Washington – Yesterday, at the Puerto Rican Diaspora Summit, comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso defended the Whitefish company hiring process, which is still subject to investigations by the Executive branch and Federal Congress.
"We interviewed more than 12 people, we reviewed more than 100,000 electronic messages. We did not find any kind of corruption," told Valdivieso to hundreds of Puerto Rican community representatives.
However, the official said an audit should show whether there were irregularities in the Whitefish billing process to the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) or not.
Valdivieso caused surprise when she indicated that Whitefish reestablished the electrical system quickly after the devastation caused by Hurricane María. "Three thousand people died," they reminded her from the audience.
Then, in an interview with El Nuevo Día, she said that she meant that, compared to the Fluor corporation – hired by the US Army Corps of Engineers at a cost of about $ 1 billion – Whitefish worked quickly.
Two months ago, when she announced the results of her office's investigation, Valdivieso said she did not find evidence of corruption in the granting of the Whitefish contract.
Yesterday, Valdivieso argued that the contracts awarded by the US Corps of Engineers did not begin to be approved until one month after that unit assumed, at the end of September, the main task of restoring the electricity service.
Both the Homeland Security Department's inspector general and the House Committee on Natural Resources are conducting investigations on the Whitefish contract, Valdivieso confirmed that the Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General has staff on the island investigating several issues, including the Whitefish contract, which originally amounted to $ 300 million, and became a scandal since they overlooked the mutual assistance process with the American Public Power Association (APPA), with much more experience and at lower cost.
"Bad decisions are not corruption," said Valdivieso, who participated in a panel on transparency, good governance and accountability.
Valdivieso said that her office's investigation on the Whitefish contract did not conclude to prohibit any audit, either through the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) or other authorities.
However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned, after the contract was granted, that PREPA did not submit the initial agreement to that office for analysis.
Early in the emergency triggered by Hurricane María, El Nuevo Día revealed that the rates signed in the Whitefish contract were up to 20 percent higher than the rates that the small Montana-based company submitted initially.
Valdivieso said that the review of the offer made by the Whitefish president to the then chief of PREPA Supply Division, Ramón Caldas Pagán, to provide supplies – including generators –, as part of its mobilization to Puerto Rico, was left in the hands of the Office of Government Ethics.
The delivery of that personal help would have never been materialized.
Although she said she does not want to defend either former PREPA´s Executive Director Ricardo Ramos or Whitefish, Valdivieso stated that the heads of the public corporation faced an "overwhelming" task when the contract was granted.
In addition, she indicated that Ramos had the initial impression that APPA required hotel rooms that were not available.
However, from APPA they warned that it was not until October 30, following the cancellation of the Whitefish contract, that PREPA requested mutual help services.
"Imagine a person who has a responsibility and does not know where to start ... We are human, we make mistakes. I am sure that everyone has taken a route to get home and then realized that they should have taken another," said Valdivieso.
The comptroller said that she wanted to compare the Fluor company fees with those of Whitefish, but the Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General delivered them crossed out which is like not offering any information.
Whitefish – named after the Montana town where they have their office and home to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke – won a new $ 225,000 contract from the US Department of the Interior in June, according to the AP.
In September, the US Department of Energy granted Whitefish other contracts for more than $ 1 million.
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