After bankruptcy’s end, it’s time for Puerto Rico to grow

Op-Ed by the member of the Oversight Board: John E. Nixon

This column was originally published in Spanish by El Nuevo Día on December 17, 2021

As 2021 draws to a close and we celebrate the holiday season, we should also take stock of the goals achieved during this year, as well as the challenges that lay in 2022 and beyond.

This year, Puerto Rico has taken significant steps to restructure a big part of the debt that wasn’t already restructured. The proposed Plan of Adjustment that cuts the claims against the Commonwealth by 80% is now in the hands of the court. Jude Laura Taylor Swain of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico is expected to decide soon whether she will confirm the plan and that means the Commonwealth could move on from bankruptcy soon.

Next, the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s will tackle the remaining debt at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Highways & Transportation Administration.

At this juncture, and with the arrival of substantial federal funds to aid in Puerto Rico’s ongoing reconstruction, several questions need to be put forward: With the shackles of bankruptcy no longer holding Puerto Rico back, what is the best way to move forward? How can we ensure that Puerto Rico doesn’t fall back in the same trap that brought it to bankruptcy in the first place?

The answer to these and similar questions can be summarized with oft-repeated phrases like “economic development,” “fiscal responsibility” and “full accountability.” But what do these concepts precisely entail? Basically, it boils down to changing the way we think about the future and garnering enough collective will to do what’s right for Puerto Rico.

Specifically, we need to be thinking about where we want Puerto Rico to be in the next several decades. We can’t be making decisions for today alone. We need to make sure that bankruptcy remains behind us, and we need a coalition involving people from the business, non-profit, and academic sectors as well as government, to come together and say where we want Puerto Rico to be in the next 10 to 20 years.

For this, we need to roll up our sleeves. Once Puerto Rico unburdens itself from bankruptcy, local leaders need to put together a long-term, sustainable economic strategy that looks beyond the immediate influx in federal funds.

The Oversight Board does not oversee federal funds, but it will do everything it can to support strategic investments in Puerto Rico and its economic revitalization to ensure that the Island is on a solid foundation from here on out.

The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, of which I am a member, will meet today in New York to discuss with the leaders of several agencies that are at the center of economic development their ideas and plans of what Puerto Rico’s future will look like, what road we take to get there – and how we build that road sustainably, together.