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Residents Say Vieques Not A Gov’t Priority… NPP Satisfied With Audit, PDP Lambastes AuditorRossello: No Illegal Donations During My Presidency…NPP, PIP: Losers Are Calderon & Acevedo Vila…Fas Accepts Responsibility For Bad Advice On Mercado

Residents Say Vieques Not A Priority For The Government

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Five months after the U.S. Navy ended six decades of military maneuvers in Vieques, the island’s residents believe that their environmental, housing, health, and development problems are not a priority for Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration.

"There are no concrete efforts made by the government [to solve the island’s problems]," Vieques leader Ismael Guadalupe said.

"The government has the people of Vieques attending meetings, but I will say those are structured meetings and they have not given concrete solutions to the health, environmental, and development issues we face," added Vieques activist Nilsa Medina.

She explained that government agencies—like the Health Department, the Environmental Quality Board, and the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources—meet with Vieques residents almost weekly, but no efforts are made to solve the residents’ main problems.

Guadalupe and a group of civic and union leaders held a press conference Wednesday at the Bar Association’s headquarters in Miramar, where they said that in the case of the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, which will cease operations in six months, the government has prepared a redevelopment plan in a matter of months, while in the case of Vieques, no plan has been seen.

As a result, the civic organizations that led the opposition against military exercises on Isla Nena will hold the second March for Peace at the Peace and Justice Camp (formerly known as Camp Garcia) in Vieques on Sunday. Marchers will urge the local and federal governments to clean up contaminated areas and make tangible efforts to solve residents’ problems.

Guadalupe, from the Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques, said the march will also serve as a vehicle to demand the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to transfer the land under its custody to the people of Vieques.

Guadalupe said the FWS, the federal agency to which the Navy transferred nearly 8,000 acres it owned and used for military purposes, is a "different enemy" of the Vieques people because it represents itself as a friend of the community.

"The FWS must leave Vieques and give the land to the people who fought for it with sacrifice and even prison time," Guadalupe said.

The speakers complained that the FWS has new rules that limit Vieques residents’ enjoyment of their land, including forbidding access to some areas and enforcing a daily 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule for visitors.

According to Guadalupe, FWS agents have directed pepper spray at people and arrested and fined others for not obeying the rules.

The march, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., will be the first significant protest since the Navy left Vieques on May 1.

The group also demands a halt on the sale of land in Vieques and the creation of a trust fund for land conservation, ensuring sustainable development.

The Ports Authority has arranged special transportation for people in Puerto Rico who might want to attend the march; service will begin at 8:30 a.m. from Fajardo to Vieques, while the last trip from Vieques to Fajardo will depart at 7 p.m.

Activist Carlos Ventura, who is also a member of the Vieques Transition Committee appointed by Calderon, explained that during the past months, land value has increased tremendously and people are buying extensive lots planning to resell them to developers with specific interests.

Ventura mentioned some properties for sale and others that have already sold, and the prices ranged from $100,000 to $1 million.

He urged the municipal and state governments to enforce a municipal statute enacted by former Mayor Manuela Santiago, which states that the Vieques municipal government has priority at the time of selling properties to bidders residing in or outside of Vieques.

Efforts to reach Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda, who heads the governor’s transition committee on Vieques, were unsuccessful.

Colberg Toro And Ferrer Lambaste NPP Auditor

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Reps. Jorge Colberg Toro and Hector Ferrer said Wednesday that the New Progressive Party (NPP) external auditor, Eduardo Ramirez, lacks credibility to evaluate the NPP’s finances because he was finance director and administrator of La Fortaleza during former Gov. Pedro Rossello’s tenure.

Moreover, Colberg Toro lambasted Ramirez for failing to comply with his duties as a government official.

Ramirez was hired by the NPP in May to audit the party’s finances for the last 10 years. A preliminary report issued by Ramirez on Tuesday revealed that party finances and party reports to the State Elections Commission do not have disparities.

