We all want a wage increase, but can the Island afford to give raises without a proportional increase in productivity, without demanding competition and excellent work? Let's look at the facts:
Puerto Rico is a bankrupt island that lives on federal funds to remedy natural disasters, provide health services, address social problems, provide security, finance public education, build and maintain water, electricity and road infrastructure, among others. We are in receivership under a PROMESA board that has spent more on the renegotiation of our public debt than on the economic growth of the Island that would allow us not only to pay the debt but to increase salaries and standard of living now and in the future.
According to the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the PROMESA Board, real economic growth is negative or anemic, not only since 2007 but until 2036. Investment in construction and machinery and equipment is not picking up as it did in Puerto Rico's golden age in the 1960s and early 1970s. Labor participation, that is, our people who are employed or seeking employment as a percentage of the population age 16 and older able to work has never exceeded 50%. Our children in public education do not pass the META tests. We have generations living in public housing and receiving food stamps, nowadays Tarjeta de Familia.
We need to get out of the economic and intellectual dependence that we can't do it, says Heidie Calero (Archive).
Our infrastructure is fragile. The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority admits that 60% of processed water is lost and they cannot remedy this, and we pay rate increases annually. The Electric Power Authority has been privatized and is awaiting federal funds that do not materialize, but we continue to pay rate increases. The urban train is in deficit and has decapitalized the Highway Authority and more than ever depends on federal funds for its operation.
The 78 mayors on the Island try to serve their communities from their perspective and resist attempts at regionalization to make them administratively viable and effectively use federal funds for projects that increase economic activity.
Tax incentives are offered without overseeing the return on such investment, which costs us and demoralizes local entrepreneurs who also contribute to the country. The Legislative Branch does not present a vision or a plan to promote economic growth. The Judiciary does not seem to understand that they are part of this economy and that their late decisions of months and years impede economic activity. The Executive Branch is content with requesting more federal funds, promising to put them to good use, but without demanding productivity from its Cabinet secretaries and public employees, some of whom are true heroes and heroines who try to provide services instead of serving themselves.
We are a society of the elderly or, to put it more acceptably, of senior citizens who live on pensions that the rest of us who work have to finance as well, because the government has mismanaged those funds.
In short, with this background, how is it possible that the country continues to give salary increases that come out of our contributions to public employees, legislators, judges and prosecutors without demanding effective evaluations of their performance and productivity? Oh, and without real economic growth in the order of 4% to 5% per year for the next 10 years!
We live in a global economy with great challenges of competition, and we must focus on attracting investment both locally and from outside the Island; have an excellent education; take responsibility for our health and lifestyle; help those who need help, but demand that those who are qualified to do so work.
We need to get out of the economic and intellectual dependence that we cannot do it. We did it before, when we pulled ourselves out of extreme poverty in the 1940s. And why are we now content to keep asking for federal funds that we don't control? Enough with the asking. It's time to demand that we all work!
This article was originally published in Spanish in El Nuevo Día.