Puerto Rico- Its political history and future
A study aimed at determining the readiness of PR for choice.
ESTADO LIBRE ASOCIADO DE PUERTO RICO
Oficina del Contralor
LEADERS’ RESPONSIBILITY AND CORRUPTION
December 7, 2000
At the dawn of the 21st century, it is widely recognized that corruption is a
serious threat to democracies all over the world. Recently, several articles in
newspapers and journals have raised important issues and pondered on
corruption, the function of government, and responsibility – personal and
collective. In Puerto Rico, the Office of the Comptroller has a decisive role on
these issues. Let us reflect deeper on LEADERS, RESPONSIBILITY, AND
Government is a manifestation of the impulse of the human community to
organize for social, economic and political purposes. Any corruption in the
government is essentially an attack upon ourselves and our aspirations of
what we are to become as a people. Corruption is a direct attack on the
institution of democratic government. Lost in greed and the hunger for
power, a vicious circle sets in. People do not trust the government and the
government distances itself from the people. Institutional decay and public
apathy follows. Self government deteriorates as people feel that neither their
voice nor their vote nor their effort matters. Government then loses its
legitimacy and Lincoln’s prayer for an imperishable "government of the
people, by the people and for the people" is lost in the deafening roar of the
cash registers of interest groups who view institutional transparency and
ethical conduct as an impediment to doing business, notwithstanding the
Society looks upon government to repair many of the ills that affect us. Yet
our challenges at their core are not those on which politicians, public
servants and business people are trained for. Our greater challenges are
spiritual at their source: a misunderstanding of power, the viciousness of
greed, the heavy burden of materialism, the erosion of civility. Government
itself must be moved to a higher level of thought, to a profound sense of the
common good, to a quickened awareness of the value it adds to society as a
whole. The greatest minds of democracy understood that the material
foundations of an enduring democracy rests on immaterial principles.
On what principles do we build our society? On what grounds do we base
our personal and collective decisions? What are our beliefs on human
nature? Are human beings single-minded, cold calculators, each out to
maximize their own well-being? Is society mainly a marketplace in which
self-serving individuals compete with one another –at work, in politics-,
enhancing the general welfare in the process? Are humans able to figure out
rationally and morally the most efficient way to realize their individual goals,
and at the same time remain anchored within a community sustained by
shared values and common purposes? Under what conditions can business
be market efficient, government be socially responsible and community be
viable? How are we to combine an efficient and innovative economy, with a
responsible government geared to the common good?
These are fundamental questions that we must confront and answer clearly.
At issue for politicians, business leaders and society are deep questions of
values, choices, and behavior.
We do not believe that human beings are individuals, free-floating atoms
within society and the economy, relating mainly on the basis of self-interest.
A more advanced view is a responsive civil society where all can share a
common and inalienable set of values and needs, that must be protected as
the common good. Let us not underestimate the value of cooperation, trust
and decency in public affairs. Let us perceive ourselves, basically, as caring
We challenge the utilitarian and individualistic paradigm applied not merely
to economy, but to the full array of social relations. We also challenge the
view that sees individuals as morally deficient, incapable of making ethical
decisions, and often quite irrational, hence requiring all sorts of social
engineering or political manipulations. A more positive and hopeful view of
human nature must be advanced if we are to sustain our democratic
Personal responsibility is necessary in any democracy. But it can be an
empty dream for many, unless we can equip them with the resources to
achieve some sense of "enough" in material and social terms. It is one of the
main obligations of government as servant to all its people to make this sort
of responsibility a possibility for everyone.
However, responsibility is a complex issue. A key factor is the centrality of
power in the role of leaders and public figures –in politics, business,
professions, religions, sports, entertainment. Usually someone has a power
advantage reflected in his/her social, political or economical status. Indeed,
a Governor has more decision making power than his/her bodyguard, even
though one can save the life of other. It is a plain fact of life that some people
are more responsible than others, by the very nature of their work. This is
particularly true in the effort to prevent corruption.
Society should expect and demand of government, business, civic, religious,
educational, and all leaders of society to exert their positive and moral
influence in the control of corruption. It is they, primarily, who must lead the
charge. If business and government are going to CHANGE for the better, it
has to be done by what we do, not what we say. If we are going to REALLY
fight corruption we must be clear that we "mean business" . Otherwise,
public discourse and real action become disassociated, and official
discourse serves as a distortion from reality. When the ideas or promises we
expose are cut off from self-knowledge and the decision to act, we become
hypocritical, demagogues, self-serving, cynical.
Democracy has its compelling requirements. One is the political-will of
elected officials and public servants to serve the common good. For all
leaders, ethics in action is the only test of reality. Genuine political-will to
fight corruption demands personal involvement and moral character. Make
no mistakes about it. There are no excuses to actively fight the increased
greed and selfishness we encounter in our daily public affairs.
