Puerto Rico Senate to go after multimillion-dollar Whitefish Energy contract
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Senate has joined the controversy created by the $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy to assist in the recovery of the island’s electric power system. Sen. Juan Dalmau, from the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), called for an examination of contracts awarded by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) since September to the Montana-based company.
Dalmau filed Senate Resolution 466 five days after the contract was signed with the allegedly inexperienced company, which states that the island’s emergency situation after being hit by Hurricane María cannot be a cause for “favoritism and improvisation.”
“That contract, at the moment, has more shadow than light,” he said. “At other times in Puerto Rico, if history has taught us something, moments of crisis and public pressure have led governments to sign leonine [huge] contracts, which in no way benefited Puerto Rico.”
Dalmau added that the legislative assembly’s responsibility is now to investigate the conditions under which the contracts were awarded, which have been widely criticized and defended by others, such as Ricardo Ramos, Prepa’s executive director.
The senator stressed that the emergency caused by the storm allows contracts to be signed without the due bidding process, which “calls for us to be more careful.” While Dalmau said his aim is not to obstruct the island’s recovery, he stressed that this should not become a process to issue “blank checks.”
“In this moment of crisis, a surgeon’s [touch] is required. That means the company that is going to be hired for reconstruction services has to have a history of dealing with this type of crisis. Secondly, it has to have public credibility in handling similar crises, [and] that it is clear of…political influences,” he said.
This last point was revealed in an investigation by The Daily Beast, which Dalmau highlighted during an aside with local press, stating that Whitefish “didn’t even have two employees” when contracted, and is based in Montana, which has “the same population as Maricao.”
With these concerns in mind, the senator filed the resolution to order the Senate’s Innovation, Telecommunications, Urbanism & Infrastructure Committee to launch a comprehensive investigation of the contracts Prepa awarded for repairs to its damaged infrastructure.
The spokesman for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in the Senate, Eduardo Bhatia, joined the call for an investigation, saying he filed a motion to order the release of “all contracts” Prepa has awarded, as well as by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa).
The minority party senators have not been alone in calling for an exhaustive investigation into the contracts awarded to Whitefish. U.S. Reps. Luis Gutiérrez and Nydia Velázquez, both Democrats of Puerto Rican origin, also expressed concerns regarding the contracts awarded after the passing of Hurricane María.
Given the suspicions raised by apparent ties between the company and President Donald Trump, Gutiérrez will ask the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the possible connection to “Trump’s White House.”