CONTROL BOARD WATCH

LA AGENDA MAS IMPORTANTE DE LA GOBERNADORA

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La Gobernadora tiene mucho taller ante sí. Pero sobre los dos asuntos más apremiantes, la Junta y la corrupción, nada ha dicho. Ambos asuntos son de lapidaria importancia, como diría mi apreciado profesor, Don Herminio Brau (QEPD).

 

El asunto de la Junta es multi-temática. ¿Continuará la Gobernadora la actitud de conflicto y desafío continuo a la Junta o tratará de ser más conciliatoria? ¿Que va a hacer sobre las pensiones, los bonos y la venta de la AEE? Definitivamente la Gobernadora no puede continuar con la política de confrontación abierta con la Junta de la Administración de Rosselló. Muchos de los cambios que propone la Junta son necesarios pero anatema a la clase política, como la reducción de pensiones y los bonos de navidad. Pero la confrontación a nada lleva ya que con excepción de la victoria sobre Zamot, la administración ha perdido todas las demás batallas.

 

Tampoco puede unirse al esfuerzo de la Junta de destruir a los bonistas de obligación general. Aún si PR gana ese enfrentamiento, el mal sabor que esto dejará sobre los inversores retrasará cualquier regreso al mercado con intereses razonables, uno de los dos requisitos para la salida de la Junta. Hay que mirar al futuro y no a la próxima elección como fue la visión de Rosselló. Un acuerdo similar al de COFINA para los bonistas de obligación general ayudaría mucho a la imagen de la isla ante los inversores internacionales. Esto podría llevar a una confrontación con la Junta pero al fin y al cabo, PR es quien tiene que ejecutar el plan de ajuste y va a ser más difícil para la Juez Swain aprobar el mismo si el Gobierno lo objeta. No imposible, pero definitivamente más difícil.

 

Otro asunto atado a lo anterior es el costo de la representación legal del ELA. Peter Friedman y compañía ha hecho un muy buen trabajo PERO a $1,300 la hora. Es tiempo de examinar los costos de abogados y peritos y decidir si firmas locales no pueden hacer el mismo trabajo por una fracción del costo. Lo mismo se puede decir de los peritos de AAFAF. Esto nos lleva a otro asunto. ¿Quien será el director de AAFAF y cual será la actitud de la agencia hacia la deuda? ¿Quien será el representante ante la Junta y cual será su actitud hacia la Junta? Es tiempo de una revisión completa de ambas agencias y de que hacer. PR aumenta ingresos cada mes por encima de lo predicho por la Junta. PR tiene que comenzar a pagar su deuda, cosa que muchos políticos rehúyen hacer. Mientras más paguemos, mejor opinión tendrán de nosotros en los mercados de inversión, a los cuales tendremos que ir, más pronto de lo que muchos pensamos.

 

Por último, la corrupción. En escritos anteriores he señalado que el Depto. de Justicia bajo Wanda Vázquez se hizo de la vista larga sobre señalamientos de corrupción. Si de verdad la Gobernadora quiere demostrar que no es una politiquera, tiene que atajar la corrupción en el Gobierno y eso se hace con arrestos y convicciones. Obviamente se comienza con investigaciones pero la verdadera prueba de un compromiso  con combatir la corrupción es arrestando y consiguiendo convicciones de los que roban del erario público. Solo así se le puede demostrar al Pueblo y al Gobierno Federal, que no hacen falta monitores para velar por su dinero. La bola esta en la cancha de la Gobernadora.  Le deseo el mas sincero éxito en esta difícil labor.

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JULY AND THE COMMONWEALTH PLAN OF ADJUSTMENT

 

 

During the June 12, 2019 Omnibus Hearing, Martin Bienestock informed Judge Swain that the Board would file the Commonwealth Plan of Adjustment. Since the Plan of Adjustment must be consistent with the Fiscal Plan, and the latter requires cuts to pensions, it is likely Governor Rosselló will oppose it. To this we must add that the Board filed an adversary proceeding against the Commonwealth to invalidate law 29-2019, which exempts municipalities from contributing to the pension funds and medical plans. The adversary proceeding also wants the Commonwealth to comply with the reporting requirements throughout PROMESA. The Governor has promised a vigorous defense.

 

Although PROMESA is silent on this issue, an opposition by the Commonwealth to its Plan of Adjustment does not abide well for it. In addition, GO bondholders will oppose since it severely cuts its “secured” credits. Moreover, although the Board sued to invalidate certain PBA and GO bonds, it now wants a stay on that litigation in order to process the Plan of Adjustment. Although this stay only benefits the Board, it is likely Judge Swain will grant it. Moreover,  from the glimpse we got from the Board when it announced its settlement with certain GO and PBA creditors, it seems unsecured creditors of the Commonwealth will receive ~ 9% of their claims. Since the Commonwealth is sitting in over $10 billions in deposits which no one has explained, it is a certainty that there will be myriad of complicated and arcane objections to the Plan of Adjustment even before it is voted upon.

