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I Promise...

One of these two men will be governor of Puerto Rico next January. Here’s what each intends to do if he gets to La Fortaleza.

July 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

A businessperson should vote for me because…

New Progressive Party and Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidates Pedro Rossello Gonzalez and Anibal Acevedo Vila share with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS their visions and plans for fostering Puerto Rico’s economic and social development

Editor’s Note: As we have done in past election years, we present to our readers the platforms of the candidates for governor—in their own words. This is the first of a series of articles focused primarily on the candidates’ proposals for economic development but also covering other top-of-mind issues for voters such as crime, health, corruption, and political status. We tried by all means possible to present the programs of all three candidates. For weeks, we attempted to interview Puerto Rican Independence Party President Ruben Berrios Martinez, to no avail. He simply didn’t make himself available to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS.

Acevedo Vila preaches a revolution to solve generations-old problems

He is a veteran politician turned positive revolutionary.

Anibal Acevedo Vila may be only 42, but he is one of the most consummate, most experienced, and most effective politicians in Puerto Rico. He has been in government his whole professional life and knows each of the three branches inside and out.

From his judicial clerkship at the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico (he also clerked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after receiving his Master of Laws degree from Harvard Law School), to his assignment as legislative affairs aide to then-Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, to his two terms as representative-at-large, Acevedo Vila has gained plentiful experience in the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the local government. In his current position as resident commissioner in Washington, he has, of course, gained firsthand experience in the workings of the federal government.

It is this vast political experience that has made him a household name. He was first elected to the local House of Representatives at 30; he nabbed the presidency of his Popular Democratic Party at 35. He successfully led his party’s opposition during the worst of times: after its crushing defeat in 1996. Acevedo Vila managed to lead his party to victory in 1998, when it rallied with the "none of the above" option in the status referendum. He also engineered the defeat of the Young Bill in Congress, in the face of the powerful and resourceful backing of the incumbent Rossello administration.

Acevedo Vila’s relationship with his 2000 running mate, Gov. Sila Calderon, has had its ups and downs. She solidly backed him in the 2000 primary for resident commissioner over aspiring heir-apparent to Hernandez Colon, Jose Alfredo Hernandez Mayoral, but last year chose the latter to succeed her as party president and gubernatorial candidate after announcing her decision to retire from politics.

As luck would have it, and in what appears to be a career trend, Acevedo Vila beat the odds once again to become his party’s undisputed candidate for governor.

But the way here has taken its toll on Acevedo Vila. Some say he will be hurt politically because he was his party’s second choice. Others remark on the difficulty he faces trying to distance himself from an administration that even party loyalists admit has left much to be desired.

Undaunted, Acevedo Vila is charging on, reinventing himself as he sells his agenda to reinvent Puerto Rico.

He laid it all out last week in a two-hour interview at CARIBBEAN BUSINESS’ offices. He exuded confidence while making his impassioned presentation, showcasing the eloquence that has served him so well during his political career.

The problems we face, he said, are the same problems we have faced for the past quarter-century. Acevedo Vila insisted that, despite claims to the contrary by one administration or another, Puerto Rico is still afflicted by the same double-digit unemployment rate, poor educational system, and underdeveloped economy that it had in the ’70s.

To tackle these problems, he is proposing a revolution—a positive revolution, that is.

CB: What is your overall vision of the futures of Puerto Rico’s economy?

AAV: The essence of my plan for a new Puerto Rico consists of a new approach. On economic grounds, Puerto Rico needs to learn from past mistakes and develop a new vision and new in-depth public policies.

Puerto Rico has had great economic success in the past. I identify, however, two myths or policies that don’t apply anymore. We’ve lived with them throughout time, and sometimes we are tempted to continue living under those premises.

I have named the first myth the monoculture theory. It is a fantasy in which a single economic sector can save the island. During the 19th century, coffee was the main economic force. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century it was sugarcane. After the creation of the Popular Democratic Party, the answer was the creation of manufacturing plants. Later, it was said petrochemical plants were the option. Then, pharmaceuticals, and later, someone said it was the tourism industry.

The truth is that no solid and strong economy can depend on one sector. As a leader, I have to explain to people that that is a vision from the past.