Colberg Toro showed a copy of an audit report prepared by the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office, which has not been made public yet, that reveals that Ramirez—while serving as finance director of La Fortaleza—did not inform the Treasury Department that the Governor’s Office made payments to its contractors, as required by law.

Colberg Toro said Ramirez served as finance director of La Fortaleza until October 2000, when he was appointed administrator at the governor’s mansion. He occupied the post under Rossello’s tenure.

The PDP lawmaker explained that when Ramirez was promoted to La Fortaleza administrator, the certified public accountant was responsible for contracts and transactions made by the Governor’s Office.

Colberg Toro stated that according to the comptroller’s report, the finance division of the Governor’s Office did not inform the Treasury that they paid $467,698 to five companies and did not withhold the 7% retention tax for contractors as required by law.

"The findings prevent the Treasury Department from knowing valuable information regarding the contractors who served the Our Children First Congress. . . That also promotes tax evasion," the report stated.

In addition, the Governor’s Office paid contractors federal funds exceeding federal regulations and signed contracts with private companies that did not fulfill requirements to work with the government, like providing good-standing certificate, tax debt certification, and documents related to the companies’ status as employers.

The report listed Pablo Ramos’ polling enterprise Precision Research, Camera Mundi, Educavipor Inc., and FutureKids Inc.

"How is it possible that someone like this person might audit the NPP finances correctly?" Colberg Toro said.

The lawmaker said Ramirez was recommended by NPP Electoral Commissioner Thomas Rivera Schatz, who supports Rossello’s gubernatorial candidacy.

"Now the people of Puerto Rico know the true reasons why the NPP chose this accountant. This is the same person who managed the finances at La Fortaleza when Prisma, Yo si puedo Inc., and the Our Children First program were created," Colberg Toro said.

Both lawmakers challenged Pesquera to rescind Ramirez’s contract with the NPP and conduct a serious audit that answers the questions of the alleged diversion of $1.5 million from the Education Department to the NPP.

Ferrer also said Ramirez’s professional standing is in question because his actions might represent violations of the accountants’ code of ethics.

NPP Satisfied With Preliminary Audit Report On Finances

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

The New Progressive Party (NPP) board of directors accepted Tuesday a preliminary audit report on the party’s finances, which revealed no disparities between the party’s records and the reports filed by the organization at the State Elections Commission (SEC).

NPP pre-gubernatorial candidate, former Gov. Pedro Rossello, said he is satisfied with a preliminary audit report given by an external auditor hired by the party to examine its finances.

"This party has totally fulfilled its responsibilities in terms of the party’s finances, although there’s no final report, the preliminary information is consistent with the SEC audit reports and the audit conducted by the Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office, which established that NPP finances were conducted according to the law," Rossello said.

"The preliminary report reveals [. . .] that the NPP has managed its finances correctly, which represents a vote of confidence in terms of the management of the party under my presidency during the past two years," NPP President Carlos Pesquera said.

Pesquera, also a pre-gubernatorial candidate, explained that the audit covers the party’s management, debt, and operations for a 10-year period, and that the accountant is expected to finish his job by December this year.

Last May, Pesquera hired certified public accountant (CPA) Eduardo Ramirez to conduct an audit on NPP finances and operations, after Rossello requested an audit on the party’s finances for a three-year period. Pesquera extended the auditing process to 10 years.

On Monday, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Jorge Colberg Toro and PDP Secretary General Anibal Jose Torres said the accountant firm, which audits the NPP finances, wasn’t able to tally the figures reported by the NPP at the SEC and the party’s records. The disparity allegedly comes from the diversion of $1.5 million from the Education Department to the NPP.

Colberg Toro urged Rossello to present sworn testimony saying he never requested or promoted the imposition of quotas for the political campaign.

Rossello said Colberg Toro’s request is a political game he does not intend to play.

Before entering the NPP board meeting, Rossello said he never requested illegal contributions to anybody.

