PREPA's strategy to restore the service was to grant the $ 300 million contract to Whitefish. (GFR Media)

The investigation conducted by the Puerto Rico Office of the Comptroller (OCPR) regarding the contract that the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) granted to Whitefish Energy Holding leaves almost as many questions as those created by the agreement of the public corporation with this company for the restoration of the power grid after Hurricane Maria.

Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso, through her press director, Lisandra Rivera, reiterated yesterday that the evaluation that her office made on the hiring of Whitefish did not reveal any irregularities or signs of corruption.

However, the OCPR was unable to clarify relevant aspects of the evaluation process that led to that conclusion.

The Office did not even make it clear if the investigation, entrusted Rosselló Nevares, was limited to the examination of the contract. That is, if they only examined whether the document had the relevant clauses, if the agreement authorizes the subcontracting of personnel and the Whitefish techniques and if it complied with provisions of laws and regulations, among other regular requirements in contracting processes.

Valdivieso did not answer -although she was asked in writing and on a telephone conversation with her press director-, whether, as part of the investigation, the auditors examined the evaluation and granting process of this contract, which led to critics and suspicions, both on the island and in the United States.

Six days after the cyclone destroyed the power grid, PREPA hired Whitefish, a Montana-based company with only had two employees.

Although PREPA is part of the American Public Power Association (APPA), it did not complete the process for its members to move their crews to help restore the collapsed system that left the entire Puerto Rico without power.

PREPA's strategy to restore the service was to grant the $ 300 million contract to Whitefish, which was cancelled a month later because Rosselló Nevares did not want the controversy over this contract to become a "distraction" in the island’s recovery process.

No answers

The Office of the Comptroller pointed out that it could not state the exact dates for conducting the investigation since it was done during an audit process in PREPA.

Nor could it specify if the evaluation included an analysis of the company's financial capacity, its background and if it was in conditions to offer the contracted services.

The OCPR did not confirm which division worked in the investigation commissioned by the Governor or how many people were involved in the process.

The Office did not describe the work done to reach a final conclusion either. It did not say if they found the hiring of any natural or legal person that mediated or intervened to reach the agreement with Whitefish. They did not answer if the investigation included interviews with PREPA officials, federal agencies or the US company. Nor did it mention whether the company's bills were examined.

Although it was also requested, Valdivieso did not indicate whether she gave any report, memorandum or communication to the Governor with the results of the investigation he requested or if there is another report, a copy was of which was requested, in case it existed.

The Comptroller did say that her auditors are still in the process of auditing PREPA and that they ready for any findings.

Outstanding accounts

Meanwhile, Nelson Morales, PREPA finance director, said that Whitefish has billed $ 142.4 million for the work done on the island; that between October and December 2017, they paid $ 36.9 million to the company and that they still owe $105.5 million.

Morales noted that the other bills have not been paid because they are going a validation process and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also reviewing them. He did not offer any further details regarding the delay in paying the debt.

The official said that they keep communication with the company executives, but that so far none of the bills was rejected.

El Nuevo Día requested opinions on the OCPR investigation to senators Larry Seilhamer and Eduardo Bhatia, who have worked on this issue. Seilhamer did not answer, but Bhatia insisted that the OCPR must reveal the methodology used in its evaluation.

"The contract is not irregular, it is irregular to hire that company when they (PREPA) had other options," Bhatia said. "The contract is a piece in this puzzle," he added.

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