The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, which has oversight of U.S. territories, requested Governor Ricardo Rossello or a member of his administration appear at the July 25 hearing to discuss de-politicizing the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and a “credible plan” for its transformation.
The committee on Wednesday called for the hearing in the wake of a leadership crisis at the utility that began last week. [nL1N1U81B5]
PREPA is in the process of trying to restructure itself while also restoring and upgrading the island’s electric grid. Its operations were knocked out by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, exposing years of poor maintenance and management.
In a letter to on Thursday, House committee Chairman Rob Bishop expressed concern over “the historic mismanagement” of PREPA and political forces that may hinder its path towards privatization and becoming a resilient electrical system.
An AP article here adds more flavor.
The resignation of two PREPA CEOs in two weeks has drawn some media attention to the corruption in Puerto Rico’s local government, and it is being reported that a big reason for the post-hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico was due to the lack of electricity, which made some medical equipment impossible to use and also contributed to the spread of diseases.
Most of the storm damage to the power grid has not really been repaired. The island is rife with patchwork jobs and temporary fixes that desperately need to be permanently fixed. In some cases, the AP reports, power lines have been bolted to trees.
As things currently stand, another hurricane will completely flatten the power grid, so the next order of business for PREPA is to overhaul the power grid so it can better withstand a hurricane. Unfortunately, with the leadership of the company in chaos due to CEOs and board members constantly resigning, and the company as a whole mired in scandal and corruption, they are struggling to get a handle on things.
The federal government gave PREPA one billion to spend on upgrades and new equipment to help get the reconstruction off the ground. Most of that money has apparently gone unspent.
In March, three major US contractors were told they had been selected to start the reconstruction. They have still not begun the work because PREPA has yet to send them the final orders. PREPA has been unable to explain why the orders have not been sent.
Furthermore, the Puerto Rican government is now reviewing these contracts, suggesting there may have been corruption involved in the bidding process. This is similar to the problem with the Montana contractor Whitefish the media made hay about in the days after the hurricane.
The situation with PREPA is a good example of why the US is reluctant to throw more money at Puerto Rico. PREPA is just sitting on one billion dollars. They haven’t stolen it – they just don’t seem able to use it. What would throwing them a few billion more do if they can’t even allocate what they have efficiently?
The government has also been distracted by fresh corruption scandals as well. The government purchased Governor Rossello a $245,000 Chevrolet Suburban SUV. The vehicle is bulletproof and has a specialized luxury interior. This extravagant waste of money seems to have finally triggered some real citizen anger at the local government.
The Puerto Rico police force is also being investigated due to reports of the police being involved in illegal killings and civil rights violations. Both the SUV and this police corruption investigation are further distractions from dealing with the problems at PREPA.
The best solution is for the US is to take control of PREPA and institute direct rule of the territory from Washington, to force a long delayed cleanup of the island’s finances and infrastructure.
The local government has had a full year and they can’t get their acts together. There seems to be an assumption on their parts that they can just blame everything on Trump, and continue with business as usual.