Salvation doesn’t rely solely on one economic sector. We have to move forward to an economy that is competitive on multiple fronts. We need to identify those sectors in which we can compete and determine how to compete better. We have to be competitive in tourism, manufacturing, services, agriculture—in every economic sector.

The second great myth is that our salvation comes from outside. For the past 100 years, we have said gigantic investments will create jobs on the island. Foreign investments have come; we need those. But it is evident that in a global and highly competitive economy, foreign investments won’t create the number of jobs we need. Foreign investments can’t be the island’s main economic pillar.

We need a change in our public policy and to understand that salvation is in our own hands.

The essence of my economic development plan is based on that paradigm; I named that proposal Apoyo al de Aqui [Support to our local entrepreneurs]. That is the first change in public policy we need.

Puerto Rico’s economy in 2004 is really different from that of the 1940s. We have a professional, intellectual, and entrepreneurial class. We have enough capital, and in those cases where we don’t have local capital, we can assume risks.

During the past 25 years, we have had the same economic policies. The first step in the transformation lies in supporting our business class. This isn’t about protectionist measures; it is about acknowledging that reality.

Puerto Rico’s economy needs to evolve into an economy that exports, not only goods but also services. We need to move aggressively and consistently toward research & development, for example.

CB: Do you have a specific number of jobs you will commit to creating, or a target unemployment rate you will commit to achieving, in the first four years of your administration?

AAV: We need to consistently overcome the barrier of the 10% unemployment rate. Governors come and go, and each brings his list of alleged achievements. The truth is no one has decreased the 10% unemployment figure consistently in the past 30 years.

This can’t be cyclical. It isn’t about lowering the 10% figure for a single month. We celebrate that, but the real transformation of the economy will occur when we can say there’s a trend [of staying below the 10% figure]. I believe there’s even a psychological thing with the 10% figure. We celebrate an 11% unemployment rate. That can’t be our objective.

CB: What specific measures will you adopt to improve the business climate in Puerto Rico, including, for example, lowering the cost of doing business, streamlining or eliminating regulations, and fostering a pro-business culture on the island?

AAV: The government is meant to be a partner to the private sector, not an adversary. The government needs to identify the common well-being. Creating jobs is part of that responsibility, for example.

The business climate to be developed in Puerto Rico is tied to the success of our entrepreneurs. We have to acknowledge entrepreneurial success as a collective asset, not an individual achievement. We can’t continue to penalize our entrepreneurs for their success. A successful local company contributes to a better quality of life.

One of many initiatives we are proposing to boost the entrepreneurial sector is a new program called "Operation Success." It consists of identifying 1,000 entrepreneurs and providing them with all the resources necessary for their effective performance. They would be required to create 10 jobs in a four-year period.

That is a dramatic change because the trend has always been to get big companies to create hundreds of jobs. It is important to continue those strategies, but we need to create another space for new businesses. We also propose a Capital Risk Fund for those businesses in need of capital.

In addition, we propose to create seven entrepreneurial-service centers throughout the island to assist businesses with government transactions.

CB: What is your plan for reducing the size of the government and cutting the red tape?

AAV: To stop bureaucracy, I am convinced we need to decentralize the government. If our economy hasn’t changed in 25 years, neither has our government. Our government structure is a legacy from the Luis Muñoz Marin generation. Governors since then have made changes to the organization but haven’t produced any transformations.

I foresee a true decentralization of the government throughout the island’s regions. The central government should focus on the macro: to establish public policy, use the budget to promote that policy, and ensure the proper use of public funds. The central government must ensure performance standards are met and the public policy is enforced. But government services need to be delivered where the citizens are.

Decentralization also means broadening the municipalities’ scope of action. It is our duty to promote municipal consortia. That’s something that applies to all aspects of government performance. I believe Puerto Rico should do what the federal government does. We have municipal consortia when a federal law requires it, but there is no law in Puerto Rico to boost those alliances. As governor, I would say we have [for example] a block grant to broaden the Open Schools Program, but those funds will be available only to municipalities joining a consortium and submitting a proposal to create a series of sports tournaments after school hours.

Another example is that local government doesn’t match funds with municipalities, something very common at the federal level. We could take the initiative to strengthen municipal police departments by establishing a funds-matching formula for the central and municipal governments.

