Junta de Control Fiscal

EL MUNDO REAL, LA JUNTA Y EL PLAN DE AJUSTE

La semana pasada Eva Prados y Juan Dalmau publicaron columnas sobre la Junta y el Plan de Ajuste que se ha presentado. En ambas los colegas rechazan el mismo y llaman a la Resistencia. Yo tengo mis problemas con el plan de ajuste de la Junta pero creo que la “información” que los colegas ponen en sus columnas debe ser escudriñada con cuidado.

Eva Prados nos dice que la Junta y el plan de ajuste “ponen en riesgo la calidad de vida de todas nuestras familias que residen en Puerto Rico y apoyarlo nos niega un futuro digno.” Obviamente no nos dice como ni que es un futuro digno pero eso es de esperarse. Prados continua diciendo que el Gobierno “demostró no tener dinero para pagar sus deudas.” FALSO.

La colega no nos dice que en la sección 301 de PROMESA incluye todas las secciones de la ley de quiebras federal que se incorporan en el Título III. Esta sección es muy similar a la sección 901 de Quiebras que hace lo mismo para el Capítulo 9 (la base del Título III de PROMESA). Uno de los puntos donde difiere es que en el Capítulo 9 se incluyó la sección 109. La sección 109(c) especifica que una municipalidad para ser elegible a quiebra tiene que estar insolvente. La sección 101(32)(c) nos define insolvencia y dice:

with reference to a municipality, financial condition such that the municipality is—

(i)generally not paying its debts as they become due unless such debts are the subject of a bona fide dispute; or

(ii) unable to pay its debts as they become due.

En el caso de Puerto Rico, esto nunca ocurrió. De hecho, a pesar de que el Gobernador García Padilla indicó en el Verano de 2015 que PR no podía pagar sus deudas, solo dejó de pagar unos bonos que dependían específicamente de que la legislatura les asignara fondos. Todas las demás deudas de bonos se estaban pagando y las otras, se pagaban con atrasos pero se pagaban. Más aún, desde julio 31 de 2017, la Junta supo de que PR tenía sobre $6 mil millones en 800 cuentas. Aquí mi columna sobre ello que contiene un enlace a los correo electrónicos que lo demuestran https://caribbeanbusiness.com/column-the-boards-feigned-attempt-at-transparency/ Así que el Gobierno NUNCA ha demostrado que no podía pagar sus deudas.

La colega sigue en su diatriba diciendo que el pago a los abogados y expertos “deja a la isla sin dinero en caja para cualquier emergencia.” Nuevamente, FALSO. En el plan fiscal de Puerto Rico, incluyendo su última versión de abril de 2021, a las páginas 57-58, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1reetKnfKsa1uR-A0u9l3FM6PfGamHCrx/view

se discute el plan de reserve de $130 millones anuales. No solo se ha usado este fondo de reserve en las emergencias del María y el Covid-19, es la única ocasión donde PR ha tenido un plan de reserva.

La Lcda. Prados critica el que los fondos buitres se beneficien del plan al haber comprador a descuento. Sin embargo, no nos dice que nada en la ley federal o de Puerto Rico prohíbe el hacerlo, amén, que es más fácil negociar descuentos con bonistas que compraron a descuento. Si compraron a 30 centavos y les descuentas el valor del bono a 60 centavos, el gana, es cierto, pero también el estado al conseguir ese descuento.

