz Marin and President Theodore Roosevelt, Baez Galib recalled.

"The governor has publicly said she wants to maintain space so that both parties can benefit Puerto Rico," Baez Galib said.

He suggested that to a certain degree, criticism by some Democratic leaders of the governor not being affiliated to either of the two parties are unfounded because she has supported both Democratic and Republican candidates.

"I can’t demand that she not support Republicans because she is not a member of the Democratic Party," the PDP senator said. "Democratic sectors know that she supports Democratic senators, and there is a balance there."

He recalled that to achieve the U.S. Navy’s exit from Vieques, the governor established a "strategic alliance" between Republican and Democratic leaders, doing the same thing to attain Section 956’s approval.

Baez Galib was commenting on statements by influential Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel, who said it "is incorrect" for the governor to involve herself in U.S. state political elections.

Rangel’s comments arise after Calderon’s announcement that she will campaign for New York Gov. George Pataki’s reelection.

Public Housing Residents Skeptical Of Long-Term Commitment

By Proviana Colon Diaz

October 22, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

One day after police agents took over three public housing projects in Rio Piedras, residents were skeptical of a long-term commitment to ensure their safety.

"Let’s see how long it lasts this time. . .let’s see if what they did yesterday [Monday] is not another show," said a Monte Hatillo public housing resident.

Several residents of the housing projects Monte Hatillo, Monte Park, and Los Flamboyanes, now strongly guarded by police, agreed to speak with WOW News on Tuesday provided they not be identified.

After expressing their impressions of Monday’s action, which most described as "very organized," the overall concern of those interviewed seemed to be how long the security measures will last.

Acknowledging that this is not the first time agents have raided their public housing projects, residents argued that they are tired of unfulfilled promises of controlled access in and out of their homes.

"If all entrances but one are closed, and vehicles of residents are identified properly, nothing would happen here because those who come to make trouble here are not residents. Those who live here, don’t bother us," said a young mother of three.

While there were some residents who defended Monday’s action, there were others who criticized it, describing it as a show because the agents now assigned to the project were "doing nothing but sitting around when not giving parking tickets."

WOW News witnessed the truth of this account, especially in Monte Park, where agents, sometimes as many as six, could be seen sitting in a gazebo chatting, while others were concentrating on giving traffic violation tickets to those entering and leaving the project.

One such case occurred when a lady was asked to hand over her license and registration. Aware that her driver’s license was expired, authorities allowed her into Monte Park; passage, however, was denied when she tried to leave.

Monday’s raid is the first of such operations to be conducted by Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration.

Upon presenting her administration’s anti-crime plan in March, Calderon said she would not criminalize the humble people of the public housing projects. She also criticized Gov. Pedro Rossello’s "tough hand against crime" policy.

However, Monday’s police raid on the three public housing projects of Rio Piedras was extremely similar to those executed by the previous administration.

Helicopters flew over the area, hundreds of agents raided the places, and several arrest warrants were executed, just as was done during the previous administration. The obvious difference was the absence of the Puerto Rico National Guard.

But La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda did not see any similarities. On the contrary, he said the operations were "dramatically different."

"There is no military involved, nor did the takeover interfere in the lives of all the residents. What we have here is an action aimed at attacking crime," Miranda told The Associated Press.

Miranda added that the government now acts with "utmost respect and is aimed first at the safety and dignity of the people."

But La Fortaleza chief of staff’s impression seems to be radically different from that of San Juan Area Police Inspector Humberto De Leon, who is the operation supervisor during the day shift.

A 30-year veteran of the force, De Leon said the only difference between Monday’s raid and those conducted during the previous administration was the "considerably smaller" number of agents taking part in the raid.

"There are fewer resources, and they took more time to plan this," said De Leon.

Still the second phase of Monday’s raid, which began Tuesday, is very similar to the modus operandi of the operations carried out under the Rossello administration in that the government agencies go back to begin fixing existing problems.

WOW News witnessed brigades of Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority personnel replacing light bulbs in several Monte Park street lamps.

Meanwhile, De Leon declined to specify how many agents were assigned to work in the takeover but said part of the second phase includes an evaluation of the number of agents in the projects.

The veteran agent was also reluctant to predict how long the takeover of the projects would last.

"This will work out for the good of the residents, but this is a long-term process," De Leon said.

U.S. Assigns $4.89 Million To Island For Antiterrorism Plan

October 22, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS
. All rights reserved.   

The U.S. Justice Department assigned some $4.89 million for the Puerto Rico government’s antiterrorism plan, local Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez announced.

Rodriguez said the funds will allow her agency to acquire specialized equipment and establish strategies to manage an emergency in case of a chemical, biological, or radiological attack.

