Puerto Rico legislators grill potential new governor Pedro Pierluisi over conflicts of interest

Puerto Rico’s potential next governor defended himself Friday against conflict of interest concerns that threatened to derail his confirmation and leave the island in political turmoil after disgraced Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s expected 5 p.m. departure.

Former congressional representative Pedro Pierluisi sat alone as he faced more than two dozen legislators in the first of two public hearings held to debate his selection as secretary of state.

When Rosselló leaves office, the secretary of state would become governor.

Lawmakers, and Pierluisi himself, worry that the continuing political uncertainly would damage Puerto Rico’s efforts to get federal funds to recover from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria and to deal with the US territory’s worsening economic crisis.

But several legislators have accused Pierluisi of a conflict of interest because he worked for a law firm that represents a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances, a body that has repeatedly clashed with local officials over demands for austerity measures.

Pierluisi, whose brother-in-law is the board’s chairman, tried to dispel those concerns in his opening remarks.

“Who better than me to advocate for our people before the board? Who better than me to facilitate the process that will force the board to leave? That is what we all want,” he said.

The board was created by Congress to oversee the restructuring of more than $70 billion in public debt after Puerto Rico declared a form of bankruptcy.

Pierluisi told lawmakers he is against several austerity measures demanded by the board, including layoffs of public employees and eliminating a Christmas bonus.

He said he supports public-private partnerships and the privatization of the island’s public power company.

“The people want a change, and I don’t blame them,” he said.

If he is rejected, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez automatically becomes governor as the next in the order of succession.

She said she would reluctantly accept the job.

Some lawmakers said a House vote for Pierluisi would count as confirmation and allow him to assume the governorship.

Opponents said he requires Senate approval, too, and they would sue to stop him becoming governor without that.

Pierluisi was Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in Congress from 2009 to 2017 and then ran against Rosselló in the 2016 primaries and lost.

Political infighting and paralysis has followed a wave of street protests against Rosselló, who joins more than a dozen government officials who have resigned in the wake of an obscenity-laced chat in which they made fun of women, gay people and hurricane victims.

With AP

Source: Read Full Article