Instead, Rossello lambasted the PDP claiming that the party has not faced its responsibility on the alleged violations to the Electoral Law, which were referred by the SEC to the Justice Department.

Pesquera also lambasted Colberg Toro, saying the PDP representative has used public funds for a Public Integrity Committee investigation to then use the information for political purposes.

The committee chairman is investigating the $4.3 million fraud by the now convicted former Education Secretary Victor Fajardo.

He urged anybody who has information on illegal transaction to present such evidence to the appropriate forums.

Pesquera also explained that the preliminary report revealed that the NPP has a total debt of $4.2 million throughout the 10-year period and said the party’s debt is a shared one with previous presidents and electoral events since 1993. including the 1998 plebiscite.

Pesquera inherited nearly 52% of the party’s debt in 2000.

In 1993, NPP has debts for $453,000, while from 1993 to 1999, the NPP incurred in $1.7 million in debts.

In 2000, NPP acquired $1.6 million in debts, and during 2001 and 2002, the NPP has incurred in nearly $400,000 in debts.

However, Pesquera said the party’s debt won’t affect NPP performance for the 2004 general elections and that party’s current responsibilities such as electricity, phone bills, and rent have been paid without inconvenience.

"The debt won’t be an impediment for the next general elections, and we will be able to pay it," Pesquera assured.

Rossello: No Illegal Requests During My Presidency

October 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Former Gov. Pedro Rossello said Tuesday that illegal donations were never requested during his term as president of the New Progressive Party (NPP).

Upon arriving at the party headquarters with San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini and former Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo, Rossello denied accusations by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders that $1.5 million made it into the NPP’s coffers illegally.

"No illegal, inappropriate, or unethical donation was ever requested while I was party president," he said before entering the NPP Directorate meeting, where a preliminary report on the party’s finances will be presented.

Rossello recalled that the NPP submitted its books for a State Elections Commission (SEC) audit, which revealed that for the 2000 political campaign, the NPP had an excess of collections of more than $40,000 and the PDP had excess donations of $300,000.

"That is what is official, as determined by an organization [SEC] that is not partisan but includes all the political parties," he added.

On Monday, PDP Rep. Jorge Colberg Toro urged Rossello to reveal the complete audit of the NPP’s finances performed by a CPA firm.

According to the legislator, the audit’s results should have been revealed four months ago but was kept secret because there is an alleged discrepancy of more than $1.5 million.

NPP And PIP: Losers Are Calderon And Acevedo Vila

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The New Progressive Party (NPP) and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) leadership in the Senate said Friday they were pleased with Gov. Sila Calderon’s decision to withdraw Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado’s nomination as Supreme Court chief justice.

In fact, the spokesmen of the minority parties agreed that Calderon and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) President Anibal Acevedo Vila are the two losers in the whole process.

"Although this is not finished, so far the grand winner is the public interest, which has been saved from a bad appointment, and there are two grand losers: the governor, who did not get her way, and Acevedo Vila, who with public opinion in his favor was not able to get more than six votes from his delegation of 20," PIP Sen. Fernando Martin said.

He said this "represents a spectacular leadership failure."

NPP Sen. Kenneth McClintock echoed Martin’s words.

"The date is postponed on which the governor will try to surprise us with another of her judicial nominations. What is important is that the extensive coalition of Puerto Ricans who opposed [Mercado’s] nomination achieved the restoration of normalcy needed in the judicial branch and our society," the senator said.

From the political point of view, McClintock said the controversy weakens the PDP "because the governor has not wanted to accept that she is not the president of her party, and the president of the party has not been able to exercise his power over 70% of the PDP senators, who turned their backs on him."

Fas Alzamora Accepts Responsibility For Bad Advice

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora took full responsibility for wrongfully advising Gov. Sila Calderon on the withdrawal of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado’s nomination as Supreme Court chief justice and the submittal of a substitute nomination as associate justice.