Government is to serve, not to be served. A servant government must also
be under the control of its citizens if it is to be a proper servant. Information
–the right to know what is going on-, involvement –the right to participate in
decisions rather than leave it all to "them"-, and individuality –the right to
certain freedoms and protections from the government-, are three essentials
of proper citizenship. Governments which say "elect us and leave it to us to
act, always, in your best interest" are turning democracy into elected
paternalism, or at worst, elected dictatorship.
The first duty of government, therefore, is to be transparent and inform its
people. However, some people in authority assume that truth is either too
important or too complicated, to be entrusted to ordinary folks. Sometimes
this is true; in war or in a national emergency. More often it is an excuse
because explanations are too difficult or too painful. In democracy,
governments must be the servants of the people and thus a constant and
rigorous accountability is the best assurance of its credibility.
Law, freedom, a system of checks and balances, are some of the essential
ingredients of democracy. But perhaps the bottom line is faith and trust.
Democracy requires a degree of trust that we often take for granted. It is
much harder to build trust than to lose it. But that is precisely the problem
with corruption once we let it become institutionalized. Fortunately, the vast
majority of our public servants and elected officials are men and women of
goodwill and responsibility. But the heritage of trust that has been the basis
of our stable democracy is eroding through corruption. This trust is not a
nonrenewable resource, but it is much easier to destroy than to renew.
That is why the problem of corruption is so ominous in their implications for
Puerto Ricos’s future. We call for a deeper understanding of the moral
ecology that sustains the lives of all of us in a democracy. "Moral ecology" is
only another way of speaking of healthy institutions in public administration
and ethical principles by which government and business must adhere.
At the Comptroller’s Office we have proposed a vast number of actions,
decisions and strategies for twofold objectives: to prevent and control
corruption through our campaign of "Cero Tolerancia a la Corrupcion" (CTC
2000 Plan was issued on December 15, 1999 and is available in the Website
of the Comptroller’s Office – www.ocpr.gov.pr); and to enhance the
effectiveness of Public Administration through the implementation of
standards, criteria and indicators of quality and accountability in the
management of finances, resources and all public goods.
This is not a romantic or idealistic project. Just the opposite. It is a viable
public policy for short and long-term practical necessities of the new era in
politics and business alike. We are beginning a constructive task that lies
ahead for society and government. It is the open quest for freedom, justice,
and peace that inspires democracy. It must actively involve all of our civil
society by a widening of democratic participation in public affairs. This
interdependent task counteracts predatory relations among individuals and
groups and enables everyone to participate in the goods of society. For
indeed the common good is the pursuit of the good in common.
As economics, politics, and government have become central in Puerto
Rican life, our civil society must be strengthened by a clear vision of the
common good. Rather, the political arena has become dominated by the
aggregates of private interests which fight it out without regard to how the
outcome affects the good of the society as a whole. Thus, Puerto Rican
politics can become an arena of power in which, at times, competing
interests battle without responsibility for, or a conception of, the common
A mass of claimants centered around interests groups is not a public. There
is nothing wrong with interests and nothing wrong with having them
represented. But a democratic government is more than the compromising
of conflicting interests, important though as it is. Compromise, the art of the
possible, is not enough. There are major problems to be solved and great
ends to be pursued. The original idea of a "public" in the eighteen-century
–valid today- was not just a congeries of interests groups but a reflective
community capable of thinking about the common good, of taking the point
of view that everyone must be cared for. Most of our problems are truly
common. We all breathe the same air, use the same infrastructures, and are
affected –one way or another- by the same violence, injustices, inequalities,
civic decline, and ecological vulnerability.
Some institutions have a stronger responsibility in promoting the awareness
of the common good. Educational institutions, churches, labor unions,
financial and commercial associations, professional organizations, among
others, play a key role. Let us teach ourselves and others that politics,
economics and government should be a reflection of the aspiration to
contribute to the happiness of the community, and not of the need to deceive
or pillage the community.
Let us teach both ourselves and others that politics does not have to be the
art of the possible, especially if this means the art of speculating, calculating,
secret agreements, and pragmatic maneuvering, but that it can also be the
art of the impossible, that is, the art of making both ourselves and the world
A mature civil society moves beyond the public’s belief that it can influence
politics by merely voting every four years. We need to grow in collectively
organized social and political participation other than voting and party
activity: social movements, civic protests, and single-issue organizational
activism, that mobilizes peoples and resources, like the case in Vieques.
Can we empower our society and government in such a way as to fight
corruption? Yes, we can. To renew our commitment we must invigorate an
active citizenship and develop organizational forms in which their
participation can be meaningful.