Prados continua con el asunto de la auditoría de la deuda. Yo llamo el reclamo una ñoñería y explico aquí porque. https://johnmuddlaw.net/2017/04/09/la-noneria-de-la-auditoria-de-la-deuda/ Parece que la colega cree que si comparece ante la Juez Swain e invoca la frase auditoría de la deuda, el caso de Título III se detiene mágicamente, si PEPE. Además, la colega olvida convenientemente que la Junta encargó a Kobre & Kim a hacer un informe sobre como se llegó a la deuda https://drive.google.com/file/d/19-lauVo3w9MPS03xYVe0SWhQin-Q6FEf/view Imagino que como tiene 608 páginas, no se lo leyó. Yo si y aunque no es lo que esperaba, si explica muchas cosas. El problema es que no señala el dedo diciendo que fulano y mengano irán presos, que creo que es lo que la colega quiere al igual que Juan Dalmau. Más adelante hablo sobre esto. Más aún, si una auditoria de la deuda señalara que alguna de ellas se emitió ilegalmente, hay que ir al Tribunal a demostrarlo. La colega nuevamente ignora los múltiples pleitos que la Junta ha radicado para invalidar varias emisiones. El problema es que cuando uno va a pleitear, uno puede ganar o puede perder y por ende usualmente (93% de los casos) se transigen. Eso es lo que la Junta ha hecho. El tratamiento de los bonos en el plan de ajuste. Si vemos las páginas 21-25 del Disclosure Statement, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DKrgKJRlX3diO01qzEElWEqnMvpwnGx8/view los bonistas recuperan entre 10% hasta un 77.6%. Esto refleja el juicio de la Junta y los bonistas en cuanto a cuan probable era el ganar sus demandas. En contraste bajo el Artículo VI, sección 8 de la Constitución del ELA, habría que pagar el 100% de la deuda publica antes de pagar otro renglón.

La colega menciona “estudios importantes” sin mencionar cuales son diciendo que había que bajar la deuda de un 85% a 95%. Aparte del hecho que ninguno de estos estudios ha sido presentado a la Juez Swain en el record, la verdadera pregunta es como se logra esto bajo es sistema legal boricua o estadounidense. Eva Prados no lo menciona porque no existe forma legal de hacerlo. Parafraseando a Otto Von Bismark “[law] is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” El machetear un descuento de tal naturaleza como el que ella menciona es contrario al derecho y “the rule of law”, vital para el desarrollo de cualquier sociedad https://johnmuddlaw.net/category/caso-doral/page/4/

La colega continua denunciando el recorte a las pensiones e insiste en que se vote en contra del plan de ajuste. Como el colega Juan Dalmau insiste en los mismo, lo discutiré luego de alizar su columna.

Juan Dalmau, a quien distingo y aprecio, escribe una columna titulada Pueblo v. Junta. Concuerdo con el que la Junta es un organismo antidemocrático pero fue creado porque nuestros políticos y los que los elegimos (incluyéndome a mi), endeudaron al gobierno. El colega se queja de lo que se le paga a la Junta y sugiere que la Legislatura no les pague. El problema es que como la sección 107 de PROMESA establece que PR pagará su presupuesto, si la Legislatura hiciera eso, la Junta correría a donde la Juez Swain y se declarará la ley contraria a PROMESA y sin efecto. Además, si no se pone en el presupuesto, la Junta lo pondrá y lo impondrá como hizo de 2017-2020. Más aún, si el Gobierno se niega a llevarlo a cabo, la Junta le pide a Swain el control de las cuentas del Gobierno y ya. Such is life in the tropics and then you die.

 

Además, no estoy de acuerdo con Juan cuando dice que la “Junta ha sido incapaz de favorecer al país.” La Junta permitió al Gobierno de PR pagar las pensiones en 100%, no pagar los bonos garantizados por la Constitución, no ha requerido recortes de personal y ha aumentado los gastos gubernamentales. Esa es la realidad. Concuerdo con el que la raíz del problema es el estatus pero nada puede hacer la Junta sobre ello.

Difiero de que la “deuda pública se incurrió para sostener la imagen del gobierno federal cuando ya la situación del país hacía insostenible la relación colonial.” La deuda pública que se dispara del 2001-2014 fue producto del deseo malsano de los gobiernos de turno de que su gobernadora fuera reelecto, dándole a ciertos grupos prebendas inmerecidas. Esto incluye a los amigos del alma y los sagrados pobres.

Su propuesta de “[d]eclarar que la deuda pública es impagable, y cesar de inmediato todo pago proyectado, hasta tanto el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, los acreedores y las entidades que les representan, accedan a una justa reestructuración de la misma, como parte de un acuerdo mayor de indemnización y Desarrollo económico libre de toda tutela colonial.” Quimeras nada más. El Gobierno federal no nos va a dar un Plan Marshall en compensación por el coloniaje y pretender que luego de 4 años de litigo y negociaciones los acreedores accedan a esta burda propuesta es soñar con pajaritos preñados. Más aún, ya el plan de ajuste de COFINA fue aprobado y es una orden de un Juez Federal que tiene que acatarse.

