Lame Ducks Should Not Think Long-Term

by John Marino

August 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Lame duck administrations should refrain from long-term planning as much as possible.

That's especially the case with the Calderón administration, which was stopped dead in its tracks by its boss's announcement that she would not seek reelection in 2004, just as she claimed her administration's work was starting to bear fruit.

Beyond the specific situation of the current administration, it's only fair, given each succeeding administration's penchant for reinventing the wheel, to plan to do things in a time frame in which an administration can reasonably assume to stay in power.

And now with less than a year and a half left to go before Gov. Calderón’s term is up, it's only practical for her Cabinet chiefs to realize that they should concentrate on what they can accomplish in that time period, rather than planning for the distant future.

Such long-term planning would be better left to the team backing Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the Popular Democratic Party's 2004 gubernatorial candidate, as well as the campaign teams of the other candidates in the race: former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, New Progressive Party Carlos Pesquera and Puerto Rican Independence Party President Rubén Berríos.

Of course, the commonwealth government needs to do some long-term planning.

A Legislative committee that is aiming to change the makeup and administration of the Planning Board brought the problem up this week in public hearings.

Two prominent economists -- José Joaquin Villamil and Elías Gutiérrez -- testified that the problem was not the Planning Board, but the back and forth directions taken by the succeeding administrations that oversee it.

Both called on political leaders, and the business community, to agree on common economic development and planning goals so that Puerto Rico’s strategic planning is not refocused by whoever sits in La Fortaleza in any given four-year period.

Accomplishing such a common-sense goal, however, is one of the perennial problems of Puerto Rico. Often seeming endlessly mired in the debate over political status, the commonwealth government suffers because nearly every public policy question takes on political overtones.

Gov. Calderón attempted to create such a long-term plan with the announcement of her 2025 Commission -- where a group of professionals, largely from the private sector, would lay out a blueprint for Puerto Rico’s long-term social and economic development. But just what the commission is now doing is unclear, and so is the impact of any recommendations they might make in the waning days of a lame-duck administration.

Despite those obstacles, she should limit her long-range planning to the commission and instruct her Cabinet staff to concentrate on more immediately attainable goals.

That’s especially so since some members of the Calderón administration are acting as if they have all the time in the world left in their terms.

In a newspaper interview this week, Economic Development Chief Milton Segarra said he is studying the possibility of creating a new office headed by a "technology czar," who would oversee the needs of the island’s information technology sector.

He said that next month recommendations on the new office will be sent to Gov. Calderón, who will undoubtedly review them and make some of her own recommendations.

Segarra said the office could be operational by the end of next year -- right before the Calderón administration is about to leave office. It’s doubtful anyone would take that job -- especially someone with the in-demand technological skills it would require.

Meanwhile, Police Superintendent Víctor Rivera, Calderón’s third top cop since taking office in January 2001, announced a sweeping reshuffling of the Police Department’s upper hierarchy, with nearly every police district getting a new commander. He also announced a police command redistricting that is sure to confuse crime statistics for years to come, with high crime areas shifting from one command to another as the former judge moves to change police districts so they match those of judicial districts on the island.

When Rivera took office last year, he rolled back the sweeping restructuring by his predecessor, Miguel Pereira, who took over from former and current judge Pierre Vivoni, who oversaw the police force during Gov. Calderón’s first year in office.

Pereira sought to overturn the fundamental philosophy that had driven the police force for decades. Instead of more cops on the beat, he said, a greater investment should be made in technology and equipment for each police agent.

Rather than focusing on crime incidence rates, Pereira said he would judge his subordinates based on the rate they solve crimes.

It was a promising platform, but the governor only gambled on the radical changes for a year, before she moved him over to run the island jail system and put the more public relations savvy Corrections Chief, Victor Rivera, to run the police department.

Even after Rivera rolled back Pereira’s changes, which called for dismantling of the island’s detective squad, and putting criminal investigators beneath the administration of district commanders, he tinkered a bit himself. He placed the drug bureau beneath one of his deputy superintendent’s control. This week he gave back the bureau its independence.

Administration officials continue to leave office — this week Calderón’s press secretary Luis Torres Negrón bid adieu — in an administration that was never really stable. The governor should tell those that opt to stay to refrain from sweeping changes. The message of the day should be make do with what you’ve got.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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