P3 Authority chief: ‘P3s are for new projects, not for privatizing’
Grace Santana, who is pulling double-duty for the Gov. García-Padilla administration as head of the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority as well as the Public-Private Partnerships Authority, is a firm believer that the private sector should take over the task of developing new infrastructure projects when the government can’t — but not take over existing facilities through long-term contracts.
“P3s centralize economic development when the government doesn’t have cash flow. They must be a mechanism to develop new infrastructure, not a mechanism to privatize government functions,” said Santana, who took over the reins of the P3 Authority in March, less than two months after being appointed to the helm of the Infrastructure Financing Authority, known as AFI.
With that in mind, last month the P3 Authority issued a call to all government agencies and municipalities to submit an inventory of necessary projects that could eventually be developed as P3 ventures. So far, four such projects have been identified: the Caguas-San Juan commuter train; the Hatillo-Aguadilla highway connector; a Women’s Correctional Facility; and the Río Piedras Medical Center Outpatient Clinic.
The $4.5 million clinic proposed by the Medical Services Administration, will go out for bids this week. The proposal entails building a new 28,000 square-foot facility adjacent to the Medical Center’s ER, to accommodate a waiting area for 140 people and space for ambulatory clinics.
Agencies and municipal government have until May 13 to submit their proposals, Santana said.
Meanwhile, she confirmed that the P3 announced last year to build a 600-bed juvenile correctional facility in Yauco has been placed on hold, after four consortia were shortlisted last August to move on to the competitive procurement process to develop the complex.
“It was placed on hold to give this administration the opportunity to express itself on it,” Santana said. “We’re in close communication with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation regarding that facility and we expect to have an announcement on whether we move forward, soon.”
The public official said the six-person team that makes up the P3 Authority is all in place, except for two people, including one who will be in charge of closely monitoring the compliance of the P3 contracts granted to private operators to manage the PR2 and PR5 toll roads and the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport.
21st Century public school initiative moving forward
In an interview, Santana confirmed that AFI is moving forward with its flagship initiative, the “Schools for the 21st Century” program begun under the former Gov. Luis Fortuño administration.
The program has a $770 million budget, with which it will complete 36 schools currently in the construction phase, plus another 50 that have yet to close on the paperwork, she said.
“We have to speed up that process of getting the paperwork done because we have the funding for it,” Santana said, adding that the program has $59 million of the total budget still available, and is not tied to any other project.
“We’ve asked the Education Department to tell us what their plan is for that budget, to see if we can put it to use. We’re working on using about $12 million of that to remodel a number of schools over the summer so they’ll be ready to use next school year. We would also like to use some of that money to buy desks, blackboards and other necessary items for the classroom.”
“The ‘Schools for the 21st Century’ program is AFI’s biggest initiative, and the one with the most problems,” she said. “For example, it had 12 people signing off on project certifications to enable payments, and if one person was unavailable or out sick, that piece of paper had to wait until that person came back. We’ve brought that number down to four people.”
She also confirmed that the agency is aggressively working on cutting down the time it takes to cut checks from as many as four or five months to 40 days.
“This isn’t only about the fact that the economy doesn’t move, but it has also to do with the fact that it blows small businesses out of the market if they have unpaid certifications pending for months,” she said. “We’re acting quickly on decision-making that has to do with the progress of infrastructure projects, including payments.”