 

We must also consider that the Rosselló Administration is facing close to a dozen investigations by the FBI and the Inspector General. If any of these investigations results in arrests of the administrations close collaborators or key politicians, will this affect the weight of its objections to the Plan of Adjustment? In any event, it seems plausible that the Rosselló administration wishes to postpone any approval of any Plan of Adjustment until after the elections of 2020 so not to receive any negative impact of said plan, including to start paying debt.

 

Moreover, on July 24, 2019, the First Circuit will hear oral arguments on the issue of Board recommendations being put in the Plan of Adjustment as an order and its implications for the budgets. Judge Swain sided with the Board and although I believe she will be upheld, you never know. If she is reversed, this would create havoc for the Plan of Adjustment. Also, on October 15, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Board’s appointments. Normally the granting of the Board’s certiorari would weigh heavily on a reversal but the SCOTUS granted cert on ALL petitions. This means that the SCOTUS could determine that the Board was constitutionally appointed, could affirm the First Circuit decision or could decide the Board was unconstitutionally appointed and all of its actions were null and void. That would mean back to square one.

 

What does this all mean? That even if the Plan of Adjustment for the Commonwealth is filed this month, its approval would likely not be soon. There are too many imponderables at the present time.

Monday Update –September 18, 2017

 

 

Welcome to your weekly Title III update for September 18, 2017. As Hurricane María bears down on Puerto Rico, we should recap several important things from the past week. Judge Swain denied the PREPA bondholders’ request to lift the stay to request the appointment of a receiver. Interestingly, the Court based its decision on only one of the Board’s arguments, making it clear that Judge Swain knows who the boss in these Title III cases is. At page 10 she stated:

 

“Section 305 of PROMESA provides that, “notwithstanding any power of the court, unless the Oversight Board consents or [the debtor’s Title III] plan [of adjustment] so provides, the court may not by any stay, order or decree, in the case or otherwise, interfere with – (1) any of the political or governmental powers of the debtor; (2) any of the property or revenues of the debtor; or (3) the use or enjoyment by the debtor of any income-producing property.” PROMESA § 305. The Debtor here, PREPA, is a government instrumentality of the Commonwealth, exercising governmental powers in providing electrical service to the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, using its property to generate that power and deriving income from the sale of the power so generated. The rates it charges for its services define the magnitude and impact of its principal revenues. The relief that Movants seek – permission to require the appointment of a receiver to manage PREPA’s operations and seek the approval of rates higher than those PREPA has thus far chosen to charge – is facially inconsistent with Section 305 of PROMESA. Section 305 bars the Court, “notwithstanding any power of the court,” from using “any . . . order or decree, in the case or otherwise,” to interfere with such basic functions and assets of PREPA absent the Oversight Board’s consent, which has not been given here.” (underlining added)

 

At page 13, she made the most important point of the opinion:

 

“Congress, similarly, denied the Title III court power to displace PREPA’s management, even for misconduct, by omitting Section 1104 of the Bankruptcy Code, which provides for the appointment of a trustee or an examiner in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, from the Bankruptcy Code provisions incorporated into PROMESA’s statutory scheme. Instead, Section 301(c)(7) of PROMESA specifically designates the Oversight Board as the sole “trustee” under PROMESA. See PROMESA § 301(c)(7).” (underlining added)

 

Anyone familiar with a Trustee in bankruptcy knows that when one is appointed for a debtor, she is the one who calls the shots. Hence, Judge Swain has made it clear that the Board, and not Puerto Rico’s elected officials, are in charge of the management of PREPA and the rest of the entities in Title III. Very telling. Board 2, Bondholders 0, but PREPA bondholders have vowed to appeal the decision. Peaje has already filed its notice of appeal.

 

Also this week, the COFINA agent answered the UCC’s complaint. As you remember from last week’s update, the UCC, as Commonwealth Agent filed a complaint against COFINA with 13 causes of action, including the unconstitutionality of the law. The COFINA agent came out swinging with a 71 page counterclaims, answer and defenses.

 

In addition to the oft repeated platitudes of legal opinions and legislative statements, COFINA’ First Cause of Action at page 29:

 

“[S]eeks a declaration that: (i) the statutes creating COFINA and directing transfer of the Pledged Sales Tax and the Dedicated Sales Tax Fund to COFINA are constitutional under the Constitution of Puerto Rico; (ii) the Pledged Sales Tax, including all Pledged Sales Tax revenue collected in the future, and the Dedicated Sales Tax Fund are the property of COFINA; and (iii) the Pledged Sales Tax and the Dedicated Sales Tax Fund are not “available resources” under the Constitution of Puerto Rico. In the alternative, Counterclaim Plaintiff seeks a declaration that: (i) COFINA has a perfected and unavoidable lien.”