These initiatives not only favor government decentralization but also bring new ways of handling the government’s budget and speeding the delivery of services.

The problem isn’t the number of jobs in the government. The problem is the lack of balance between the number of government and private-sector jobs. We have failed to promote enough private-sector jobs.

No one would say we should lay off teachers from the public-school system, for example. Neither would anyone claim we should lay off police officers. The government sector grew and turned into a bureaucracy. What needs to be done is to change the equation to spur the biggest creation of jobs within the private sector.

CB: What is your proposal for legislative reform, and how would you go about ensuring the legislation submitted conforms to your administration’s public policy and is effective?

AAV: First, we must understand that one of the virtues of democracy is that we can’t deny people their right to express themselves, and that applies to legislators. Therefore, I believe that once it has a clear road map of where we are going, the Legislative Assembly will follow.

I believe one of my best qualities is my willingness to listen; I believe in listening to everyone. We will sit down and decide if there is a need for any legislative action in each case.

In my plan for a new Puerto Rico, I do have a legislative advantage over my opponents, given my eight years in the House and my four years in the U.S. Congress. I know what works and what doesn’t. I have the strength to sit down and tell them straight to their faces what can and can’t be done. No one has to explain to me how the Legislature works or how it can be more efficient.

Many of my proposals for legislative reform come from my experience in Congress, where there is a true system of accountability. For example, in Congress, the budget works on a natural-year basis and not by fiscal year. Each legislator is given a budget, and he or she decides what to do with it. If the legislator is over budget at the end of the year, he or she has to pay out of his or her own pocket. In addition, all money spent has to be entered into a public registry, so each constituent has the authority to verify how the legislator he or she elected is spending the money.

I can buy a car, for example, and I have the option of buying an affordable vehicle or a luxury one. I then go into my public record and write down how much I spent on my transportation. At the end of the month, people will see if I spend $1,000 on gas or $600, then it is up to them to decide whether I am making good use of the money or not.

In addition, I think it’s way past time for a reduction in the number of committees in both the House and the Senate.

In terms of intelligent legislation being filed, well, I don’t necessarily think that is something that can be controlled. After all, lawmakers are elected by the people, and that is part of the democratic system in which we live.

CB: Crime continues to be the No. 1 concern for voters. It seems all efforts to reduce crime have failed. Should you win the election, how would you fight crime?

AAV: If there has ever been a statistic that hasn’t changed over time, it is the number of unsolved crimes. In Puerto Rico, 60% of all crimes go unsolved. That number has to increase.

What deters crime is the certainty of being caught.... The key isn’t the size of the law-enforcement units. The key is how effective they are.

What we are proposing is to take the top 3,000 agents in the Police Department, retrain them, and turn them into criminal investigators. We will call that unit the N-Force.

Castigo Seguro [Sure punishment] is a strategy to emphasize criminal investigations and the use of new technology in them. We will provide the latest technology to the police and the Forensic Science Institute.

CB: What plans do you have for revitalizing the construction industry?

AAV: We have short-, medium-, and long-range plans to speed up the permitting process. On a short-term basis, we are going to increase the number of Express Processing Centers from one to seven. That’s an area in which I am convinced of the benefits of decentralization, of passing the responsibility for evaluating and approving small and midsize projects to a regional level. Obviously, there will be larger projects that have a much broader impact, which regions won’t be able to handle because these might affect public policy. And definitely, there will have to be an investment in technology in all of the permitting areas.

We must also complete, once and for all, a land-use plan for Puerto Rico. The private sector, contractors, and even the environmental sector need it. The reason there’s so much litigation today is because we have to fight for every single project. Why? Because there’s no planning, and since there’s no planning, it opens the way for the market and for the political forces to step in. Instead of many fights, let’s have one big fight over what this master land-use plan should look like and get it over with. We will also help the municipalities complete their own land-use plans.

Once we decide where to develop and where not to, once we set the rules, I can assure you all the permitting and decision-making processes will be greatly simplified because the rules will be clearly defined. Developers will know where they can develop, and environmentalists will know which areas will be preserved forever. This doesn’t mean everybody will be happy; probably everyone will be unhappy, but these are the decisions that need to be made.

