#muniland

THE SENIOR COFINA BONDHOLDERS’ LETTER

On September 24, 2015, a group of senior bondholders of COFINA, which claim to hold 25% of the principal amount of the debt, sent the Government Development Bank (GDB) a letter objecting to the Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth Plan’s supposed comingling of COFINA and Commonwealth debt. COFINA bondholders’ position is that this debt is totally separate from Commonwealth debt and by lumping them together, PR Government is violating the Amended and Restated Sales Tax Revenue Bond Resolution. The letter states, inter alia,

Moreover, pages 6 and 65 of the Working Group Plan assume “the clawback of revenues supporting certain Commonwealth tax supported debt” may be available to “service all principal and interest on debt that has a constitutional priority.” While the only lawful interpretation of those passages is that they refer to those bonds that are expressly subject to “clawback,” such significant statements by the Commonwealth should not be left open to interpretation.

These are not minor errors or mere oversights. Rather, the Working Group Plan materially misrepresents the essential nature of COFINA’s indebtedness to the investing public, and materially harms COFINA and its bondholders. It misleads the public by lumping the Commonwealth’s own debt together with COFINA’s (and thus should be treated similar to other Commonwealth debt) when in fact the opposite is true. Specifically, in the Working Group Plan, the GDB and the Commonwealth attempt to consolidate assets and liabilities of COFINA with that of the Commonwealth. There is no doubt that this is intended as a signal to the investing public at large that the Commonwealth’s struggling fiscal health threatens the health of COFINA, ignoring the fact that insulation from the Commonwealth’s other liabilities prompted the creation of COFINA in the first place. Consolidation of COFINA’s debts with the Commonwealth’s obligations will raise future borrowing costs and limit the Commonwealth’s revitalization.

The Working Group Plan’s material misstatements could open up the Commonwealth and all those responsible for the statements to potential liability. . .

Consistent with section 704 of the Resolution, COFINA should promptly cure the misstatements and provide the necessary assurances of rights of bondholders under the Resolution. It is important that you promptly perform your ministerial duty to untangle the COFINA debt and revenue from that of the Commonwealth. Doing so is necessary to avoid a breach of the Resolution and potential liability, and to fulfill the clear legal commitments made by the Commonwealth.

The purpose of the letter is not clear at first glance and an explanation is needed. The PR Government, probably under the advice of Millco Advisors and Cleary Gottlieb, has been trying to create a conflict between COFINA bondholders and GO bondholders. The old idea of “divide and conquer”. Each time a COFINA bond issue was done, there were three legal opinions stating that the revenue from the sales tax would not be part of the available revenues for payment of GO’s as per the Constitution. In other words, COFINA funds could not be used to pay GO’s. Whether this is true, it is irrelevant at this stage, but COFINA bondholders do not want the Government hinting that it could happen as the Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth Plan hints.

In the letter, COFINA bondholders demand that PR make a clear statement that their funds cannot be used to pay GO’s (as the PR Department of Justice has said every time there is a bond issue). What if PR does not make this clear statement? Here is where the COFINA AMENDED AND RESTATED BOND RESOLUTION comes in.

The letter requires the GDB to comply with its ministerial duty, i.e., if you don’t comply, I am going to slap you with a mandamus, which is a special writ in equity or complaint to require the Government to do something which is part of its ministerial duties, this duty being, protecting bondholders’ position of NO CLAWBACK. Moreover, the COFINA Bondholders’ Resolution at page 79, states as follows:

In addition, the Trustee may, and upon the written request of the Owners of not less than twenty-five per centum (25%) in principal amount of the Outstanding Bonds, shall, proceed to protect and enforce its rights and the rights of the Bondowners by such of the following remedies, as the Trustee, being advised by counsel shall deem most effectual to protect and enforce such rights subject to the provisions of Sections 201, 803 and 1206:

. . .

(iv) by action or suit in equity, to enjoin any acts or things which may be unlawful or in violation of the rights of the Bondowners or the Beneficiaries.

The COFINA bondholders have a very solid legal point that they can sue in equity to force the GDB and COFINA to make such statement. If a suit ensues, it will be difficult for PR to claim that clawback is possible since the Secretary of Justice has said time and again it cannot occur. Question now is, will COFINA bondholders follow through on their threat, and if so, in which court?