Finalmente, Juan nos dice que se debe “crear un ente independiente para investigar y encausar civil y criminalmente a los que en el gobierno de Puerto Rico comprometieron fiscalmente al país.” Yo concuerdo que se debió haber hecho PERO el término prescriptivo de 5 años ya pasó y civilmente entiendo que bajo el antiguo Artículo 1802 también. Claro, a menos que echemos a un lado todas las garantías constitucionales que tanto les gustan a mis colegas cuando les conviene.

Finalmente, el votar en contra del plan de ajuste sirve de muy poco. Aunque normalmente un caso de quiebra necesita que todas las clases voten a favor del plan, la Junta ha hecho claro que este va a ser un caso de “cramdown”, queriendo decir que la le pedirán a la Juez que acepte el plan a pesar de las objeciones. Esto se hace bajo el 11 U.S.C. § 1129 y la sección 314 de PROMESA. Con una aceptación de bonistas y muchos otros acreedores, hay altas probabilidades de que se apruebe.

Pero, ¿que pasa si no se aprueba el plan de ajuste? La sección 930 de quiebras nos dice que si no se puede aprobar el plan de ajuste, la quiebra se desestima. Sin el stay de PROMESA, los acreedores cobrarían el 100% o cerca de ello. ¿Es eso lo que los colegas quieren?

DIMES Y DIRETES EN PROMESA

El día 15 de junio de 2021 era el último día para objetar a la información que presentó la Junta en el Disclosure Statement que presentó. Este documento se rige bajo el 11 U.S.C. § 1125 y requiere que contnga “adequate information”, la cual se define así:

“adequate information” means information of a kind, and in sufficient detail, as far as is reasonably practicable in light of the nature and history of the debtor and the condition of the debtor’s books and records, including a discussion of the potential material Federal tax consequences of the plan to the debtor, any successor to the debtor, and a hypothetical investor typical of the holders of claims or interests in the case, that would enable such a hypothetical investor of the relevant class to make an informed judgment about the plan, but adequate information need not include such information about any other possible or proposed plan and in determining whether a disclosure statement provides adequate information, the court shall consider the complexity of the case, the benefit of additional information to creditors and other parties in interest, and the cost of providing additional information.

El disclosure statement y el plan constan de sobre 2,200 paginas, más un best interest analysis presentado a última hora. A pesar del corto tiempo disponible, varias entidades como mi cliente, Servicios Integrales en la Montaña, el Comité de Acreedores no Asegurados y la aseguradora Ambac, radicaron mociones cuestionando la falta de información del documento.

Sorpresivamente, AAFAF radicó una objeción al mismo argullendo que la Junta no había explicado adecuadamente como iba a aprobar el plan si la Legislatura no iba a favorecer legislación que el mismo requería. La Junta dijo en el Disclosure Statement que no era seguro que la Legislatura la aprobará y si era así acudiría al Tribunal bajo la sección 305 de PROMESA que prohíbe al mismo interferir con la propiedad y poderes del deudor sin la autorización de la Junta.

El miércoles 16 de julio se celebró la vista Omnibus de PROMESA y durante la misma se le pide a la Junta dar un informe, el cual ya se había radicado. Sorpresivamente, la Juez Swain, luego que la Junta dijo que no tenía nada que añadir nada al informe, dijo que iba a señalar algo. Dijo que ya que la Junta seguía que era obvio que este no era un plan consensual y no iba a permitir el enviar las papeletas para votar por el plan (si no se envían las papeletas, el plan no se puede aprobar) a menos que la Juez Houser, jefa del grupo de mediadores, certifique unos días antes de la vista del 13 de julio de 2021 que las partes han negociado de buena y de no ser así, quien no lo ha hecho. Esto podría interpretarse que la Juez Swain quiere que las diferencias entre la Junta y el Gobierno de PR se resuelvan, cosa poco probable ya que la Junta se ha mantenido firme en el recorte a las pensiones y el Gobierno en su oposición al más mínimo cambio a las mismas. Lo cual trae varias preguntas.