Those of us in government, as servants and representatives of the people,
are truly called by faith: faith in our constituents, faith in ourselves, faith in
our public institutions, faith in something that transcends our human
condition, a higher awareness we can reach for. At the beginning of every
day, or before an important meeting, many of us (silently) pray to God. Even
in our Constitution we appeal to an Almighty God. What shall our prayers be
for Puerto Rico? What if we pray and work and serve for a more humane and
decent society? Let us hope the truism is true: that we ultimately get what we
Perhaps all who are in leadership roles, specially government elected
officials, should carry in their pockets and minds the admonition of Gandhi
on the "Seven Daily Sins in Today’s World":
"Wealth without work. Enjoyment without conscience. Knowledge
without character. Business without morality. Science without
humanity. Religion without sacrifice. And Politics without
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Commentary by Richard R. Tryon
On Dec.7th, the 59th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I was privileged to read the above letter to the San Juan Star written by the Comptroller of PR. It was such a clearly written statement in beautiful English that I knew I wanted to keep it to be framed. I also knew that I wanted to meet the man who wrote it.
Although I could not speak en Español well enough to carry on an intellectual conversation, as may be expected in some corners of the new governments offices, it was not a requirement when I visited the office of the Comptroller at 105 Ponce de León Avenue in the Hato Rey section of what is part of the now greater metropolitan city of San Juan.
The man was ready for me at exactly the appointed hour. His assistant greeted me at the front door as I signed in and received a name badge as part of governmental security control. I was ushered upstairs and into a large conference room and was promptly greeted by the Comptroller. His assistant Alfredo Colón sat with us and added several comments to the conversation. In half an hour I knew more about the history of PR and more about the effectiveness of this man’s campaign to project a new morality for both service and integrity in PR. He firmly believes that the laws have worked to bring more people into the fold of those who honestly report income and expense for purposes of government taxation.
More importantly, this man projects the image of a new Puerto Rico. One where pride extends to more than notions of being part of a group that may be striving for recognition as a state or as a nation- time will tell which- but for identity as a nation of people that appreciate the need for service and a sense of morality in the personal interaction of all people of this island.
One can not help but like him and appreciate his kind words about the associates of his team. His humble attitude is becoming and disarming to all who would have a wish to take issue with any law that he is charged to use in every comparison that results in either a passing report or an apparent failure. Of course, his task is not to prosecute the failures, only to point out the facts as his organization seems to find them.
We enjoyed reminiscing about the days of the first Comptroller and those of Luis Sturke, a man known for some years to me as a former Manager of the Budget for PR in the days of the Tugwell administration. Sturke spent the last fifty years of his life living in isolation near the top of El Yunque, the rain forest of international fame here in PR. He raised orchids, many other flowers and plants while communing with nature, learning not just the constellations that filled his night sky, but the names and pedigrees of the individual stars within each. He also logged the rainfall on that part of the mountain and lived without electrical lines from below until about 1988.
Like Sturke, a devoted public servant, Manuel Díaz Saldaña is a man determined to do his work fairly, without malice but with firmness as needed. Yet, he systematically found a way to quickly sort out all visitors into classes such that the simple cases can be shunted to points for fast action without undue delay caused by the accident of arrival time. Such a skill is badly needed in PR, an island that for five hundred years has been populated by children of those who have known nothing but a colonial way of life. Add in the tendency for provincialism that comes with living on a remote island and one can easily see how patterns of emotion have evolved that have left the islanders with a sense of wonderment about their status.
They may have a nearly even division between those ready for statehood and fuller association with the U.S. and the other half that are happy with the status quo because it is easy to accept. A few have been for independence, some no matter what the cost. The current new administration may by accident or design, it may be hard to tell which, end up propelling a majority to seek independence rather than accept evidence of further colonial type submission.
I left the interview with the feeling that which way is not as important to this man as it is to build a environment in which ones can find a sense of dignity, honor, trust, and loyalty to principles of integrity that are essential to a society that chooses to live in an orderly way. Fortunately he enjoys a ten year appointment and has won praise from both major political parties of PR. I could not help but wonder if his example will be followed by leaders of both leading parties. I can not help but believe that if they manage to do so, they will have reinvented the type of political difference that used to grace the mainland political landscape.
After enjoying such an interview on Jan 17, I revisited the web site for the PR government at
where a month ago a fine array of information awaited the viewer in two languages- your choice of Spanish or English. That array is history!
Now a mainlander looking for information about the government of PR will find only one page- in Spanish only, of course, as it is more important to the new government to assuage its fanatic notions of nationalism, patriotism and culture that requires a page that leaves a mainland business person interested in establishing jobs in PR without a place to go, unless he or she can read español. I can and had no trouble finding that the web links to the old department of education single page in Spanish for the former Secretary of Education. Apparently it gives a phone number and the new secretary has not had time to build an approved new page.
We shall check it next month.
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