by Brandon Tran
Oct. 29, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo A. Rosello called for the cancellation of a 300 million dollar energy contract with a small Montana company after harsh criticism by the government and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). The Whitefish Energy contract would have helped fix and repair the broken down electrical grid caused by Hurricane Maria.
Criticism started after a photo was released of the only two full-time workers from the Montana firm working to fix the grid. The photo has spurred arguments between Congress and the local government on how the contract was accepted in the first place.This is shocking to many due to the fact it has been 6 weeks since the hurricane, and most of the 3.4 million residents still have not gotten electricity back.
Most harsh of these criticisms came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA’s job is to support citizens and first responders in recovering from hazards such as Maria. On Oct. 27, FEMA released a statement scrutinizing the deal and informing the Puerto Rican government that they may not support the local government financially to uphold the deal. This statement by FEMA was considered by many individuals as the abandonment of aid in the area.
“I feel like the government should help Puerto Rico. It’s what Jesus would have wanted,” said sophomore Robert Sidney.
With criticisms came along accusations of corruption at the local level of government. The House Committee on Natural Resources and the inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security are asking for papers of the contract from the Puerto Rican government in order to perform their own investigations of the deal. As the investigations begin many still believe and agree with Governor Rosello’s move to cancel the deal
“The governor made the right decision because the country is already in massive debt it’s not worth running the risk,” said sophomore Gerardo Morales.
Tensions have also risen because of recently discovered connections between the Chief Executive of the Whitefish Energy Company Andy Techmanski, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Adding more speculation to the idea of collusion in the deal-making process. This discovery was made in a recent interview with the local news station, Andy Techmanski said he had worked with Ryan Zinke for “more resources.” Afterwards, both parties denied that the context of the quote had anything to do with the contract.
Most blame for the entire controversy has gone to Ricardo Ramos. The Chief Executive of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), he was the individual who had initially agreed to the terms of the contract in the first place. He has fought stubbornly to defend his decision of allowing the deal, however, he has now become understanding of the current situation.
“If you are in your house without power, and there’s a sense that the energy authority gave away $300 million to a company that either had or did not have experience, the reaction is not positive, and we’re seeing that,” Mr. Ramos said.
With Puerto Rico’s cancellation of the Whitefish Energy Deal, a new problem exists for future deals to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid. These include how will future deals be properly managed and if there’s any possible corruption in the local political system. This problem has not been more relevant with Governor Rossello asking Congress for $94.4 billion dollars in funds for the recovery effort. With this money, Governor Rossello plans to rebuild and attract and keep the displaced Puerto Rican citizens who have already fled to Florida.
“If we get more resources to rebuild, people will come back to rebuild stronger,” Governor Rossello said.
The request by Governor Rossello has taken much backlash from Congress. Many representatives consider the funds as a drop of water on a forest fire. They back up their stance stating that Puerto Rico doesn’t require that much financial aid due to how it’s citizens are exempt from most federal income taxes. Meaning that the amount of money that the Puerto Rican government requested from to the federal government outweighs how much they have contributed.
Lashback was also aimed at the vagueness of the request and the unanswered questions from the Whitefish Contract. In Governor’s Rossello request, he asked for different amounts of money without clear clarification of what those funds would specifically go to. For example, he requested $8.4 billion for schools, without informing which schools would be fixed for which damages. This with the unanswered questions left by PREPA has caused an uproar in Congress. The reservations of the federal government have led to criticisms by citizens of the situation.
“The way Congress is handling the situation is shockingly irresponsible. Their indecision and delay are costing lives; although the numbers proposed by the Governor are certainly vague and potentially exploitable” . . . “the governor is essentially asking for a blank check with the aid; he is simply requesting money, rather than stating damages or providing exact numbers or statistics, making corruption easily maskable,” said senior, Long Luu.
The Puerto Rican government’s cancellation of the Whitefish Energy contract on Oct. 29 has led to a better understanding of how not only buildings were destroyed in Hurricane Maria. The local government’s trust between the Puerto Rican people and federal government were destroyed as well. Now in the aftermath, the country begins to walk in the uncharted territory of how to rebuild the trust that was lost.