Deficiencies reflected in responses to the major emergencies that our people have suffered recently mark the urgency of assuming the principle of merit in the government´s recruitment processes.
That is the path to ensuring proper government administration, without shadows of political interests that bleed public coffers, corrupt public service and affect trust in the government.
The controversy surrounding allegations of the influence that the dismissed special assistant Mabel Cabeza would have in handling contracts, without the merits to assume such a responsibility, shows that the Health Department exposes itself to serve private interests instead of addressing the pressing health needs of our society.
Puerto Rico´s government structures must take all the legal and regulatory measures that will prevent this critical agency from further distancing itself from its central mission of devoting its resources to the health of the people.
We recognize that Governor Wanda Vázquez has made changes in the agency leadership in order to put the health care management on track during the pandemic. However, it is unbelievable that, after the clear call to change and transparency that Puerto Ricans expressed during the summer of 2019, the influence of lobbyists and other figures with questionable agendas, linked to the most frustrating side of the Ricardo Rosselló administration persist in that entity.
The government must stop the practice of filling key positions with people without the necessary credentials or based on considerations not related to the common good. Puerto Rico needs the best resources, skilled and trained people committed to sound administration to avoid health care gaps such as those we saw after hurricanes and earthquakes.
The initial response of the Department of Health to the third major emergency that the people have faced in this term has also seen setbacks that have been partly attributed to an allegedly parallel structure composed of individuals with critical decision-making power without the qualifications or authority to do so. Similar patterns have been described in federal indictments resulting from investigations into the Health Insurance Administration and the Department of Education.
A consequence of not considering this distortion in the public mission is that, amid a state of emergency due to the coronavirus, Puerto Rico has been subjected to three changes in the Health Department in just weeks and was left without a state epidemiologist for days. Since before the danger of the pandemic, the lack of focus of the local health authorities had an impact on the delay of the response.
The government has the responsibility to address concerns regarding factors in the Department of Health that would have clouded the health strategy to prevent and treat the spread. The new secretary has reportedly ordered an administrative investigation, while the House, the Government Ethics Office, and federal authorities are conducting their investigations.
It is important to know which specific measures the government will take to put a stop to a structure of private interests that affect public institutions. Puerto Rico needs to regain confidence in its institutions, particularly in this critical period.
Puerto Rico has to sail the seas of this dangerous pandemic with clear data and lines of command in the agency in charge of public health.
The appointment of González as Health Secretary is beginning to show signs of new leadership in the agency. So far, he has announced the appointment of David Capó, Ph.D. in epidemiology, to lead that division. We are confident that González will build a team of top professionals.
Our public structures can no longer fall prey to political or electoral interests, monopolized by those who cling to public structures only to serve themselves.