San Juan – Puerto Rico's main opposition Democratic Popular Party, or PPD, is denouncing Gov. Luis Fortuño's administration for allowing traveling officials to fly first-class and stay in luxury hotels even as the island suffers from recession and a jobless rate above 16 percent.
PPD general secretary Victor Suarez said Tuesday that Fortuño still has not responded to the complaints about the rising expenses by officials on trips outside Puerto Rico.
Suarez is demanding that the governor clarify the expenditure of more than $16,000 - the median per capita annual income in Puerto Rico - by the Transportation and Public Works Department, known as DTOP, for five of its employees to attend training in New Mexico.
DTOP paid $1,574 for each first class airline ticket for its five employees.
The trip to Albuquerque, the PPD said, was disguised as a training workshop but it was really a meeting of the League of United Latin American Citizens at which the five workers promoted U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico.
DTOP chief Ruben Hernandez said that the trip was made in conformity with the agency's regulations, adding that the first class airplane tickets were bought because there were no other seats available at the time the reservations were made.
Hernandez said that the five participants received certificates that will allow them, in turn, to train other DTOP employees.
At the beginning of the month, the former chairman of state-owned electric utility AEE, Marimar Perez-Riera, became the focus of controversy after it emerged that she paid $1,000 per night for lodging during a trip to New York.
Perez-Riera said in her own defense that the trip was made to secure an insurance policy that would help to maintain the cost of fuel that Puerto Rico buys to produce electricity at a fixed level, but her explanations could not halt a wave of media pressure that ended up with her leaving the company.
After her exit, the press revealed that during the 11 months that Perez-Riera headed AEE, she pocketed more than $39,000 in per diems.
The controversy over large and unnecessary expenditures has implicated Fortuño himself, with the opposition accusing him of making a tour through the U.S. mainland to rally support for the Republican party among Hispanics.
The Puerto Rican press that 19 of Fortuño's 41 official trips outside the island since he came to power in January 2009 were to attend GOP events on the U.S. mainland.