On Tuesday, Illinois congressman Luis Gutiérrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was invited to participate in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing about Puerto Rico. In the following clip, the Democrat grilled Natalie Jaresko, the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board and Noel Zamot, the board’s Revitalization Coordinator who was nominated to oversee the Puerto Rico Energy and Power Author (PREPA).
Gutiérrez’s interaction got intense, as you can see from the video. We are talking basic questions about Puerto Rico and its economic history.
As a result of those five minutes, Gutiérrez wrote a Wednesday letter to José Carrión III, the board’s chair, who is essentially responsible for the people hired to work for the board and how much money they get compensated. Remember, Jaresko is making $625,000 per year and Zamot is making $315,000 per year in the middle of a debt crisis, and like the clip shows, Gutiérrez seemed taken aback by the lack of information these two very well-compensated people had about the island.
The letter to Carrión wasn’t friendly, either.
About Jaresko’s response to his questions:
Her answers flabbergasted me: I posed basic questions about one of the most commonly understood and highly cited issues contributing to the high cost of food and goods for Puerto Ricans and inhibiting economic development and prosperity, and your Executive Director did not know the answers to my questions. This is absolutely unacceptable. Someone in charge of directing Puerto Rico through its darkest financial days must know more than dealing with debt, paying bondholders and imposing austerity—the Executive Director must at least be equipped with knowledge fundamental to understanding the key contributors to Puerto Rico’s debt, how to decrease it and prevent its growth in the future.
About why members of the board need a security detail:
I would also like to know why such security is justified in your and your colleague’s roles. Finally, I request that you share with me a full reporting of the Board’s last two years of expenditures, which should include all expenses related to the operation of the board, including salaries and benefits of paid staff.
And what Gutiérrez is really asking for:
Between the shockingly exorbitant salaries of your staff and what appears to me to be an excessive use of a large and unnecessary protection detail, I can only say that I am appalled… Given what is being asked of the Puerto Rican people to sacrifice to pay for the island’s recovery and decades old debt for which they are in no way responsible, the very least the public should be able to expect from you, other Board members and staff is that you will act and behave in a reasonably austere and financially responsible manner.
For fiscal year 2017, the board spent close to $30.12 million for “Professional services and purchased services combined.” It has yet to publish a list of individual expenditures beyond that figure.