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Editorial & Column


Beef It Up, Speed It Up


March 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Surprise, surprise! The election year is upon us, and the local government is beefing up its public construction spending.

Not surprisingly, however, the administration continues to struggle with its own inefficiency and bureaucratic red tape as it tries to speed up a very aggressive and very substantial public works construction program that remains embarrassingly behind schedule.

In an exclusive CARIBBEAN BUSINESS interview last July, Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra unveiled some 90 public works projects—of $5 million or more each—worth $1.3 billion that were slated to go into construction between July and December 2003.

Well, it’s now March 2004, and just over half of those projects (51) have actually commenced construction.

The good news is that the rest, although behind schedule, are moving along, with 16 in the bidding process, 20 in the design stage, and two that were changed, but not scrapped. Only one of the 90 projects was cancelled.

The even better news is that in this election year, the administration plans to start construction on another $2 billion worth of public construction projects, 180 of which—worth $1.3 billion—they plan to have under construction by July of this year.

According to Segarra, those $2 billion worth of projects expected to enter the construction phase this year will put the total public works construction spending by this administration at $7.9 billion over the four years.

When we interviewed Segarra last summer, we did as we have done in the last couple of years: We didn’t limit ourselves to bringing you the story with the overall numbers the government said it intended to spend on construction; we actually published the list of projects with complete details, including project description, municipality, costs, and the starting date of construction.

In today’s front-page story, we update that list so that our readers can check, project by project, on their status. We also bring you the list of the largest projects totaling $1.3 billion—again, including only the ones worth $5 million or more each—that the government says it will start constructing by July 2004.

The administration deserves recognition for finally getting it going. There’s nothing that jumpstarts the economy more quickly and that generates more jobs in the short term than the construction industry. Infrastructure development is not an end in itself: It is needed in order to continue the process of economic development. Unless we develop, maintain, and upgrade our infrastructure, our economic development’s potential is seriously hindered.

The pity is that it took the administration so long to realize this. During its first two and a half years in office, the administration seemed determined to stop major construction projects largely for political reasons. The governor often justified her administration’s construction policy by saying that its emphasis was on small projects, not "big, ostentatious projects that overwhelm the eye," a not-so-veiled reference to major infrastructure projects started by the Rossello administration such as the Superaqueduct, the Urban Train, Route 66, the Coliseum, the Convention Center and others.

Now it appears that what wasn’t good at the beginning of the administration is very convenient in an election year. In our opinion, it would have been better for the economy of Puerto Rico, particularly for all those who were jobless and trying to make ends meet during the economic recession’s harshest period, if the administration hadn’t put the brakes on public works construction during the first half of its tenure.

But be that as it may, if it serves the economy of Puerto Rico for the administration to now beef up and speed up its public works construction spending, then bring it on. It’s always better late than never.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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