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US names powerful board to shepherd Puerto Rico economy

Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 07:03
39701097 - 01_09_2016 - USA-OBAMA_CLIMATECHANGE.jpg
US President Barack Obama named a powerful new oversight board for Puerto Rico Wednesday charged with helping restore the finances of the debt-mired Caribbean island.

[Washington] US President Barack Obama named a powerful new oversight board for Puerto Rico Wednesday charged with helping restore the finances of the debt-mired Caribbean island.

The White House said the seven members of the Financial Oversight and Management Board would be charged with helping the government of the US territory restructure its US$70 billion in debts and restore economic growth after a decade of recession.

The seven include a mix of figures from the banking industry, government and legal sector, four of them selected by Republicans in Congress who had fought giving Puerto Rico the right to declare bankruptcy, and three from the Democrats.

Having already defaulted on more than US$2 billion in debt payments, Puerto Rico is blocked by US law from seeking protection in bankruptcy courts the way US cities like Detroit have done.

Instead, the FOMB will fill that role in a way, overseeing the Puerto Rican government's reforms and fiscal discipline as it reschedules its debt - including possible write-downs - with creditors.

One of the FOMB appointees, Arthur Gonzalez, was formerly chief judge of the US Bankruptcy Court in New York City and oversaw some of the largest and most complex corporate bankruptcies, including those of Enron, WorldCom, and Chrysler.

Amid fears the FOMB would be insensitive to the social needs of Puerto Rico, where the collapsing economy has increased poverty and sent hundreds of thousands of natives to the US mainland for jobs, four of the White House appointees have Puerto Rican roots.

"With a broad range of skills and experiences, these officials have the breadth and depth of knowledge that is needed to tackle this complex challenge and put the future of the Puerto Rican people first," Mr Obama said in a statement.

Under the Promesa reorganization plan established by Congress in June, the Puerto Rican government must come up with and implement a credible multi-year plan for righting its finances and restoring growth.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew called on Wednesday for the island to move quickly.

"Time is of the essence. The Puerto Rico government should bring together all of its resources to develop and submit a plan to the Oversight Board as soon as possible."

AFP

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