¿Está dispuesto el Gobierno de Puerto Rico a arriesgar la desestimación del Título III por defender a ultranza la pensiones? ¿Estará la Juez Swain dispuesta a ignorar o invalidar selectivamente la ley de Puerto Rio que requiere legislación  para la aprobación de nuevas emisiones de bonos? ¿Si la Juez Swain aprueba el plan de ajuste como esta, lo pondrá en vigor el Gobierno o nuevamente tomará la defensa a ultranza de las pensiones? ¿Si la Junta transa y elimina el recorte a las pensiones, lo aceptará la Juez Swain? ¿Si la Juez Swain aceptará este cambio, exigirá más cambios la Legislatura como la cancelación del contrato de LUMA?

Yo no tengo las respuestas pero entiendo que sus implicaciones tienen gran importancia, máxime que la prensa no ha reportado nada de esto.  

GRIJALVA’S AMENDMENTS TO PROMESA

 

 

The Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, in cahoots with Nydia Velázquez, have introduced a bill on May 21, 2020 for the purported purpose of amending PROMESA. With the 2020 November election looming large, it is highly unlikely that the House, much less the Senate, will have the time or the inclination to evaluate such an important legislation, much less approve it, this year. In reality, the Bill is nothing less than an attempt to please the Puertorrican “diaspora” in NYC, without in reality making any meaningful changes. I will attempt to explore this Bill, examining its salient points.

 

Section 3 of the Bill, quite correctly, prohibits those who issued debt in the past for the territorial government, its corporations or who was a part of the financial entities who purchased or insured the bonds, from serving as Board members, Executive Directors or Staff. It also forces the Board to create an Ethics Board within to consider its compliance with “applicable Federal laws regulating the conduct of the Oversight Board, including conflict of interest, financial disclosure and open government laws.” Problem is, this section does not explain what this Committee may do about said violations. Total waste of time.

 

Section 3(c)(there are two c’s in section 3), limits the total cost of the contracts entered by the Board for any fiscal year to 5%  of the operating budget. In other words, if the Board has a $60 million budget, it cannot enter into contracts above $3 million, which would immediately eliminate its lawyers, to say nothing of all other experts. You may argue that the Board has spent too much on lawyers and experts but on the other hand, restructuring $72 billion in bond debt, another $45 billion in pension debt and a few other billions in unsecured debt cannot be done on that budget.

 

Section 3(d)(and another c) requires that each individual Board member or potential Board member do the following before serving:

 

‘‘(1) has issued a formal statement regarding  that individual’s past and present compliance, and intent of future compliance with all applicable Federal laws regulating the individual’s conduct, including conflict of interest, financial disclosure, and open government laws; and

 

‘‘(2) has committed in writing to strictly abide by section 208 of title 18, United States Code, and other applicable Federal laws regulating their conduct, including conflict of interest, financial disclosure, and open government laws.

 

How can an individual certify compliance with past federal laws that did not apply to him? Why does he have to certify compliance with federal laws that apply to him since he has a legal obligation to do so  anyway. This is something that has no value except to make sectors of the “diaspora” feel empowered. There are other ethical requirements which are good ideas that won’t make a real difference if members want to lie, but there is a requirement of an annual ethics report to the President and Congress. Don’t see the use of it either.

 

Section 4 requires federal appropriations for the Board, which Congress will never approve. Section 5 requires that essential services be fully funded, which is no real change since the Board is the one who determines what this means in the Fiscal Plan and it cannot be reviewed by the District Court until the plan of adjustment, if at all. This section also includes public education, public safety, public health and pensions purportedly as essential services. Are pensions an essential service? Who does paying pensions serve? Not general public for sure.

 

Section 6 adds a list of other things in which the Fiscal Plan must provide as investment, which is fine, but again, it is determined by the Board and is unreviewable.

 

Section 213 is new purports to give back the UPR its previous funding but in a dwindling student population, does this make sense?

 

Section 318 is amended to include important disclosures by professionals employed by Court order, which is a good idea. Problem is that this is required retroactively by section d and this may be problematic.