Fas Alzamora explained that before he told Calderon to nominate Mercado as associate justice, the Senate Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation was willing to confirm Mercado for that position, but not for chief justice.

"Baez, Ramos, Dalmau, and I were the ones who made the suggestion to Calderon to be analyzed [by the executive branch]. I did so looking for consensus among the delegation, the party, and the people," Fas Alzamora said.

He denied inconsistencies on Mercado’s nomination have damaged the relationship between the executive and legislative branches and said the governor acknowledged his intentions and the way he handled the controversial issue.

But sources at the Capitol said the dispute on Mercado’s nomination did reveal some discrepancies between the two branches; they also said senators were lobbied aggressively to change their votes.

Fas Alzamora denied this.

On Thursday, the PDP caucus decided that senators opposing Mercado’s nomination were obligated to vote the majority’s will.

But Sen. Margarita Ostolaza, as well as the other five senators opposing Mercado, was willing to contest the caucus’ decision on the floor if Mercado’s nomination had been called for a vote.

"The PDP president made the right evaluation of the people’s belief on this matter, and we committed to the people," she said.

Ostolaza said she was not willing to accept the caucus decision, which caused her to leave the caucus meeting Thursday night.

"We all supported the Senate president and the alternative of endorsing Mercado as associate justice. Now, we discover that the governor blames [our fellow senators] for the recommendation. But the governor is the nominating authority; she could have consulted with the Justice secretary, left Mercado’s nomination on the table, and nominated one of the current associate justices as chief justice. She would have saved Mercado," Ostolaza said.

"The fact that the Senate president accepted responsibility shows his greatness and leadership. If I had been the [nominating authority], I would have accepted the recommendation, evaluated, consulted it, and would have made a decision," Sen. Juan Cancel Alegria said.

He added that Calderon should have consulted the Justice secretary before making a decision, rather than accepting it and then blaming others.

Fas Alzamora called a press conference at 1 p.m. Friday, immediately after Calderon announced the definitive withdrawal of Mercado’s nomination.

On Thursday night, Fas Alzamora said La Fortaleza sent Mercado’s nomination as associate justice and not that the Senate suggested Calderon take that course of action.

In a matter of two hours, Calderon withdrew Mercado’s nomination as chief justice, submitted another one as associate justice, withdrew it, and again nominated the secretary of State as chief justice; she then blamed the four senators for advising her incorrectly.

Calderon’s statements were not well-received at the Senate.

"We thought we could solve this by nominating Mercado as associate justice; we acted in good faith. . . This time, I believe rushing was not helpful," Dalmau said.

He explained that at present, there is an interim chief justice at the Supreme Court and five associate justices. All thought the governor would be proposing an associate justice be elevated to chief justice.

When asked if the PDP delegation would reconsider Mercado’s nomination, Fas Alzamora said he has learned from this tortuous experience and that the PDP delegation has to make a decision on the new scenario. Still, he would endorse him.

He added the Senate needs to evaluate if it will exercise its consent duty—according to the Constitution—and recommend to the governor someone to occupy the chief justice post.

Before Calderon nominated Mercado on Sept. 19, Fas Alzamora said he proposed to the governor two names for the chief justice post, but he did not reveal them.

The PDP delegation, including those senators opposing Mercado’s nomination, supported Fas Alzamora unconditionally.

"I have total confidence in Fas Alzamora," said Juan Cancel Alegria, while Modesto Agosto Alicea said "we are here because of him." Yazmin Mejias agreed with them.

Sens. Jose Ortiz Daliot, Margarita Ostolaza, and Roberto Prats praised Fas Alzamora’s temperance and leadership.

"Leadership is exercised at its best during the tough times. I’m proud of being part of this Senate, whose leader is Antonio Fas Alzamora," Prats said.

Prats said democracy was strengthened during Mercado’s nomination process, that leaders have to be loyal to their individual principles, and that government officials have to understand that the island’s government is comprised of three branches, all which must be taken in consideration at the time monumental decisions are being made.

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