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Who’s to blame for the mess we are in?

BY CARLOS ROMERO BARCELO of Caribbean Business

July 28, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The four years of the Sila Calderón administration now generally are acknowledged as the most disastrous public administration we have ever had since 1948, when Puerto Rico elected its first governor. During those four years, we saw our public-health services deteriorate, our public-educational system become less and less efficient, our roads’ and highways’ maintenance practically collapse, permits for new construction come almost to a standstill, and all government services deteriorate beyond reason.

Together with the deterioration of government services, we saw an attitude of indifference and arrogance take over at all levels of government. Instead of working to improve services and build up the needed infrastructure, the government under Sila Calderón was dedicated to investigating all the departments and agencies and their performance under Pedro Rosselló. Although some illegal acts were uncovered and prosecuted, the vast majority of the investigations turned out to be a waste of time and money. They had no public-interest motivation. They were part of a plan to criminalize the New Progressive Party (NPP), Pedro Rosselló, and all statehooders. It was an obvious politically motivated persecution where facts were distorted, exculpatory information hidden, false charges blown out of proportion, and a widespread use of misinformation to discredit and persecute statehooders, members of the NPP, and people who worked close to Pedro Rosselló.

The amount of time spent in searching and investigating vicious and false charges and the time spent in demonizing and criminalizing the opposition in the media, led many people to believe the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) would win the 2004 elections even though the administration was such a disaster. By the middle of 2003, however, it became evident that Sila Calderón couldn’t be re-elected, and a frantic search for a new candidate began in the ranks of the PDP.

In the meantime, Sila Calderón, instead of trying to clean up her administration and start working constructively, decided to try and clean up and improve her public image by spending more and more money, particularly for media advertising. The government deficit, which had grown immensely during 2001 and 2002, with nothing to show for it, continued to increase more and faster than ever. However, the services continued to deteriorate and the lack of new infrastructure or much-needed public works continued to fall critically behind the growing needs of our people.

As Pedro Rosselló’s popularity grew, the PDP rejected José Hernández Mayoral and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá as candidates for governor. However, since they were unable to come up with a viable candidate among them, the populares finally turned to Acevedo Vilá and reluctantly nominated him.

It was the beginning of one of the most vicious and dirty campaigns waged against any candidate for governor since the 1980 and 1984 campaigns against me. The defamation campaign against Pedro Rosselló in 2004 was a close second to the 1980 and ’84 campaigns in its viciousness. The four years of the criminalizing and demonizing campaign waged by Sila Calderón and her administration against Pedro Rosselló were increased and intensified by Acevedo Vilá. Both campaigns were directed at making Pedro Rosselló a target for hatred. Not only was hatred toward Pedro Rosselló stimulated and encouraged, but also hatred against all statehooders and members of the NPP.

However, the day after the elections, while the final decision still wasn’t known, Acevedo Vilá started talking about "shared" government. Unfortunately, the media and a majority of the people, including many statehooders, believed this obviously hypocritical statement by Acevedo Vilá. His past actions and his behavior were powerful witnesses to the fact he was lying. His only intention to share in governing was to share the legislative power the NPP was solidly granted by the people of Puerto Rico. He had no intention of sharing his executive powers with the New Progressive Party. Events have shown Acevedo Vilá for the liar and hypocrite he is.

Not only has he shown no desire or intention to share his executive powers, he also has clearly shown his intention to try to undermine the political power and authority of the Legislature. Unfortunately, it has been some of our own fellow statehooders who have joined with the populares to give them control over the Senate, which the people of Puerto Rico didn’t give them. The betrayal of the few New Progressive Party senators was a great opportunity for Acevedo Vilá to demonstrate he had an honest intention to "share" government decisions. He has used it, however, to try to have things done "his way" and to impose his petty political motivations upon the Legislature.

Like his predecessor, he has failed to do anything constructive for the people of Puerto Rico. In the first six-and-a-half months of his administration, he has shown himself to be, not a statesman, but a liar, a hypocrite, and an incompetent administrator. His first policy test, the budget, was a great opportunity to show himself as a conscientious and capable administrator.

Since the budget was so immersed in deficit and there was so much inefficiency and excess bureaucracy in the government, the obvious solution to begin balancing the budget was to reduce government expenditures from the 2004-05 budget year to 2005-06 budget year. Yet, instead of doing what was necessary and obvious, he submitted a budget with increased expenditures of $950 million. Furthermore, to cover the increased expenditures, he also submitted a series of tax bills, which if enacted, will cause economic disruptions.

For instance, the proposed 4% tax on banks’ gross revenue from interest payments, has already affected Puerto Rico’s credibility in the financial circles, which at the same time has affected the value of the shares of Puerto Rico banks in the stock market. To go through with the proposed 4% tax, also would increase interest on commercial and home-mortgage loans, which would in turn, affect construction and financial capacity of many families to purchase a home, or refinance their mortgage loans.

Not only does Acevedo Vilá fail to reduce unnecessary government expenditures as he has announced, but he proposes an increase in expenditures. Although he has acknowledged what everyone in Puerto Rico knows, that the government has an excess of employees and too many unnecessary multimillion-dollar contracts for services that aren’t performed, he refuses to cut down on government payroll and contracts, but instead, increases them.

Apparently, not happy with all the damage to our economy, he then authorizes substantial increases in water bills and electrical bills, causing substantial increases in the cost of living for working- and middle-class families. Increases in the cost of electricity, increases in the cost of water, increases in the cost of telephone services, increases in the cost of coffee, threatened increases in interests brought about by the governor’s proposed tax, and the proposed increase on excise taxes and prices by taxing necessary items which have been exempted until now, has already created anxiety and fear among working-class families who see their cost of living rising above their incomes. How much punishment can the public take?

If that weren’t enough, we are now being faced with increases in gasoline and diesel, which haven’t been adequately dealt with. Today, July 21, as I write this column, all gasoline stations in the San Juan area ran out of gasoline when auto owners rushed to fill their tanks, after truck owners refused to pick up and deliver gas and diesel to the gasoline stations. The disruption caused in all commercial, professional, and government offices has been incredible. On the eve of a very long weekend, when most families have made plans to go with their children to homes, paradores, and hotels throughout Puerto Rico, they may not have enough gasoline to go with their families. Everyone has been trying to get to a gas station and tempers have flared; yet, the governor seems to be incapable of doing anything.

Acevedo Vilá has said he will do something about it, but as I write this on Thursday, July 21, we still don’t know what it is he will do. He probably will look for a publicity type of solution, such as calling the National Guard. But, what can the National Guard do in the long run?

Who’s to blame for all this mess? Who’s in charge of the executive branch–the Legislature or the governor?

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000), and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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