 

Section 319 is added requiring disclosures by professionals hired by debtor, which is also a good idea, but 319(a) at the end  requires that the  professional disclose individual connections with debtors, creditors, etc. Problem is, what does connections mean? If I went to high school or played little league as a child with the person, does this count? Further refining is needed. Also, section 319(b) prohibits the claim of privilege in this endeavor, defeating federal and state public policies. Makes more sense to limit it to certain privileges such as deliberative process or maybe business secrets. Or it should be left to the discretion of the Court to decide in a balancing of interests. Another example of this Bill not been thought through but rather one that is to please certain constituents. Also, the disclosures are retroactive to June 30, 2016, when PROMESA was originally enacted.

 

Section 320 is new and requires that public information be readily available. Being one of the persons that objected to the secrets in the PR bankruptcy, this is a good idea. Section 110 is added requiring the Comptroller General of the United States to report to the President and the House Natural Resources Committee on an audit on the use of federal funds etc. Not a bad idea. Also, a good idea was the repeal of Title V of PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Revitalization which has been totally unproductive to date.

 

Title VIII is added for allegedly Territorial Relief, in other words, a non-Court centered way in which the territory can get rid of debt. When you read it, however, you see it is not as terrible as it seems. It only applies to non-secured financial obligations (security or loan, swap, repurchase agreement, guaranty). It does not apply to claims by vendors, service providers, employees, pending tax refunds or credits. In essence, the procedure would relieve the Territory of this debt (small as it would be) once every 7 years, a territorial Shemittah. If you give this power to politicians, do you have any doubt they will use it? Of course, it can only be used for small amounts of money in practical terms, but it is still something ripe for abuse. Also, only a territory whose population has decreased by 10% in a 10-year period or has received major disaster assistance via the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act during the 5-year period ending on the date of the discharge and that has a per capita debt greater  than $15,000 (as defined by the section). What a coincidence that PR qualifies in all of them. This discharge requires the vote of both over 50% of both houses of the legislature and the signature of the Governor and works similarly to a bankruptcy discharge. According to section 802(c):

 

Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or territorial law, the ability of a qualifying territory to obtain a discharge under this title shall not be stayed, avoided, or otherwise limited by operation of any provision of law or by order of a court, an Oversight Board, or an administrative agency in any proceeding.

 

In other words, only future Congressional law will prohibit this practice, which again, will affect an infinitesimal amount of the Territories debt and will only affect bondholders. Talk about discrimination.

 

Section 804(a) reverses the general presumption that all transactions have been conducted in a lawful way by stating that:

 

Any financial obligation is conclusively deemed to be an unsecured financial obligation except to the extent that the holder of that obligation proves that the financial obligation is a secured financial obligation in an action for a declaratory judgment that is filed—

“(1) in—

 

‘‘(A) an appropriate territorial court of the qualifying territory; or

   (B) a district court of the United States  in the qualifying territory; and

 

2) not later than 180 days after the date of  a discharge under section 802.

 

Hence, after the Territory conducts its unilateral discharge of said debt, the affected party has only 180-days to rush to Court and object and can go to federal or territorial court. In addition, section 804(b) changes the burden of proof of the person challenging the unilateral action of the Territorial Government, used in both federal and territorial courts in civil cases, from a preponderance of the evidence (50+1) to clear and convincing evidence (probably between 65-70% probability). Talk about empowering the Government. Moreover, section 804(c) provides:

 

Notwithstanding title 28 [Federal Court Jurisdiction and Venue statutes], United States Code, a court described in subsection (a)(1) shall have exclusive jurisdiction over an action involving, arising from, or related to the status of a financial obligation as a secured or an unsecured financial obligation under subsection (a), including—

 

‘‘(1) any action asserting a taking under the fifth article of amendment to the Constitution of the  United States; and

   (2) any action for declaratory judgment.

 

Therefore, if a party sues to question the discharge and has to include as defendants others who are indispensable parties (legalese, trust me on this), those parties, if sued in territorial court, could not remove the case to federal court. Also, if one party goes to territorial court, can another go to federal court or is it prohibited by this section. Very unclear.

