SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The executive director of a federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances announced Thursday that she is stepping down in a landmark debt restructuring after five years at the helm. .
The announcement from Natalie Jaresko, who previously served as Ukraine’s finance minister, comes just weeks after a federal judge signed a board-supervised and approved plan to help the U.S. territory emerge from the bankruptcy, marking the largest municipal debt restructuring in U.S. history.
“Puerto Rico has a historic opportunity,” she told The Associated Press by phone. “The foundation is in place. There is still work to do. But it’s a turning point. »
She said the council was able to reduce most of Puerto Rico’s debt to affordable levels, stabilize the island’s finances and create a roadmap for a stronger economy. The restructuring of some $9 billion in debt held by Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority and additional debt held by the Highways and Transportation Authority, as well as pending reforms in other government agencies, are still in progress. suspense. Jaresko said she would also like to see the implementation of some type of congressional budget office for the Puerto Rico legislature.
Jarekso is expected to step down on April 1. The board said it was looking for a new executive director, having previously noted he would remain in place until Puerto Rico approves four consecutive balanced budgets.
Some opponents cheered his departure, criticizing the board for imposing austerity measures as Puerto Ricans struggle to recover from a series of natural disasters and the pandemic.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi acknowledged clashes between his administration and the board, including a fight he won in which proposed cuts to public pensions were not implemented. However, he said Jaresko’s extensive financial experience helped reduce Puerto Rico’s debt payments from $3.9 billion a year to $1.5 billion as part of the restructuring.
“While we had big differences, especially on pensions, and I criticized several (council) actions for adding bureaucracy, micromanaging government operations and not reflecting the will of our people , I recognize that Natalie Jaresko has always worked in good faith and in favor of what she believes is for the benefit of Puerto Rico in the long term,” he said.
Jaresko, who was born in Chicago to Ukrainian immigrants, was nominated in March 2017 after being chosen from a pool of more than 300 applicants following a four-month search for a new board director. She previously held various economic positions at the US State Department and also co-founded private equity fund manager Horizon Capital, where she served as CEO.
She told the AP that she is most proud of the strength and resilience of Puerto Ricans despite the economic crisis worsened by deadly hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic, and that it has given her the strength to to complete what she described as “difficult and complex work”.
The US territory declared in 2015 that it was unable to pay its public debt of more than $70 billion that it had accumulated over decades of mismanagement, corruption and excessive borrowing. A year later, the US Congress created the Board of Trustees, and in 2017 the government of Puerto Rico filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.
Jaresko said she planned to stay in Puerto Rico until her youngest daughter graduated from high school and said she hadn’t thought about what she would do next.