Contract of Puerto Rico power utility director’s friend ordered revised
SAN JUAN – Acting Chief of Staff Luis Rivera Marín ordered Wednesday a review of the $315,000 consulting contract the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Walter Higgins, gave his friend, Víctor Peña Vargas.
“We are ordering the Governing Board of the Electric Power Authority to review the hiring of Mr. Víctor Peña, in order to adjust the amount, using PREPA salary scales as a reference,” Rivera Marín said in a statement.
The official said the review must take into consideration the fiscal situation of the public utility, and that Prepa’s Governing Board has 48 hours to submit a report to his office, complying specifically with the contract’s required revision.
Contracts must be authorized by both the Chief of Staff’s and Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Meanwhile, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said he was sure that after the revision of the contract, the recommendation will its rejection. He brought up attempts to repeal Act 80, the wrongful terminations law as well.
“The contract is unacceptable. Mr. Higgins knows there was unease about his hiring and with the money they are paying him, and then imperiousness and superiority leaves him with an adviser earning a ridiculous amount,” the Senate leader told the news media.
He said the contract should not have been signed and that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló “should call out the people in the Electric Power Authority.”
“There are people who want to continue hiring people with contracts in those amounts. I’m sure that in that contract there is probably some benefit also if there is a termination of the contract. But they want to take Act 80 from workers. That’s the question those who favor the repeal of Act 80 have to answer. How can we take from workers who don’t have the power to negotiate or defend themselves, while contracts of hundreds of thousands of dollars are still being offered?” he added.
Reportedly, Higgins hired an acquaintance of his to offer advisory services for more than $20,000 monthly, for a total of $315,000.
Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso confirmed the existence of the contract. “Yes. He is registered in our office,” she said in WKAQ radio interview. “According to the contract, $22,500 monthly.”
According to the contract, it was signed May 9 and is valid until May 31, 2019, and does not renew automatically.
Press reports indicate the agreement establishes that payment cannot exceed $45,000 between May 9 and June 30. It also stipulates that the contract’s total cannot exceed $270,000. It also says Peña Vargas will be in charge of functions such as offering assistance to Higgins to improve Prepa’s operation plan, improve operational transactions and issuance of payments to suppliers, review fiscal matters, preparing the budget, and measure performance.
Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer said he will seek an “interpellation session” for Higgins.
“The most we can do is challenge Mr. Higgins. It’s necessary, it’s urgent and pertinent that we in the Senate of Puerto Rico can call on Mr. Higgins to give us a justification and tell us what [Peña Vargas’] duties and tasks are. I have always had the impression that Mr. Higgins is an imposition of the fiscal control board and responds to people or entities that are not the people of Puerto Rico,” Seilhamer said on WKAQ radio.
-Cybernews contributed to this report.