Antonio Medina Comas, designated by U.S. President Donald J. Trump to Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), affirmed that the island gas "incredible opportunities looking forward," but it is urgent to complete the process of restructuring the government debt in order to seize them. Likewise, he asserted that reaching the four balanced budgets consecutively —for an eventual return to investment markets— is a priority.
Medina Comas, who was director of the Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) under then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, is Trump's fourth appointment —announced on Monday— to fill available vacancies in the regulatory entity. He was recommended by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to fill the gap left by former FOMB Chairman José Carrión III.
"We are at a crucial moment for the Island. We have a market capitalization that has never been seen. We have more than $40 billion assigned to Puerto Rico, but first we must reach a fair agreement with the bondholders that is balanced and that our systems can maintain their viability. This is the only way to ensure that investments are not in vain," he told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.
The White House announced the appointment of the former director of Pridco after the president made official the appointments of Republicans Justin Peterson, John Nixon and Andrew Biggs —the latter being renamed— and Democrat Dr. Betty Rosa. They join the body at a time when the Board resumed negotiations with the creditors of the secured debt to reach a third amended Plan of Adjustment (POA).
"Serving Puerto Rico has always been important to me. I am grateful for the opportunity. I understand that Puerto Rico needs that people who have experience, knowledge and education give of our time to help move forward. At this critical time serving is a great challenge," said Medina Comas, the only FOMB member who resides on the island.
He underscored that Puerto Rico has an encouraging outlook that could allow it to foster its economic development, but made it clear that in order to get on that boat it is necessary for the government and the Board to unite for the same objective: ending the bankruptcy.
"We have a foundation that is unique: good capitalization, President-elect Joe Biden with a specific platform to help in the reconstruction and development of Puerto Rico, as well as the possible return of pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the island. We are in a moment where if we join forces and work together we can move Puerto Rico forward," he said.
Four years after the creation of the regulatory body, they have only managed to restructure the debt of the Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina by its Spanish acronym), the Government Development Bank (GDB), and part of that of the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). Asked about how he considers the management of the past Board members, Medina Comas assured that it is not the time to look back.
"They had a difficult job and I know it has been extremely complicated. There have been many legal issues that they have had to work with. I think that instead of looking back, you have to look forward. Those of us who are now have to focus on achieving the agreement with the bondholders, four balanced budgets and the return to the markets," he stated.
Regarding balanced budgets, Medina Comas added that they must be achieved with "an economy that has the ability to grow, to pay the money owed to bondholders and maintain cash flow."
Aligned With Peterson
Although he has not yet fully started with his official functions on the FOMB, Medina Comas assured that he has already held meetings with the executive director, Natalie Jaresko, as well as recent appointee Justin Peterson to discuss what their priorities and goals.
New member Justin Peterson denounces “unfair” terms in POA proposal
According to the results of the meetings, Medina Coma indicated that he felt aligned with Peterson's objectives. The latter's appointment caused controversy for having been a lobbyist for the General Obligations (GO) creditors and having opposed the restructuring of the $72 billion-debt through Title III of Promesa. The official began his participation in the entity abruptly after leaving the first conclave with his peers to avoid the approval of a renegotiation with the guaranteed-debt-bondholders.
"I spoke with Peterson and we had an excellent conversation. Each one has its own shape, but we are very aligned in terms of the objectives. In a very complicated negotiation like this, everyone is going to get their parts, but at least we agree that a fair agreement must be reached with the bondholders and that the reality of the Island is taken into account," he added.
With the appointment of Medina Coma, only one vacancy remains in the fiscal entity, which must also be recommended by Pelosi. Also, the appointment of the current president of the regulatory body, David Skeel, expired in August of last year, and it is still unknown if he will be reappointed to a second three-year term.