So, it’s going to be a combination of decentralizing the central government, developing a land-use plan, and providing the technological infrastructure needed to solve the island’s permitting problems once and for all. There has to be willingness on the part of public officials who have the responsibility to make the decisions.

CB: What will you do to expand and improve our roads and water infrastructure?

AAV: Public investment is increasing at this moment. I can assure you that under my administration as governor, that public investment will increase because we have a specific plan for that.

As part of the project we have called Agua Segura [Safe & Reliable Water], we have a commitment to invest $1.6 billion in water projects. We will submit legislation to create a financing mechanism for that $1.6 billion. I am not going to give this money to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority so it can decide what to do with it. Instead, the financing mechanism will have a provision indicating that this money will be used solely and exclusively for specific projects. This is the investment we need to make to solve Puerto Rico’s water problem in the short, medium, and long terms.

We have a far-reaching proposal in the areas of roads and transportation. To that end, I’m working in Washington to increase the block grant that the federal government allocates to Puerto Rico as part of the federal transportation bill. Already, the Senate and the House have approved their versions of the bill; in both versions, the island comes out much better than it is now. What does this significant block-grant increase mean? It’s almost certain that Puerto Rico will receive more resources for our road investments from the federal side. Once the increase becomes law, it will mean greater bond-issuing capacity for Puerto Rico.

I’m also looking for the federal government to approve the project to extend the Urban Train to Carolina and Caguas. In the area of roads, a proposal to complete the island’s road network that had already been drafted puts an emphasis on mass transportation.

As part of our support of local businesses [Apoyo al de Aqui], we are going to find the way to divide large-scale projects such as the Urban Train into smaller segments so more local contractors can bid for these. If certain sections of a project are too big, then practically no local companies can bid on them. The idea is for local companies to have a bigger participation in these projects.

We also have a commitment to continue and expand this administration’s Llave para tu Hogar [Key for your home] program. We are proposing to increase the number of homes from 15,000 to 25,000 during the four-year term. This has been a very successful program, which has generated important housing investment.

Rossello committed to putting Puerto Rico back on track on every front

He wants to pick up right where he left off.

In the 15 months since his return to public life in Puerto Rico, former two-term governor of Puerto Rico (1993-2000) and New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello has repeatedly criticized the Calderon administration for stopping, dragging its feet on, or changing the myriad projects and initiatives begun under his administration.

In press conferences and on the campaign trail, he has echoed other voices throughout the island saying the current administration has done little or nothing to advance the island’s social and economic progress.

Yet, in a two-hour interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, Rossello barely referred to the administration that succeeded his and which he aspires to succeed. He moved methodically between our questions, explaining in detail what he intends to do if he is elected on Nov. 2, almost without making reference to the time gone by since he was in office.

Whether explaining how he intends to expand and improve the island’s infrastructure or health plan, improve the business climate, create jobs, or combat crime, Rossello would repeatedly say, "This is what we did before...and this is what we will do now," as if the intervening four years had just been a big black hole in Puerto Rico’s history.

A graduate of top U.S. mainland schools such as Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale, Rossello practiced as a pediatric surgeon for years while teaching at the University of Puerto Rico. He later served as San Juan medical director. His first incursion into politics was a failed run for the post of resident commissioner in 1988 on a ticket headed by Baltasar Corrada Del Rio, then mayor of San Juan and now a Supreme Court judge.

In 1992, Rossello won the governorship on a platform of change and reform that became as popular as it was comprehensive. From the privatization of money-losing government enterprises; to the implementation of the Health Reform; to a renewed emphasis on the construction and maintenance of transportation, energy, and water infrastructure, Rossello’s first term in office was, by all accounts (including his political opposition), revolutionary. His reward: a landslide re-election in 1996; it was the largest margin in Puerto Rico’s history.

During its second term, the Rossello administration—and the local economy—continued to benefit from the longest period of economic expansion in U.S. history. Rossello’s decision to privatize the Puerto Rico Telephone Co., however, fostered a climate of acrimonious opposition from which his administration never recovered. In 1999, he announced his decision not to run for a third term. While Rossello was still in office, and particularly so after the end of his second term, the Rossello administration became marred by a long list of corruption scandals uncovered and prosecuted by federal authorities.

