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Editorial & Column


One Good, One Bad


February 5, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Gov. Calderon hit a home run with the designation of Col. Agustin Cartagena to be her fourth–and hopefully last–superintendent of police in three years. She struck out, however, with her appointment of Jose Izquierdo as secretary of state.

By all accounts, Cartagena is by far the best appointment the governor has made so far to lead the Police Department, and one of the best she’s made in her three years in office. A career police officer, Cartagena has risen through the ranks and knows the department inside out. He has held numerous leadership positions within the force and knows how to keep in line the often-unruly top brass.

In contrast to his immediate predecessors–three lawyers, two of them former judges, who delved in the administrative aspects of the job and appeared to be more concerned with the image of the police than with its effectiveness–Cartagena is a no-nonsense operations guy who believes the police is an instrument of law and order.

Cartagena’s first day on the job last week was nothing short of spectacular. His able handling of the hostage-taking bank robbery in Bayamon showcased his operational savvy and sheer courage. Accompanied by his top negotiator, he went in unarmed and unvested and brought the perpetrator out. No one was harmed.

With such an auspicious start, Cartagena runs the risk that public opinion might be too quick to hail him as the great white hope who will deliver us overnight from the hellish crime situation afflicting the island. That would be unfair to him. No single man or woman can do that, least of all overnight.

But Cartagena’s appointment does bring some reassurance that there’s at least abler leadership at the head of the Police.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said about the governor’s designation and almost immediate confirmation by the Legislature of former Department of Transportation & Public Works (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Jose Izquierdo as secretary of State.

Izquierdo was forced to resign as DTOP secretary in 2002, when the secretary of Justice referred to the Special Independent Prosecutors (SIP) panel an investigation into his granting several DTOP contracts to his former engineering-firm partner without the dispensation required by law. Izquierdo later argued that his personal lawyer had told him such dispensation wasn’t needed.

In a 2-1 decision, the SIP said there was no cause to prosecute Izquierdo for any crimes, but possible violations of the Government Ethics Code remain under investigation by the Government Ethics Office (GEO). The GEO is also investigating possible ethical violations in other cases not reviewed by the SIP involving Izquierdo’s contracts with the government after he left his DTOP post.

Prudence would have required the governor and the Legislature to wait until the OGE had concluded its investigations. Popular Democratic Party legislators, under pressure from La Fortaleza to confirm Izquierdo, argued that the governor’s nomination powers shouldn’t be held hostage to a government bureaucrat (referring to OGE Director Hiram Morales) who has taken too long to conduct his investigation.

The legislators also argued, literally, that even if Izquierdo were to be found guilty by the OGE, the violations involved would be so minor that they wouldn’t merit denying his confirmation now. Can you believe that line of reasoning?

If the legislative majority believes the OGE stands in the way of the governor’s constitutional powers, it should eliminate the office, not circumvent it. Furthermore, the issue isn’t whether the violations would be minor or whether Izquierdo would be God’s gift to public service but for those violations. The issue is that the governor herself–very correctly, we believe–has established a policy of zero tolerance for corruption and highest ethical standards in government, no exceptions allowed.

Particularly given the circumstances surrounding the disgraceful exit of her former secretary of State, the governor and all of us would have been better off had she appointed a successor who not only was, but also appeared to be, squeaky-clean.

For whatever reasons, Jose Izquierdo isn’t that man.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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