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Prasa Executive President Calls Prasa ‘A Mess’

‘Patient in intensive care,’ Rodriguez said


September 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

According to Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) Executive President Jorge Rodriguez, the authority was "a total mess" when he took office three months ago. After the government resumed management of the authority, Rodriguez gave a failing grade to the authority’s eight-year experiment with privatization.

"There was no direction, there was no preventative maintenance, there was little motivation," he said. "It was as if the patient were in intensive care." Privatization of the aqueduct & sewer system shouldn’t be repeated, Rodriguez said. "For [Prasa], privatization has been discarded for now and forever," he said.

Private management group Ondeo ran the authority for two years only to have the government cut its 10-year contract short. It didn’t prove equal to running a system of Prasa’s size and complexity, said Rodriguez. Prasa runs 130 different water systems throughout Puerto Rico, which process 500 million gallons of water a day. It runs 29 sewage disposal plants and 1,600 pump stations.

Rodriguez said that he hopes to lead Prasa to what he calls a historic and necessary transformation, which should start to be noticed in the next 18 to 24 months. "We have touched bottom, from here it is nothing but up," he said.

Rodriguez defended his decision to place the medical plan of Prasa’s largest union, the Authentic Independent Union, in the hands of a private insurer. This has been one of his most controversial moves to date. The union strongly protested the change, and union General Secretary Hector Rene Lugo called the decision unilateral. "I can’t deny it was unilateral," said Rodriguez. "But I had strong reasons for doing it, it wasn’t capricious."

Rodriguez pointed to the State Insurance Commission’s audit, which revealed that part of the annual $1.3 million Prasa placed in the plan didn’t go to the health-plan fund. Instead, the union used it for other purposes. Guidelines require that all funds go directly into the health plan.

Rodriguez said that the situation obligated him to find the union a new health plan. He added that he would have been held responsible for not having stopped the irregular use of funds. "I obtained a better health plan in which all the money goes to the purpose for which it is intended," he said.

The move prompted Lugo to cut off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement and to threaten a general strike. He was even reported to have said, "Blood will run in street." After many island union leaders condemned the threat, Lugo agreed to return to the bargaining table.

During negotiations held Aug. 23, the union presented five of fifteen articles to be negotiated for the new collective bargaining agreement. Prasa limited itself to accepting the five articles and was to give the union a response by last Thursday. Both Lugo and Rodriguez declined to comment on the articles citing a confidentiality agreement between the two parties.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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