There have been rumors for some time of corruption in Puerto Rico’s electric utility. Now Congress is reviewing “multiple allegations of corruption and gross mismanagement in the restoration process.”
The whole territory’s electric services are handled by PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Unlike the situation in the 50 states, where private electric companies or cooperatives manage electric power, virtually all of Puerto Rico’s electricity is under the control of PREPA, which is owned by the government.
Rob Bishop, the Chair of the U.S. Committee on Natural Resources, which is in charge of Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories, has written a letter to Justo Gonzalez, the Interim Director of PREPA. This letter is also signed by Bruce Westerman, Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Doug LaMalfa, Chair of the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs.
“Insular” is an adjective for islands, and it covers Puerto Rico.
Bribes and favoritism
The letter asks directly about claims that PREPA officials accepted bribes. In one example described in the letter, officials accepted $5,000 in cash and an undisclosed number of free entry tickets to put “exotic dance clubs” in San Juan at the front of the line for restoring electricity. Another example: PREPA officials restored power to their own homes ahead of public places like the airport and hospitals.
Mismanagement examples included PREPA’s failure to provide needed materials, which caused workers to waste time waiting for materials. The letter asks about materials which were available but not distributed, causing as much as 50% of labor costs to be wasted. One specific example was Warehouse 5, a storage facility raided by FEMA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials in January.
The letter says that PREPA’s explanations of these events when asked have been “confusing and, frankly, inadequate.”
“Billions of dollars of taxpayer money are pledged to help Puerto Rico,” the letter points out, “but a lack of faith in Puerto Rico’s institutions remains a major barrier to recovery.”
The letter then asks for documents relating to any investigations of corruption or favoritism and to the Warehouse 5 incident.
If corruption is found in PREPA, would that mean that Puerto Rico should not become a state? We would argue just the opposite. Statehood doesn’t end corruption; states provide plenty of examples of corruption. But many territories in the past wanted statehood specifically to bring greater law and order to their lives. That doesn’t come up as often, now that U.S. territories are no longer the Wild West. It might be worth thinking about.