 

Also, section 804(h) provides the territory with a procedure for avoidance of security interests as if it were a Trustee in a Chapter 7 case. So now we have Title III, a bankruptcy like procedure based on Chapter 9 and this avoidance based on Chapter 7. The  territory has two years after the date of the discharge in 804 to do this and can file in territorial or federal court. Most territorial courts, however, have no idea how bankruptcy law works so filing there may be an enormous headache.

A very  important limitation is contained in Section 806. This Title does not apply to American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana, Guam or the Virgin Islands. Considering that the United States has only 5 permanently populated territories, this means that Title VIII applies only to Puerto Rico, violating the doctrine of Railway Labor Executives’ Assn. v. Gibbons, 455 U.S. 457 (1982). In that case, Congress passed a bankruptcy law that would benefit only one railroad and the Court decided this violated the provision of the Constitution where Congress could enact “uniform” bankruptcy laws, and this was not uniform. To the argument of Congressional power over interstate commerce, the Court scoffed at the idea that Congress could use one power to defeat limitations of said power. As it is, this section is probably unconstitutional but even if applied to all territories, this bankruptcy like procedures seem to violate the uniformity clause. As some bondholders have told me, PROMESA is likely unconstitutional for the same reason, although until this date, no party has actually filed such challenge. But as Curly in City Slickers said “Day ain’t over yet.”

Finally, we come to one of the “diasporas” most cherished ideas, “The Puerto Rico Credit Comprehensive Audit Commission.” In spite of the Kobre & Kim Report on the debt and many (including myself) mentioning that all politicians since 1974 are responsible for the debt, the “diaspora” (and the Puertorrican left) have wanted a Commission would audit the debt to discover who is responsible for it and what debt is illegal. Congresspersons Grijalva and Velázquez heeded their cries with this section. The Commission would be part of the Puerto Rico Government and proceed to:

‘‘(1) order a comprehensive audit of all public debt of Puerto Rico and its instrumentalities, in conformity with the Government Accountability Office’s Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (also known as the ‘Yellow Book’); and

‘(2) audit all public debt issued during the period beginning on the first day of fiscal year 1972 and ending on the date of enactment of this section, including—

 

‘‘(A) a current and complete accounting as to the amount of outstanding indebtedness as of the date of the enactment of this section;

‘‘(B) an analysis of the sustainability of outstanding debts;

‘‘(C) an assessment of how rules, policies, and controls over the use of debt can be improved upon to ensure that in the future Puerto Rico’s debt load is sustainable and issued in a manner that effectively protects the legal and financial interests of the Government of Puerto Rico; and

‘‘(D) an investigation into any irregularities, apparent or alleged, wherein probable cause of malfeasance or misfeasance is found.

 

The Commission would be comprised of individuals from the unions, cooperativists, economics, finance, accounting, statistics, law, sociology (I am sure a certain professor of sociology in NYC was instrumental in this) professors from a university in PR, a business community representative, preferably small business and a certified translator. They will be appointed by the Governor no later than 360-days after the amendments are approved and if the does not act, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House shall jointly appoint them. The Bill requires that there be sufficient funding but does not say who had to fund it or if its members will be compensated. Give the duties and responsibilities they are entrusted with, not many will accept this appointment.

 

There are several problems with this section. What does probable cause mean? Rule 6 of the Puerto Rico Rules of Criminal Procedure  or Rules 5.1 or 41  of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure? Moreover, much of what the Bill requires was done by Kobre & Kim, so why do it again? Also, much as I would love to  put the culprits behind bars, the 5-year statute of limitations of both Puerto Rico and Federal Criminal Codes have long expired. What would a declaration of a Commission of this nature do? What weight would it have? Who will pay for it? How much will it cost? Finally, by the time the persons are appointed, and they have done their duty, the Puerto Rico Title III cases will have been completed or the cases dismissed.

 

Also, nothing is done in this Bill about the Puerto Rico’s Government’s objections to PROMESA, to wit, the Board’s control over it. It does nothing to weaken it or strengthen it. It provides no funding for PR except to say that the Federal Government will pay the Board’s expenses. It is not, like a local politician dubbed it, “a step in the right direction.”  Why do all this, then? To please the NYC Puertorrican “diaspora,” nothing else. The Bill is not even to get serious consideration given the time constraints. This is not the purpose of  Congress.