Collecting Information To Detect And Prevent Conflict Of Interest

Hiram R. Morales Lugo, 12th IACC, Workshop contribution, Sustainability

I. Introduction

Good afternoon. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share with you the experience of the Office of Government Ethics of Puerto Rico (OEGPR), in the implementation of an Ethics Code for the Public Service. Given the topic of these proceedings, I will concentrate in the examination of the mechanisms provided by the Law to prevent and detect the conflicts of interests.

Allow me to begin with a brief, but necessary reference to the jurisdiction of the Law of Government Ethics of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (LGEPR). The legislation was enacted in July of 1985, in order to address the problem of corruption in the public service. The Law incorporates a Code of Ethics, which is legally binding for all the public servants of the Executive Branch of Government; which includes approximately 250,000 employees. In fact, in lieu of the applicable constitutional mandate or legal duty, all three Branches of Government have designed and approved Codes of Ethics, as well as the necessary organizational and procedural architecture.

(see table in attached document)

The OGEPR interprets and applies the Ethics Code of the Executive Branch. The OEGPR has been granted administrative autonomy and fiscal independence by law. The Supreme Court has the responsibility to implement the Ethics Code of the Judicial Branch. In the Legislative Branch, such responsibility must be carried out by each one of the Ethics Commissions of the Legislative Body.

II. THE OGEPR MECHANISMS TO DETECT THE CONFLICTS OF INTERETS

A. Financial Reports

The Law of Government Ethics requires that specific public servants must submit financial reports to the OGEPR. These reports require a significant amount of financial information, which must be provided truthfully by the public servants. Among the officials obliged to comply with such a duty, we should point out the following: the Governor of Puerto Rico, the Mayors, the Secretaries of the Cabinet, Executive Directors, Intermediate management in charge of finance and budget, Judges and legislators.

(see table in attached document)

The information must be provided in a questionnaire. Such instrument must be designed and approved by the Executive Director of the OGEPR. The Law specifies that the failure to render the financial report, as well as not revealing pertinent financial information required by the Law, regulations and the auditing process, will be considered a violation. The content must be properly sworn.

The financial information requested includes the following: name and position; the name of the individuals that integrate his/her family unit; relations and interests due employment or business; financial investments and all insurance policies; all debts over $1,000.00; all gifts received; all types of income; local and foreign bank accounts, among others.

(see tables in attached document)

The legal duty to provide all the financial information rests upon the public servant, who must certify his report as complete and correct. He/she must sign and swear to the document.

However, the OGEPR has the faculty in Law to corroborate the information through the following sources, among these:

(see table in attached document)

The objectives of the Auditing process are, among others, the following:

(see table in attached document) (see table in attached document)

As we previously stated, the failure to supply substantial information required by Law, may constitute a felony, apart from the crime of perjury.

B. The investigation of conflicts of interest

We can now proceed to discuss a further mechanism contained in the Law, geared toward the treatment of illegal conduct in the service. I am referring to the authority that has been granted as to investigate any violation to the normative dispositions contained in the Code of Ethics, as well as violations against the obligation to reveal all pertinent financial information. The Code of Ethics includes the following:

(see table in attached document)

It’s important to underscore that every citizen or public servants can present to the OGEPR a petition for an investigation, in which a narrative of the facts that constitute a violation of the Code, must be included. The petition must be solicited as follows:

(see table in attached document)

Once the OGEPR receives the information, it proceeds to conduct an investigation. The Office has the following investigative powers:

(see table in attached document)

Once the investigation is concluded, should the result verify a violation, the Office proceeds to file a complaint, which includes the facts and the constitutive elements of the violation itself. The public servant has the right to defend himself/herself, and to appear with his/her legal representation, to face the process initiated at the OGEPR. The Adjudicative process is presided by an Official Examiner (Administrative Judge), who is in charge of examining the evidence presented by the Office and the accused. After both parties have stated their arguments and defenses, and the Official Examiner has evaluated the evidence, he/she proceeds to make a recommendation to the Executive Director of the Office. If the violation has been proved, an administrative fine of up to $20,000 may be imposed, as well as a recommendation for dismissal from the service.

(see table in attached document)

If the public servant is sanctioned, he/she may move the decision of the Office to the Court of Appeals, so that it may be revised. Certainly, the Official Examiner may recommend the dismissal of the complaint due to the absence of the evidence needed to prove the violation in question.

Thusfar, I have discussed, rather briefly, the several mechanisms available in the Law of Government Ethics of Puerto Rico in order to detect and prevent cases related to the conflicts of interests.

Thank you very much

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