Last week, Rossello received CARIBBEAN BUSINESS at his NPP headquarters for an exclusive two-hour interview. With the hustle and bustle of Roosevelt Avenue traffic in the background, a relaxed and confident Rossello laid out his plan for the next four years if he again becomes governor.

CB: What is your overall vision of the future of Puerto Rico’s economy?

PRG: My vision is that both Puerto Rico and the world are entering a new phase. Puerto Rico, as well as many other countries, has been through different economic models. We passed from having an agriculture-based economy to an industrial one. Now, we face a new economic reality based on knowledge and services.

This new global economy has two important attributes or components: First, the human infrastructure and second, the physical infrastructure.

The government’s role is to promote to the maximum a series of investments and development projects on both fronts. That is going to determine the success of Puerto Rico during the 21st century.

To boost human infrastructure, it is necessary to invest in education. We propose a massive investment in education, one unprecedented in the island’s history during a single four-year term. To spur the physical infrastructure, it is necessary to have world-class facilities, including energy, water, solid-waste management, internal and external transportation, and communications.

In order to be successful, an economy needs to develop its human resources and its infrastructure. But the government can’t do that alone. Rather, it must develop a series of strategies with the private sector.

For the first time in history, Puerto Rico has all the elements necessary to compete effectively within a global economy.

When we had an agriculture-based economy, we had serious limitations. We didn’t have options. We are a small island with geographical limitations and complexities. Still, an economy was developed. Then, we had an industrial economy, despite the fact that we didn’t have natural resources to exploit such as petroleum or metals.

Now, we have the ability to participate effectively in the new knowledge-based economy.

CB: Do you have a specific number of jobs you will commit to creating, or a target unemployment rate you will commit to achieving, in the first four years of your administration?

PRG: We are determined to reassume one of our goals during our administration. We plan to lower the unemployment rate to a single-digit figure.

We did it toward the end of our administration. The unemployment rate during the last two months of 2000 was 8.9%.

A two-digit unemployment rate is no longer acceptable or compatible with our economic development.

CB: What specific measures will you adopt to improve the business climate in Puerto Rico, including, for example, lowering the cost of doing business, streamlining or eliminating regulations, and fostering a pro-business culture on the island?

PRG: Our vision of economic development is based on certain premises. One of these premises is that the market and private-sector activity should drive the island’s economic development. The government must provide services in those areas where the market is unable to fulfill people’s needs.

There are certain things that can be done to spur economic development and increase market activity and investments, including changing the vision of the government from a regulatory entity that obstructs development to a facilitator.

We propose a re-engineering of the permitting and administrative processes related to all of the aspects that will affect those projects aimed at promoting economic activity and creating jobs.

To speed the permitting process, we propose a mechanism of self-certifiable permitting. This permitting mechanism will apply to all projects that don’t have an environmental impact and don’t require any change or variance to existing regulations, which today is about 32% of all the projects considered by the Regulations & Permits Administration [ARPE by its Spanish acronym].

The remaining two-thirds of the total permits issued by the government require changes to existing regulations. Government agencies will have to analyze those cases in a 60-day period if no public hearings are required. If public hearings are necessary, government agencies can’t take more than nine months to evaluate those projects.

A preconsultation process for complex projects will allow the communities to express their objections and provide suggestions before developing any project. At present, the permitting process takes place, and communities and people enter the approval process in the last stage, which is less productive.

Other proposals in our program seek to include Puerto Rico among the federal Enterprise Zones, creating a special permitting process for retail establishments. We will also enact prompt-payment legislation to require the government to pay its suppliers in a 60-day period. Those are only some of the strategies we propose.

CB: What is your plan for reducing the size of the government and cutting the red tape?

PRG: Here’s an important historical fact: All government administrations in Puerto Rico ended their respective tenures having hired more employees in the central government than the total number of employees it had when they took office. All government administrations, that is, except our administration. That is a fact.

We accomplished this through various mechanisms. We eliminated several posts by attrition. Another strategy required government agencies to eliminate functions and positions. Economies from those cuts were used to increase employees’ wages and create better working conditions. We aimed to have fewer government jobs, but better paid and with higher productivity.

