Osvaldo Soto García

Osvaldo Soto García, Gov. Wanda Vázquez's pick to head the State Comptroller's office.

To say that these last few weeks have been intense is certainly an understatement. In Puerto Rico we have seen pages of nominees submitted for the legislature’s consideration, an intense gubernatorial debate and the allocation of much-awaited funding for what will hopefully steer our beloved island back in the right direction.

At the national level, the headlines have been centered around the passing of a great woman, public servant and patriot, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the desensitized movement to nominate and confirm whoever is able to squeeze through the doors of the Supreme Court’s chambers, no matter the consequence.

The public conversation on the island is rooted in the same moral debate. Who is capable of fulfilling the duties of these positions? Which positions must be filled immediately? Who are these nominees?

During one of my early morning walks on the beach this past week, a line from a song on my playlist stuck with me. The singer is Bob Marley. The line of the song says: “…You can fool some people some times, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.” It has made me think long and hard.

It seems that our own government has been trying to fool us, a lot of us, and all the time. Those times however, are done.

Last week, the topic of conversation was the upcoming vacancy at the State Comptroller’s office. This position requires a certain level of experience and expertise, (in addition to ethical values and integrity) in order to accomplish what should be its mission statement. Well, however, politics won, and a nominee has been submitted to the legislature.

The legislature must now analyze what a State Comptroller does and whether the nominee has the skills needed. If we look towards the standards and operational practices of The Comptroller General of the United States, we see an official who is appointed to a 15-year term and is even tasked with appointing an agency executive if the office were to become vacant. The words that come to mind are balance, continuity and jurisdictional independence. All of these are key.

The current Comptroller General, Eugene Louis Dodaro, assumed the role in 2008 and was then formally appointed to the role in 2010. This means that Dodaro, a career employee, assumed the role under President George W. Bush’s presidency, was appointed by President Barack Obama, and will serve through the current President’s term. Dodaro has served in the GAO since 1973, more than four decades.

In Puerto Rico however, the legislature has been presented with a nominee who as far as we know has never set foot in the Comptroller’s office, is not a Certified Public Accountant or even has an accounting background. For the last 30 years, the Comptroller on the island has been an accountant and had their license as a CPA.

This week, the federal government announced a multi-billion dollar award for the island in recovery funds. In addition, there are numerous ongoing fraud cases, a Fiscal Oversight Board watching over the island’s every move, and a government that is unable to spend federal monies and is eventually forced to return them, as was the case recently with over $1 billion in federal funding.

In the very same way that voices are growing louder and louder this week as Ginsburg’s passing has left an open seat on the SCOTUS, positions throughout the island’s government are also vacant, as the 2020 elections approach.

The point to be made is plain and simple. It should be the newly elected Governor—one with a clear mandate—who nominates candidates for these important roles. In the meantime, the roles should be held by career professionals who understand the operations of these agencies.

In her 2012 book, Ginsburg cited a famous case when she said: “The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”

Our people have begun to take this concept to heart and are no longer inert. It is time that our government officials and aspiring candidates take note.

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