Rodriguez explained through a press release that the petition and the funds granted to her agency through the State Domestic Preparedness Program of the U.S. Justice Department responds to Puerto Rico’s antiterrorism plan, already approved by the federal agency.

"With these funds, Puerto Rico will technically and defensively train on how to proceed during an emergency of a terrorist nature," said Rodriguez, adding that other local agencies collaborated in producing a strategic plan through a state cooperation agreement that includes the creation of zones or regions with work teams to immediately respond in case of an emergency.

She said the Puerto Rico government agreed to use the same plan already established under the State Emergency Management Agency.

Rodriguez indicated that each identified zone should establish its own risk plans and equipment needs to attend to any event of this nature.

Rodriguez indicated that the people who manage the equipment acquired for this plan should be duly trained in its management and also be medically certified to use it.

Romero Barcelo: Navy’s Exit Benefits NPP

October 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Romero Barcelo said the announcement regarding the Navy’s exit from Vieques would benefit the NPP because the party did not use the issue for partisan politics and always told the truth about the problem.

"We always told the people the truth, that this was a resolved matter and that the federal government would comply," Romero Barcelo affirmed reiterating what the NPP gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera told the people of Puerto Rico in one of the political debates.

Police Take Over Two Public Housing Projects In Rio Piedras

October 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Numerous police agents, backed by several helicopters, on Monday took over Monte Park and Los Flamboyanes public housing projects in Rio Piedras.

Eldman public housing project which advises Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira issued a press release informing of the occupation and announcing that police presence will remain in the area until "the situation is back to normal."

Monte Park, in which several violent incidents, including the killing of a police agent, have occurred in recent weeks, was the first of the projects to be raided.

Shortly after police were present in Monte Park, Pereira himself headed the occupation of Los Flamboyanes.

Pereira said the agents were pursuing the alleged drug dealer who controls both housing projects.

The Chief of police added that 22 people were arrested and 11 weapons were seized.

Outside the public housing projects several strongly armed agents could be seen on top of the buildings.

Drug dealing gangs inside the projects are believed to be responsible for the shootings that have occurred in the area in recent weeks.

A private school in the sector had to cancel its activity in recent days as a result of the ongoing shootings between gangs in the area.

"We will stay here a couple of days. The good neighbors of the area have requested this action and we are responding," Pereira said adding that they had not acted sooner because the operation held on Monday required planning.

Pereira said the police working in the "safe street units" raided several apartments in the operation. Two powerful weapons were allegedly seized inside one apartment as well as the arrest of a fugitive who was awaiting trial in the federal court was arrested.

In addition police seized large amounts of drugs, mainly crack, and firearms at Los Flamboyanes and arrested seven suspects.

Following Monday’s raid an evaluation will be made to determine the number of agents that should stay in the area.

However he noted that some 20 agents would remain in the projects’ entrances.

Legislator Proposes Amendments For Campaign Reform Bill

October 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Luis Raul Torres made endorsement of Gov. Sila Calderon administration’s bill for the public finance of political campaigns conditional on the approval of three amendments he filed on Monday, one of which includes an annual consultation to tax payers.

According to Torres proposal, tax return forms will include a box for taxpayers to indicate if they want a percentage of their money to go to the public campaign fund.

"Is to give total discretion to the people....If everyone writes in the box declining to give their money for public financing of campaigns, then there are no funds and every candidate must find another option for financing," said Torres in an ironic tone predicting that would be the decision of most island taxpayers.

Torres said the bill filed to the Legislature by Calderon seeks to attack corruption generated by private financing but the mechanism fails to correct the situation.

"In recent years corruption has not only been among elected officials but among agency heads and contractors of the agencies," Torres said.

The other amendment filed by Torres is a referendum on the bill for public financing and if approved, it will be applied to the 2008 elections and not those of 2004.

Faced with the large number of fellow PDP legislators who oppose the bill Torres decided to make his recommendations public. Still the bill in question will be discussed in a caucus.

Torres suggestion’s were given in a six-page letter which he issued to Calderon on Monday, where he also recommends a reform of the electoral process in which "costs are reduced, more transparency in collecting of private funds is assured and more participation of the people is guaranteed," Torres said.

According to published reports the majority needs at least 13 votes for the bill to be approved.

No Support For Public Campaign Financing

October 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The position of Gov. Sila Calderon in favor of the bill for the financing of political campaigns with public funds hasn’t been enough to win the support of all Popular Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives.

According to published reports, the House majority needs at least 27 votes to pass the bill. So far, the bill needs 13 to complete that requirement.

Meanwhile, the New Progressive Party (NPP) minority hasn’t decided if it will vote in favor of the bill. However, NPP House minority leader Anibal Vega Borges said the delegation may discuss the issue next week and announced its position.

Puerto Rican Independence Party Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio said he approves of the bill.

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