Op-Ed: The irony of the obvious

Written by  //  June 5, 2014  //  Biz Views  //  No comments

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Author Edgar Rodriguez-Pérez is president of the Puerto Rico College of Engineers and Surveyors

Author Edgar Rodriguez-Pérez is president of the Puerto Rico College of Engineers and Surveyors

The mess that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is submerged has gotten out of control, and so has the and public discourse that tends to further confuse people complicating an issue that has some clear immediate remedies.

How is it possible that in middle of a crisis that has reached a point in which PREPA is using money destined for capital improvement to buy oil, we are unable to see and start with the obvious?

PREPA and the Legislature, which imposes the subsidies on PREPA, have to take two immediate actions: Eliminate all subsidies that are not strictly necessary (for example electrical equipment for life support); and collect PREPA’S debts, or otherwise start cutting electrical service those who do not pay, just as they would if you or me did not pay. The government should lead by example and pay the hundreds of millions it owes PREPA or enter into firm and serious agreements for payment plans.

In the recent public hearings on the energy reform, one of the many proposals the Puerto Rico College of Engineers and Surveyors offered was that the Treasury Department or the Office of Managment and Budget withhold the money the agencies owe PREPA. So, when PREPA sends a bill, the agency certifies the bill is correct and makes the payment through Treasury.

This would prevent the agency from the temptation of using the money owed for the payment of electricity for other purposes, resting on the idea that PREPA, as public corporation, will not cut it the service. It is an enormous irony that the same government that owes millions to PREPA is also demanding results and lower energy costs.

Does it seem impossible to think that PREPA can cut service to government facilities? Try to imagine selective blackouts and tariff increases that will affect us all. So, the idea suddenly does not seem so far-fetched.

On the other hand, the multiple subsidies or preferential rates currently enjoyed by many clients and industries have been an unfair decision that was implemented to the island’s detriment, and yet no politician dares to touch them. At this time, when PREPA is hitting bottom, everyone should have the responsibility to pay what they rightfully owe: housing estates, public housing, churches, businesses and industries; none should have special privileges.

The more subsidies or reduced rates the Legislature concedes, the less responsibility and less inclination toward consumption savings by the beneficiaries. At the end of the day, they do not pay, or pay very little. How can we promote energy savings in a sensible way like this?

It is possible that the government continues to irrationally punish the regular Puerto Rican worker who gets up every day, as they say in my “barrio” to “sweat blood” to pay their electric bill while others get it for free. Let’s have the courage to collect from to those who do not pay, starting with the government itself, because what they don’t pay, we pay. It’s as simple as that.

PREPA’s problems are complex and will take generations to resolve. We must reinvent PREPA from head to toe and look to other successful models in the world. But meanwhile, we have to start paying: all of us, not just a few. Otherwise, we will all collapse, together.

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