Thursday, November 23, 2017

Federal hearings scheduled on Puerto Rico disaster recovery

By on October 30, 2017

SAN JUAN – The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources announced Monday two oversight hearings on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico following the passage of Hurricane Maria Sept. 20.

The panel announced in a statement the hearing “Examining Challenges in Puerto Rico’s Recovery & the Role of the Financial Oversight & Management Board,” will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 10 a.m. The hearing comes amid criticism of delays by the U.S. government to provide supplies and aid to the island.

Congressional hearing over Puerto Rico’s fiscal board postponed

A second committee hearing, “The Need for Transparent Financial Accountability in Territories’ Disaster-Recovery Efforts,” was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 2 p.m. This hearing will examine criticism of a $300 million contract that was recently canceled for a small Montana firm, Whitefish Energy, which allegedly had links to a member of President Trump’s administration.

Both hearings will be available via livestream.

A bipartisan congressional delegation visited Puerto Rico last week to obtain a firsthand account of the devastation across Puerto Rico.

The delegation was headed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) who noted that Puerto Rico’s road to recovery was a monumental climb. They were also concerned about irregularities in contracts as well as the manner in which the federal government has delivered aid to Puerto Rico.

“One of the reasons we came down here was to get a firsthand look so we know more about it. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions until we have a chance to investigate a lot of these particulars,” Bishop told Caribbean Business during his visit.

He was talking about reports of irregularities in the delivery of food and water, the initial maze of red tape in referring critical patients from hospitals without power to the USNS Comfort, a military hospital vessel equipped with operating rooms, and the very slow reconstruction of a crippled power grid.

Bishop also wrote a letter recently to Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos, expressing concerns about the $300 million contract granted to Whitefish Energy, a small Montana firm, to fix the island’s electric grid. The firm has been linked to donors of President Trump and is located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has denied any involvement in the awarding of the contract, which the government has already cancelled.

–Caribbean Business Executive Editor Philipe Schoene Roura contributed to this report.

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