San Juan, PR – The Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) filed on Thursday at the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico a lawsuit against the Financial Oversight and Management Board under the protection of the Constitution and the laws of Puerto Rico, which recognize access to information as a fundamental human and constitutional right.
Meanwhile, it filed another lawsuit against La Fortaleza and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló at the San Juan Superior Court of Puerto Rico, also related to requests for information that the Executive branch has not addressed.
“The Financial Oversight and Management Board and the Government of Puerto Rico agree on something: the secrecy in the issues related to the ‘PROMESA’ Law, which deepens our democratic deficit. Board members and the Rosselló administration are systematically and illegally denying public information. It seems like they do not understand that an informed citizenship can contribute to the decisions that are being taken at such a delicate time for the island. We will not give up to the lack of transparency. This is a way of limiting participation and oversight,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the CIJ.
Among the requests made— and which have not been met — are nine different reports that are supposed to be submitted regularly on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis by the Government of Puerto Rico to the Board, according to the Board’s first meeting minutes. The Board was appointed by President Obama after the approval in U.S. Congress of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as “PROMESA.”
Another request made several times by the CIJ to the Oversight Board and also claimed in the complaint refers to documents, reports, letters, emails and any other information or material exchanged between the Government and its agencies, and the Board. Likewise, materials exchanged between the Board or its staff and the U.S. Treasury Department or any official of that or other federal government agency or official on the status of the Board’s work.
Puerto Ricans “have a right to know the events which will affect their daily lives and the future of the Puerto Rico,” the lawsuit said.
The Board has ignored the requests that have been made to it over the past months, or provided inadequate documentation, the CIJ alleges. The same has happened with the Rosselló administration, which was also asked for the individual fiscal plans of the government agencies and the audited financial statements.
Almost a year after being appointed to the Board, its members have also withheld the documents that were part of the “rigorous process” that they allegedly were part of to be named, which includes the ethical evaluation of their financial disclosures and conflicts of interest documents at the time of their appointments. Now, the CIJ is asking for them in court.
Board Chairman José Carrión told the press that the seven members handed over the financial disclosure and conflict of interest materials, among others, to the U.S. Treasury Department as part of a “rigorous” nomination process.
The Board published financial disclosure documents on its website, but they are dated February 2017, so the CIJ questions whether they were submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department in 2016 and does not know if those were the only ones, and if they were evaluated by some federal government agency, since the Board has not offered a response on the matter.
In the lawsuit, the petitioners request the protocols, regulations, manuals or memorandums generated by the Board to carry out their work; minutes of meetings held by the Board in full, it’s committees or its members.
“As we did with the García-Padilla administration, we will claim the people’s right to access public information. We hope that these lawsuits serve as an alert so that they immediately deliver the documents that we have asked in the ordinary way, too many times already, “said Carla Minet.
Attorneys Judith Berkan and Stephen Lausell, and Luis José Torres and Annette Martínez and Rafael Rodríguez, all of the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico Law School’s Legal Clinic, represent the CIJ before the Federal Court in this lawsuit.
About the Center for Investigative Journalism
Established in 2007, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes and defends the citizens’ right of access to information through journalistic research, education and the promotion of transparency of public and private authorities.