Puerto Rico gov’t says it won’t contract Whitefish again
SAN JUAN – The administration of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares has determined it will not hire Whitefish Energy Holdings again, although investigations into its contract will show it was free of irregularities.
That is how Ramón Rosario Cortés, the secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, put it Monday, adding that despite the multiple controversies plaguing the contract with Whitefish, the governor continues to trust the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Ricardo Ramos, who signed it.
Does the governor still trust Ricardo Ramos, journalists asked. “Yes, he still holds his position. When all the evaluations are done, we can judge objectively if the contracting was done legally or whether there was some irregularity,” Rosario Cortés replied during a press conference in La Fortaleza.
“The governor’s decision was to cancel [the contract] so as not to rehire,”the official added. “There were many members of Congress who were working and being very vocal in their helping Puerto Rico, who were announcing investigations into the Whitefish contract at the time. The governor decided that, that distraction, for the good of Puerto Rico, had to be eliminated.”
The official announcement was made Sunday, when Prepa’s governing board accepted the governor’s request to invoke the contract’s cancelation clause “with the objective of protecting the public interest.” Rosselló Nevares dissociated himself from the contract for up to $300 million, the largest for Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, awarded to the small, Montana-based company, and said he was not even consulted.
The company will continue to work with Prepa until the work assigned to it has been completed, including the connection of the Central Aguirre power complex, in Salinas, to the municipality of Aguas Buenas, which would facilitate providing power to the metropolitan area. The completion of these jobs had been promised since Oct. 14, which shows that work is behind schedule, acknowledged Rosario Cortés, adding that it could take until mid-November.
It is not yet known how much the government will have to pay Whitefish for the cancellation of the contract. “That’s a question Prepa’s lawyers would have,” the Public Affairs secretary said.
Meanwhile, federal and state authorities are investigating the Whitefish contract, which sparked international scandal over alleged company ties to President Donald Trump’s cabinet. Among the authorities looking into the awarding process are the Puerto Rico Comptroller’s Office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Office of the Inspector General and Congress.
More crews to arrive
After the cancellation of the contract, Rosselló Nevares made a request to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Florida Gov. Rick Scott to send crews to the island to help repair the power grid, whose distribution and transmission lines remain severely affected after Hurricane Maria nearly a month and a half ago.
“The governor has already gotten commitments from both governors. Obviously, crews from these two states may not be sufficient for the needs we have and that is why we are looking for other ways, and the executive director [of Prepa] is in charge of that part. The part of bringing crews here is being worked on by the chief legal adviser of the governor [Alfonso Orona] with the executive director to see how many crews and when these two states can contribute,” Rosario Cortés explained.
The arrival date of the stateside crews is not yet known.
Prepa board agrees to outside coordinator
The secretary of Public Affairs also announced that Prepa’s governing board agreed to the appointment of a “special outside coordinator” for the public corporation from the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, as recommended by the governor on Sunday.
The coordinator will be tasked with overseeing Prepa’s Purchases and Contracts Office, which issued the Whitefish contract.
The recommendation comes about while the government opposes the fiscal board’s intention to appoint a “chief transformation officer” for the electric utility, an issue that is being addressed in federal court, where matters related to Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt are also being decided under Title III of the federal Promesa law.