Friday, October 18, 2019

Puerto Rico power utility board demands contract info

By on August 14, 2019

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s headquarters in San Juan (CB file)

Says it has asked Prepa director for clarifications on multiple occasions

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) governing board said Wednesday that it has asked the public utility’s executive director, José Ortiz, for explanations about the contracts awarded.

The board said that although it does not work on the “day-to-day operational aspects,” it is aware of media reports questioning Ortiz’s handling of the power company’s contracts.

“In several instances, the Executive Director of the Authority, Mr. José Ortiz, has been asked, through telephone and verbal conversations, to submit explanations to the Board about certain details regarding some contracts,” the board’s statement reads.

The board said it proceeded Tuesday to send Ortiz the requirements of its executive committee such as receiving in writing details related to the contracting process that answer the questions posed by the media during the past few weeks.

The details required of Ortiz include the “need for services, the assigned tasks and functions, reasonableness of the established rates, payment amounts,” the reasons for any granted extensions and “any information pertinent to this evaluation.”

Once the information is provided, the board said, it will be evaluated by its Audit Committee, which will then give recommendations to the board and Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, “who has requested that the Authority operate with transparency and fiscal responsibility,” the statement adds.

The board’s members are: Elí Díaz Atienza, who is also the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority’s executive president; engineer Ralph Kreil Rivera; engineer Tomás Torres Placa; David Owens; Charles Bayless; Robert Poe; María Palou; and the government’s CFO, Omar Marrero.

The controversy arose after Ortiz said earlier this week that a contract related to the electrical grid’s recovery after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, with Canada-based Stantec, was “no longer necessary.”

The governor said Sunday that she stopped the contract’s signing because she wanted to learn what circumstances led to the agreement.

“Transparency is a vital element for this administration. I have been in communication with the Executive Director of the Electric Power Authority, José Ortiz, and tomorrow we will hold a meeting in order to know the details and the need for that contract, so that a responsible decision can be made in accordance with the well-being of the people of Puerto Rico,” the governor said in a statement.

“Maybe this [the governor’s move] motivated FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] because it’s that this money has really been requested since February and that it has not yet been approved in August, money that is mainly a reimbursement from contractors who are providing the service, is a long time,” Ortiz said at a press conference.

Stantec’s contract was of $450,000 to carry out reconstruction and strengthening of the island’s electrical system and would have been overseen by Arturo Deliz, the director of Prepa’s Emergency Management Office, who is also in charge of the utility’s reimbursement requests, along with consultant José Pérez Canabal.

The company would have handled FEMA reimbursements, instead of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3).

“We are evaluating all government contracts, without exception. In this administration, there is no room for unreasonable expenses and we will ensure the fiscal health of our people,” Vázquez concluded in her statement.

—CyberNews contributed to this report.

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