The most dramatic step consisted of eliminating whole government units—the Administration of Medical & Health Facilities [Afass by its Spanish acronym], for example. Afass was in charge of maintaining government-owned and run medical facilities. It represented over 20,000 jobs. Those were transferred to the private sector because hospitals were transferred to the private sector.

Navieras, the pineapple program, government-owned hotels, and the Sugar Corp. passed through the same process.

By reducing government agencies, you also reduce the government structure, looking at it from a macro perspective. It is necessary to eliminate those processes that hinder government performance, acquire more technology, maximize online services through the Internet, and improve services to the citizenry. We need to boost public employees’ morale and measure citizens’ opinion on government services.

We also propose to transfer certain powers to the municipalities according to their abilities and resources.

CB: What is your proposal for legislative reform, and how would you go about ensuring the legislation submitted conforms to your administration’s public policy and is effective?

PRG: I believe the issue raised by your question is the issue of legislative productivity. I don’t think the people’s concern is the size of the Legislature. I think their concern has to do with the quality of the legislation filed and the quality of the lawmakers elected. I know there are people who think a single chamber would solve the matter. I don’t think that is the solution because we would lose some of the advantages inherent to a system of checks and balances where there are two chambers looking after each other.

Our legislative reform does call for more productivity, for each legislator to have more direct contact with his or her constituents through town meetings, for a reduction in the number of committees, and for the elimination of pork-barrel funds.

At present, it is the lawmaker who capriciously decides who should get, or not get, an allocation of funds. What we are proposing is the creation of an evaluating committee to tend to all requests for funds.

In terms of the quality of the legislation being filed, well, I am not sure one can legislate quality. After all, we live in a democracy, and at the end of the day, it is the people who choose their representatives, and it is the people in their wisdom who elect their lawmakers.

CB: Crime continues to be the No. 1 concern for voters. It seems all efforts to reduce crime have failed. Should you win the election, how would you fight crime?

PRG: My plan calls for two major components: Mano Dura, or strong hand, and Mano Amiga, or friendly hand.

There are people who think that to solve the high crime rate, we must get to the root of the problem—not just punish the criminal, but attack the social evils that breed him or her. That is true. I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact that we must strengthen our values, but the results of such a strategy won’t be seen until at least a generation has gone by, and what should we do in the meantime?

In the meantime, we use a strong hand because the main concern now is to guarantee the safety of the people.

For me, a revealing statistic is that all criminal activity on the island is committed by less that 1% of our population—less than 1%. However, the consequences of such actions are suffered by 99% of our population. The focus then should be on how to protect that 99% from that 1%.

To do that, we must see how to maximize the effectiveness of law-enforcement forces, whether the police or the Puerto Rico National Guard. We should, for example, relieve the police from duties that could be performed by other units and have the police concentrate on what really matters to people—their safety.

For example, the Highway & Transportation Authority should have a specialized unit in charge of patrolling the highways and a similar special unit to serve the needs of the Ports Authority or to patrol the Capitol, thus relieving the police officers now assigned to those matters and reassigning them to fighting crime.

Another of our goals is to professionalize the police force. Much has been said about the people’s respect for authority, but unless the people start seeing the agents as professionals, as people to look up to, that respect won’t be shown. That is why under our administration, every police agent who came out of the Police Department College of Criminal Justice got an associate degree in criminal justice.

At present, police agents get a 14-week training, after which they are given two years to complete an associate degree in their spare time. Everyone knows a police officer doesn’t have the time to complete any studies outside his or her work schedule. Therefore, we are faced with the possibility of having entire [student bodies at] police academies dropped from the force because they fail to complete their studies.

In addition, we will provide more and more sophisticated technology for the police and provide officers with the data necessary to identify high crime areas.

CB: What plans do you have for revitalizing the construction industry?

PRG: The administrative processes and regulatory requirements needed to obtain the permits for a construction project have become a major fear factor that has deteriorated the island’s investment climate. We must change people’s perception of the government, whose role should be that of a facilitator.

We will re-engineer all the permitting-related processes, certifications, endorsements, and consultations at all relevant agencies to speed up the process. We will implement the self-certifiable permit already mentioned, which will apply to all requests for permits that don’t have an environmental impact or need variances to current laws and regulations, which represent about 32% of all construction permits. The agencies will issue the self-certifiable permits in a maximum time of one hour.

