Puerto Rico gov’t calm over Whitefish contract scrutiny
SAN JUAN – While the U.S. Congress, Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) investigate the $300 million contract awarded by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to a small, Montana-based company, the Government of Puerto Rico claims to be calm, saying it followed the process required of these types of contracts.
The local government plans to make available the report on the contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings prepared by its Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for state and federal authorities to consider. The report will be delivered later Friday and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is expected make a statement on the matter.
While investigations are conducted, it has become public that the contract with Whitefish includes a clause that hinders the ability to audit the company’s profits or payments to its employees.
Article 59 of the contract specifically states that “in no event shall Prepa, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the FEMA administrator, the Comptroller General of the U.S. or any of their authorized representatives have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements of the labor rates specified herein.”
Although this could limit the investigations, Secretary of Public Affairs & Public Policy Ramón Rosario Cortés said he did not know “the specific details in that article,” but indicated the OMB report will be available to the media and entities that require it.
“The OMB is the agency by law that is in charge of reviewing and auditing these types of transactions on the management and budget level. However, for criminal assessments, once all the documents and extracts from these contracts have been collected, all pertinent authorities will be provided the information so they, including the Puerto Rico comptroller and the OIG, can make their assessments in each of their areas of expertise,” the official said at a press conference.
Rosario Cortés indicated the government will comply with the Nov. 2 deadline granted by the chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Republican Rob Bishop of Alaska, for their investigation of the contract. Bishop was visiting the island Friday and meeting with the governor in Utuado, a mountain town that Hurricane Maria hit hard.
Meanwhile, the secretary of Public Affairs ruled out possible problems with FEMA over reimbursements for the $300 million contract, because he understands the federal agency “has no differences” with other agreements that have been made during this emergency.
The Puerto Rico Legislature has also raised questions about the contract with Whitefish, which has links to the Republican Party. The scandal raised over the contract has led the government of Puerto Rico to dissociate President Donald Trump amid reports that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is friends with Whitefish’s executive director, Andy Techmanski, both of whom hail from Montana.
Who’s had power restored isn’t known
While Whitefish and other companies work with Prepa to restore the electric grid, Rosario Cortés reported that the highest percentage of power generation since the hurricane has been reached, 27.6%. However, he said this cannot be translated into customers, because damage to the system affected the public corporation’s ability to make that measurement.
“We cannot measure how many customers—as we do with the [Puerto Rico] Aqueducts [& Sewer Authority]—have electric power service, which adds to the fact that in the manner we are delivering electricity through the lines to different critical structures—the case with Centro Médico [in Río Piedras] is one of them—is not communicating in ways it was before María,” the secretary acknowledged in response to questions from the press.
Eventually, the official expects Prepa’s “customer registration system” will work again, so telecommunications service will also be restored, to provide specific details on who has electricity.
Measurements are based on power consumed before the hurricane, which is where the 27.6% figure comes from.