Wanda Vázquez. (GFR Media)

Washington - Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced sent Republican Senator Charles Grassley confidential information about the multimillion-dollar rapid testing kits scandal, along with a letter in which she said he is spreading "unfounded claims" and alleged the Oversight Board for creating unnecessary "controversies."

In a letter dated April 27, the deadline set by Grassley for the governor to respond to a request for information on government scandals during this term, Vázquez Garced assured the senator, chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, that the investigations into the contracts for the purchase of the coronavirus tests - in the hands of the FBI and the Puerto Rico Justice Department - are a priority.

However, she believes that the Republican senator's allegations of misappropriation of funds in her administration are "based on speculation", unfair and suggest "ulterior motives".

"Your comments appear to have been inspired by individuals with a personal agenda who seek to tarnish Puerto Rico's reputation... It is particularly troubling that your allegations come at a time of great distress in Puerto Rico and the world when precious time and resources should be used to address our collective humanitarian crisis," Vázquez Garced said.

Alluding to expressions by the White House Reconstruction Coordinator, Rear Admiral Peter Brown, that the Puerto Rican government has implemented "very strong internal control mechanisms" to fight corruption, Vázquez Garced said that Grassley's letter dated April 13 undermines these efforts by spreading unfounded accusations that stain the reputation of Puerto Rico.

In his letter, Grassley - who oversees Puerto Rican issues such as access to Medicaid funds, and tax matters that reflect the inequity in the treatment of the island - requested details about scandals, mainly on the $40 million contracts for the purchase of coronavirus rapid testing kits.

Grassley warned then that to examine "future requests for aid," it was a requirement that the governor clarifies allegations of "misappropriation" of public funds and the investigations conducted.

The senator also asked for details regarding the scandal over the Ponce supply warehouse, the contract with the Whitefish Company, the $245,000 bus acquired by former Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, and the reasons for the recent resignation of Health Department high-ranking officials.

He referred to allegations regarding failed partisan politics tinging contracts on the coronavirus due to connections between Apex General Contractors and 313 LLC with the PNP. "That statement is patently false," the governor said, in a defiant tone, and saying she has had "zero tolerance for corruption."

The Puerto Rican government released the letter to Grassley, but without disclosing dozens of pages in which it would have given details about the investigations.

"We are providing all relevant information that does not compromise any pending investigation, and when the investigation is complete, we will share all information we are legally permitted to disclose," the governor added.

However, she alluded to cases in the U.S., such as corruption charges against FEMA officials for contracts awarded after Hurricane María, to emphasize that "many government entities have had to address the unintended consequences of fast-tracking government processes in the midst of a crisis."

Vázquez Garced said they have shared information requested by the Board regarding contracts for coronavirus testing. But she accused the Board of participating "in unnecessary letter-writing campaigns while creating delays and inefficiencies that could easily be resolved with a phone call."

She cited as example recommendations presented by the board last Friday on their recommended use for the $2.2 billion allocated to the Puerto Rican government through the CARES Act to stabilize the island's finances amid the coronavirus emergency.

"While we appreciate the Oversight Board's initiative, their failure to even attempt to have a direct line of communication with this administration on such an important matter is surprising, even when the establishment of public policies is not within the scope of PROMESA," wrote the governor.

"We write letters so that there is maximum transparency in the issues we raise," responded Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko.

Regarding the explanations requested by Grassley about the resignations of former Health Secretary Concepción Quiñones Longo, former State Epidemiologist Carmen Deseda, and former Assistant Health Secretary Adil Rosa, the governor said: "the turnover of government workers is quite common."


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