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Espacios Abiertos questions work of gov’t contractor CGI Technologies

Nonprofit organization Espacios Abiertos recently evaluated the government’s transparency portal prepared by contractor CGI Technologies, and concluded it falls short of complying with more than half of criteria set forth by Transparency International to avoid corruption in post-disaster recovery processes.

Espacios Abiertos draws attention to: the need to provide details for
subdivisions within municipalities; the need to include a detailed breakdown of
projects as well as contracts; and the publication of historical data that
allow a comparative analysis of progress, by area and project.

June 7, 2018, the government of Puerto Rico through the Central Office of
Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3, for its initials in Spanish)
awarded an $88 million contract to Canadian firm CGI to, among other tasks,
create a transparency portal that would allow the government and the greater public
to learn about and track the recovery process of Puerto Rico.

be able to track the recovery process in Puerto Rico after María and ensure a
transparent, clean and fair recovery — in addition to knowing how is Puerto
Rico’s recovering after María, what investment is required, and from what
sources will these funds come — the civil sector needs updated information that
allows us to follow the progress of the recovery to actively participate and monitor
effectively,” said Cecille Blondet, executive director of Espacios
Abiertos, addressing whether the transparency portal created for these purposes
complies with internationally recognized best practices.

has gained prominence in discussions about Puerto Rico at the federal level,
especially in the weeks immediately following the hurricane, as a result of the
scandal surrounding the Whitefish contract — the Montana company with limited
experience that was hired to repair the electric power distribution system.

issue was not resolved with the cancellation of the Whitefish contract, and
Puerto Rico was required to take special measures to address mistrust over the
proper management of public funds, as stipulated in the Bipartisan Budget Act
passed on February 9, 2018. Recently, transparency has also been used to
“excuse” or “justify” the slow disbursement of aid by
federal authorities to Puerto Rico, as reported in the media.

September, on the anniversary of the passage of Hurricane María, the government’s
transparency portal was unveiled through an islandwide campaign titled “Construimos.”
Espacios Abiertos has been monitoring and evaluating the digital platform using
the criteria set forth by Transparency International and also evaluated
examples of portals created for the same purposes in different US jurisdictions
affected by natural disasters between 2005 and 2018 (Texas, Louisiana, New
Jersey, North Carolina, among others,), some of which CGI has also designed.

criteria and best practices can be organized into six principles:

  • Publication
    of a transparency policy;
  • Accessible
    and easily understandable information;
  • Transparency
    in hiring processes;
  • Timely
    publication of program and project details;
  • National
    monitoring and tracking system; and,
  • Fraud
    reporting system.

one year ago, appropriations were approved in Congress for the recovery, but
few funds have been disbursed and still thousands in Puerto Rico continue to
live under blue tarps. This situation is not acceptable,” Blondet said.

delay in the disbursement of federal funds negatively impacts the quality of
life of our citizens and has a detrimental effect on our already battered
economy. Under the pretext of transparency Puerto Rico has had to deal with
numerous obstacles,” she said.

exercise is part of the racist practice used by the U.S. government against
Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s economy should not be strangled by remote control
from the federal capital. We already know the impact, in terms of lives lost, of
the slow attention of the federal government in the days and weeks after the
passing of the hurricane,” said Blondet.

move beyond this course of action and break down some of the obstacles, Espacios
Abiertos is presenting specific recommendations that should be addressed
quickly to comply and expedite the disbursement of recovery funds, she said,
adding that Espacios Abiertos is currently sending a letter with its evaluation
and recommendations to the executive director of COR3.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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