Projects under the jurisdiction of ARPE that involve variances or exceptions will be processed in a period of 60 days. For those projects requiring public hearings, a determination must be made no later than nine months. Agencies will have a time limit to answer endorsement requests or make comments. If no answer is given within that time, it will be assumed the agencies don’t object to the project. We will also establish a preconsultation mechanism for complex projects, so it can be known early in the process if the project is feasible or not. An awards council (junta adjudicativa) will be created to evaluate the environmental aspects of a project. Developers must have the certainty that they will get their permits.

We must also [combat the] premise that development and the environment don’t mix, that they aren’t compatible with one another. Under that premise, people think all developments go against the environment. The reality is it isn’t true and it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the two have a synergistic relationship. One can improve the other. I sense a high demand for good projects that are compatible with the environment.

It’s unfortunate, but there’s also an attitude problem. There are some people out there who think anyone who wants to develop a project is dishonest or has bad intentions. With these difficulties, no one can develop. So, we must send the message that yes, development can be consistent with the environment.

To that end, we have created a vision, which we have tried to concretize through the island-city concept. First, we must establish a land-use plan for Puerto Rico, so we can know exactly where we want to go, designating specific areas for development as well as others for environmental preservation. Through the planning mechanism, everybody will be clear on which areas require densification or redevelopment. It isn’t that we can’t develop but how we develop. Urban sprawl has to do with infrastructure and is something that increases the cost of development.

Since construction is an important engine for economic development, we must allow the permitting gate to open in a very logical, planned, and thoughtful way that maximizes the infrastructure needed for the physical development.

CB: What will you do to expand and improve our roads and water infrastructure?

PRG: We are going to reduce the number of water systems, creating instead what are, in essence, regional aqueducts such as the Superaqueduct. Our program is called Agua por un Tubo y Siete Llaves [Water through a pipe and seven faucets] because it involves seven aqueducts.

People talk about the Superaqueduct and say it’s controversial because of the contracts, but the reality is that the Superaqueduct is producing up to 100 million gallons of water a day. Take 100 million gallons away from the northern region, and we are talking about water rationing.

In the area of potable water, we will regionalize the systems, reducing the number of systems in use. Each separate small system is much more costly. If we visualize Puerto Rico as 78 municipalities, each will want to have its own water system and then we end up with 300 small water systems like we have right now. We can improve our infrastructure, but that’s why it’s important to have the island-city vision.

In the area of transportation, there are two important components: a road network and a rail network. The main goal is to complete the road network around the island with highways. What’s left? In the east, we completed PR3 from Fajardo to Yabucoa; we still need to connect Yabucoa to Guayama and the tunnels to Maunabo. To the west, we still need to connect Hatillo to Aguadilla and Ponce to Mayaguez.

We must resume work on Route 66, which is absolutely necessary for the east coast, plus two poles that connect the north with the south. We have PR52 [the Luis A. Ferre Expressway] and PR10, which we completed from Arecibo to Utuado and from Ponce to Adjuntas. We still need to complete the central section.

As for the rail network, our proposal, called Tren Todo Puerto Rico [All Puerto Rico Train], is a little bit different from the Urban Train, which was conceived as a mass-transit train for a high-density population area. This new concept will be a commuter train that will go all around Puerto Rico. The idea is to shorten the travel time between senatorial districts to a maximum of two hours.

When I was working in Washington, I lived in Virginia, 15 miles away. I took the commuter train back and forth without a problem.

Part of our transportation system has to respond like that. Again, it’s the island-city vision, because we see this as a component for the entire island. There are metropolitan cities with areas larger than Puerto Rico that are connected as a city.

CARIBBEAN BUSINESS Associate Editors Jose L. Carmona, Marialba Martinez, and Taina Rosa; Reporter Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez; and PuertoRicoWOW News Editor Proviana Colon Diaz contributed to these stories.

Next Week: Don’t miss the candidates’ proposals for tax reform, the debate over federal tax incentives for manufacturing, their plans for improving and expanding the government’s health plan, and much more...

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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