Puerto Rico-based nonprofit Open Spaces warned Monday that the “corruption virus” incubates in emergency situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic and proposed a series of measures to Gov. Wanda Vázquez and Health Secretary Lorenzo González, as recent cases have come to light about shady government purchases or questions about their delivery.
In a letter, Open Spaces recommended that three aspects be addressed immediately:
- Prevent disinformation with the proactive and timely publication of information on tests, infections, medications, supplies and services available or not, as well as the scarcity of these if this were the case;
- Take measures to reduce the risk of bribery in terms of purchases, as well as access to medical supplies and services, at the public and private levels, establishing clear and transparent protocols, which among other things stipulate how to proceed in cases of scarcity; and,
- Protect whistleblowers and offer a confidential line to file complaints.
“We’re aware that emergency situations are fertile ground for corruption worldwide and that Puerto Rico is not immune to this evil. The experiences lived after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and more recent earthquakes, are still very fresh in our memory,” Blondet said.
“People are concerned and rightly so. The current situation, in itself a concern from the health aspect, is complicated by the culture of opacity that prevails throughout the government,” she said.
To address the issue of acquisitions, Open Spaces Executive Director Cecille Blondet outlined the guides published by Transparency International as a base reference for the integrity of government procurement during contingency periods such as the current one.
The recommendations by both nonprofits address five areas: give maximum exposure to information about emergency-related government purchases; activate antitrust agencies to avoid collusion between economic actors or practices that result in price speculation; carry out real-time audits for public procurement processes, precisely because of the exceptional nature of the situation and the magnitude of the emergency; centralize on a single platform all information related to government procurement on this topic or generate identifiers on the electronic public procurement platforms; and, appropriate accountability, on time and without excuses.
“We have just begun, and some situations have already been pointed out as doubtful, which beyond demonstrating the vulnerability of the health system and calling into question the integrity of those involved, have delayed the availability of tests and equipment that people so urgently need,” Blondet said.
“The absence of transparency in addition to being the hotbed of corruption, right now threatens everyone’s health,” said Blondet.
“By protecting public resources, the safety and health of the people of Puerto Rico are preserved. Puerto Rico implemented social distancing before most jurisdictions in the United States. Now we have the opportunity to lead, fighting the virus of corruption that seems to be incubating in some. More transparency equals more health,” she said.