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EL PS 1350 Y LA INSOLVENCIA DEL BGF

Se ha suscitado un debate en PR sobre el PS 1350 que esencialmente ordena a las agencias de gobierno y sus corporaciones públicas a depositar su dinero con el Banco Gubernamental de Fomento. Aparte de descapitalizar los bancos boricuas y los argumentos constitucionales de la Oficina de Administración de Tribunales, el proyecto tiene otros problemas. Comentaristas se han centrado en la supuesta inmunidad de los miembros de la Junta del BGF pero ese tampoco es el problema. Me explico. El PS 1350 quiere eliminar el artículo 15 de la presente ley del BGF con lo siguiente:

“Artículo 15. No tendrán responsabilidad personal hacia ninguna entidad y serán indemnizados por el Banco y exonerados de responsabilidad por acciones u omisiones de buena fe, en su capacidad y dentro de su autoridad, los miembros de la Junta de Directores, oficiales, empleados, agentes, consultores o asesores del Banco, en ausencia de prueba clara y convincente de conducta dolosa para beneficio propio o de negligencia crasa que conlleve una indiferencia temeraria hacia sus deberes o la omisión de llevarlos a cabo. Cualquier acción presentada ante un tribunal en la que se alegue la existencia de negligencia crasa deberá ser desestimada con perjuicio si el demandado produce documentos que demuestren que recibió información sobre los hechos relevantes, participó en persona o por teléfono y deliberó de buena fe o recibió y confió en el asesoramiento de expertos respecto a cualquier acción u omisión que sea base para la demanda.”

Aunque chocante para muchos, este artículo no es muy diferente de lo que es la responsabilidad civil de cualquier junta hoy en día. Se quiere proteger a sus miembros de que se cuestione todas sus decisiones a menos que las mismas sean de mala fe. Lo verdaderamente nefasto es lo que se pretende eliminar de la ley, el presente artículo 15 que dice así:

Artículo 15.Aceptación de depósitos después de insolvencia. (7 L.P.R.A. § 563)

Cualquier oficial, empleado, o agente del Banco que recibiere depósito alguno a sabiendas de que el Banco está insolvente, será culpable de un delito menos grave (misdemeanor ) si el montante o valor de dicho depósito fuera menor de veinticinco dólares, pero si el montante o valor de dicho depósito fuere veinticinco dólares o más, dicha persona será culpable de un delito grave (felony ) y castigada con prisión por un término no menor de un año ni mayor de cinco (5) años, o con multa no menor de quinientos (500) dólares ni mayor de tres mil (3,000) dólares, o con ambas penas.

¿Que quiere decir todo esto? Que el BGF esta insolvente y lo que quiere la legislatura es inyectarle fondos a una entidad que carece de capital, pero el hacerlo en este momento sería un delito. De un plumazo, la legislatura añade fondos a una entidad fracasada e insolvente e inmuniza a sus empleados por hacerlo. Una travestía de la justicia y un esfuerzo desesperado por salvar el estatus quo. Esta medida legislativa es una renuncia a “accountability” de parte de estos funcionarios y no debe ser aprobada. No en balde muchos bonistas piden una Junta de Control Financiero para Puerto Rico (como discuto aquí)

PS 1350 AND THE INSOLVENCY OF THE GDB

There is a debate in PR over PS 1350, which essentially orders government agencies, and instrumentalities to deposits its funds with the GDB. Aside from withdrawing deposits from the island’s banking institutions and constitutional arguments by the Office of Courts Administration, the measure has other problems. Analysts have focused in the supposed immunity to be granted to the GDB’s Board but that is not the problem either. PS 1350 eliminates article 15 of the present GDB law and substituted with the following:

“Article 15. The members of the Board of Directors, officers, employees, agents, consultants, or advisors of the Bank shall be indemnified by the Bank and shall not have any personal liability to any entity for actions taken or not taken in good faith in their capacity and authority, absent clear and convincing proof of willful misconduct for personal gain or gross negligence comprising reckless disregard of, and failure to perform, applicable duties. Any action brought in any court for gross negligence shall be dismissed with prejudice if the defendant produces documents showing such defendant was advised of relevant facts, participated in person or by phone, and deliberated in good faith or received and relied on the advice of experts in respect of whatever acts or omissions form the basis of the complaint.”

Although this article may be shocking to some, it is not very different form the current view of liability of any Board in our times. The measure seeks to protect the members of the GDB Board from being sued for decisions taken in good faith. What is really bad is that PS 1350 eliminates the present article 15, which states as follows:

Section 15. – Any officer, employee or agent of the Bank who shall receive any deposit knowing that the Bank is insolvent, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor if the amount or value of such deposit is less than twenty five dollars ($25) or if the amount or value of such deposit is twenty five dollars ($25) or over, such person shall be guilty of a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one (1) nor more than five (5) years, or by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than three thousand dollars ($3000), or by both penalties.”

What does all this mean? That the GDB is insolvent and what the legislature wants is to inject funds to an entity that lacks capital but to do it at this time would be a felony. With PS 1350 the legislature adds funds to an unsuccessful and insolvent entity and immunizes its employees at the same time. It is a travesty of justice and a desperate effort to save the status quo. This legislative measure is a resignation to accountability by the legislatures and should not be approved. No wonder so many bondholders are asking for a Financial Control Board for Puerto Rico as I discussed here