 

Its Second Cause of Action states that Commonwealth actions violate the Takings Clause and Impairment of Contractual Obligations of both Constitutions. The Third Cause of Action that the Compliance law violates PROMESA, the Fourth Cause of Action that Act 84 violates PROMESA. The Fifth Cause of Action claims tortious interference with a contractual relation and the Sixth Cause of Action claims that if COFINA is unconstitutional, PR committed Fraud, which it likely did, since it should have known that the PR Constitution did not permit the surrendering of the power to tax and that GO’s had priority. The Seventh Cause of Action seeks an injunction but the Eighth Cause of Action claims that “GO Bonds, PBA Bonds and Other Debt Issued in Violation of the Debt Limit Set Forth in the Constitution of Puerto Rico Are Not Entitled to Priority Under the Constitution.”

 

The COFINA dispute promises to be an interesting slug-fest. The complaint was filed on September 8, but the UCC has already issued 22 subpoenas duces tecum including law firms, Banco Popular, Santander, Barclays and Moody’s, to name a few.

 

Also last week, Siemens Transportation Partnership, S.E., an HTA creditor, sought permission from the Court to conduct Rule 2004 discovery from the GDB, Carlos Vizcarrondo (GDB) and Hector Betancourt (AFAF). Ambac also sought leave to conduct discovery pursuant to Rule 2004 from the Board as representative of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth; and AAFAF and other parties. More specifically, Siemens, at page 5 of its motions, states:

 

“Siemens files this Motion to obtain information about the account and the funds therein, including GDB’s funding of the account and any withdrawals or transfers, to determine whether and to what extent: (i) Siemens’ claim against HTA Authority may be paid from funds that are not property of HTA or GDB; and (ii) any third parties have received funds from the account, and if so, whether such transfers may give rise to a claim for fraudulent transfer, conversion or other action, such that Siemens may recover on account of its claim against HTA from parties or assets other than the HTA, which is a Debtor in the above-captioned proceeding, under Title III of PROMESA.”

 

On this same subject, the UCC reported to Judge Dein that the Board was not cooperating on the coordination of Rule 2004 discovery, which the Board confirmed saying:

 

“Based on the meet and confer and the Initial Work Plan, the Oversight Board proposes that the UCC’s motion be deferred, and that no decision be made on the UCC’s request to conduct an investigation at this time. The Oversight Board makes this proposal based on its belief that there is no need for the UCC to conduct a separate, potentially duplicative investigation at this time. It would be premature for the UCC to conduct its own investigation given the Independent Investigator’s commitment to maintain open lines of communication with the UCC, to solicit input from the UCC, and to seek documents, including but not limited to those already sought by the UCC. The Investigation should proceed as outlined above and, if there comes a time when the UCC is not satisfied with the speed or substance of the Investigation, it should make an application to the Court to pursue its own investigation on the specific matters on which it is not satisfied.”

 

Translation: The Board wants to be the only one conducting any investigation on Puerto Rico’s debt and wants no interference. The UCC, in my humble opinion, showed that the Board was conflicted and that it was dragging its feet, which lead Judge Dein to say coordinate because the discovery will be done. Let’s see what happens.

 

Also this week, PREPA filed a motion requesting an order establishing a procedure to reject power purchasing agreements, of which it states more than 60 exists. Pretty normal procedure in a bankruptcy, except that these contracts are for renewable energy. Why does the Board want to reject them? Is it, as I have been saying, to level the playing field to sell PREPA as free of encumbrances as possible? Is it preparing to sell only the generation part of PREPA? Questions, questions.

 

On September 11, 2017, Judge Swain listened to oral arguments in the Municipality of San Juan’s request for an injunction against the GDB RSA. Absent from the argument was any real proof of irreparable harm, which is essential to any injunction. In addition, Judge Swain seemed to believe that the monies deposited by the Municipality were a loan and hence could be altered via Title VI. Judge Swain took the arguments under advisement and will render her opinion soon. In the meantime, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and the one filed by the Municipality of Caguas. Given the Judge’s comments and the Federal Courts view of a municipality, they may be granted.

 

Finally, on Friday, Judge Dein heard arguments on the UCC’s renewed motion to intervene in the NY Mellon-COFINA bondholders dispute. The UCC has filed motion to intervene in most of the adversary proceedings filed in the Commonwealth and COFINA cases. Judge Dein seems baffled by the arguments and will have to further study them.

 

Before I leave I want to make one thing clear about these weekly updates. This summary is merely what I believe are the more salient motions and decisions in the cases. I receive an average of 20 filings each day so it would be impossible to summarize everything. If you have legal interest in these cases, I urge you to hire an attorney to represent you.