Puerto Rico’s success is not just business, it’s personal

Column by the Executive Director of the Oversight Board: Robert Mujica

This column was originally published in Spanish by El Vocero on Enero 19, 2023

 Coming to Puerto Rico has always felt a bit like coming home. As so many Puerto Ricans born in New York City, it was always part of my life. I spent childhood summers with my grandparents in Arecibo, where my mother and my father were born. Spanish is the language of my grandparents’ affection. Puerto Rican food was on the table. 

Now I accepted the job as Executive Director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board and moved to Puerto Rico to take on a challenge unlike any in my life. I know this is not a popular job. Many Puerto Ricans, including some of my friends and family, look at the Oversight Board and its work with skepticism, even animosity. I hope to gain the trust of my fellow Puerto Ricans so together we can turn the fiscal stability achieved by the Oversight Board and the Government into a solid foundation for long-term economic growth. 

Up until now, my job has been to create a budget which balances the New York Governor’s priorities and maintains fiscal discipline. Tax money is finite. This is true not only for New York, but for Puerto Rico, too. While my role here is different, the principles remain the same. 

My grandparents had moved to Brooklyn and the Bronx in the 1960’s. My grandfather opened a bodega in Brooklyn and my grandmother worked as a seamstress – a Puerto Rican diaspora story. They returned to Arecibo decades later. My father became a public servant in New York. Then – as now – public service was a good career, and my mother began hers working at the New York City Office of Management and Budget. I interned there while studying at Brooklyn College, and after returning from graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania I accepted a position as a budget analyst for the New York State Senate in Albany. A quarter of a century later, I helped Governor Kathy Hochul prepare her second budget, my seventh. I served as Director of the Budget in New York longer than anyone since Nelson Rockefeller was governor in the 1950s. 

When Hurricane Maria devastated the island, I joined then-Governor Andrew Cuomo and Puerto Rican government officials from New York on the first commercial flight to direct New York’s aid to Puerto Rico. New York sent National Guard, engineers and medical professionals, helicopters and power generators, bottles of water and ready-to-eat meals, diapers and solar lamps. I was part of a team that worked with the Governor’s Office in Puerto Rico to develop a damage assessment to demonstrate to the Federal Government the need for assistance. To me, this was not just a volunteer mission. To me, this was personal. My grandparents and relatives lived here. They would suffer with everyone on the island. I needed to help. 

I have served under Republican and Democratic governors and legislators. I have always crossed the aisle to reach agreements. Every year, a balanced budget must be agreed upon. What drives me is to accomplish what we set out to do; not only the priorities that I set, but also the priorities important to the people with whom I work and the people they represent. I keep politics out of it. 

This is who I am. It won’t change in Puerto Rico. With politics out of the way, we will keep finances stable and build the foundations for a growing economy. I look forward to partnering with elected leaders to create a Puerto Rico that regains the confidence of investors, so that the government never falls back to the instability and crisis that necessitated PROMESA – and more importantly gains the confidence of the people of the Island. 

This is not just a professional challenge, but an opportunity to return to my ancestral home and make a lasting, sustainable impact on the future of our economy. Puerto Rico is a unique island, with a unique set of circumstances to overcome. Perhaps there is no one more excited about my new job than my 93-year-old grandmother. She could not return after Hurricane Maria, but now she is planning to finally come back to Arecibo. She asked me to open up our house and let the air in. I love this island, and I can’t wait to bring her home. 

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