Puerto Rico's Whitefish Contract Was Leaked & This Is Why It's So Problematic
After Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in September, a new challenge has emerged pitting Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló against Whitefish Energy, the for-profit company set to restore power in parts of the country devastated by the hurricane. A leak of the $300 million contract between Puerto Rico and Whitefish includes details that are leaving people dumbfounded. Since the contract is nearly 50 pages long, Twitter users are breaking down the astonishing takeaways for you.
U.S. lawmakers had previously called for a transparency investigation into how Whitefish, a small Montana firm which had only two full-time employees when the contract was signed, won the multi-million dollar contract to repair destroyed transmission lines in the mountains. Usually a network of public utilities coordinate power restoration after a disaster. Further arousing suspicion, the utility company is based in the same hometown as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who knows the family that owns Whitefish. However, both parties claim that Zinke did not advocate on Whitefish's behalf. Still, the content of the contract is raising suspicion.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was one of the first to question the deal's transparency. In response, Whitefish threatened to abandon ship, tweeting, "We've got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?" The company later apologized for the retort. At the moment, more than 75 percent of Puerto Rico is still without electricity and Gov. Rosselló, who ordered an audit of the contract, said there would be "hell to pay" should investigators uncover any foul play in how the Whitefish contract was awarded.
Whitefish is currently under several government reviews and the details in the leaked contract are ringing some serious alarms.
A Film Producer Weighs In
I deal with a lot of contracts. You can tell a lot about a person/entity from a contract. And this... this is a *deeply corrupt* contract. https://t.co/wmwvpn5fMC— Jordan Horowitz (@jehorowitz) October 27, 2017
Journalist Ken Klippenstein tweeted a link to the entire 42-page Whitefish Energy contract.
No Complaints About Further Delays
Puerto Rico has already gone a month without power. Some schools have already reopened, forced to make do with the situation.
Winner Takes All
Any argument that “this is just how these contracts are” is fatally undercut by the fact that it was a no-bid contract to A Guy Zinke Knows https://t.co/KQXC1ZP1SU— Patrick Monahan (@pattymo) October 27, 2017
Reportedly no other bidders competed for the contract.
Forget About that Audit
Whitefish contract states, "In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements." Wow. pic.twitter.com/dIyQXb6AK0— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 27, 2017
Gov. Rosselló's request for an audit meets a significant barrier.
Where Your Tax Money Is Going
$300m in taxpayer money includes...— Ken Klippenstein (@kenklippenstein) October 27, 2017
-Chinook helicopte airlift: $20,277
-S61 helicopter airlift: $15,993
-Passenger helicopter: $3,969 pic.twitter.com/9WcuyxwP3S
Along with the $332.41 per person for accommodations and $79.82 per person for food allotted each day, Whitefish also needs money to buy helicopters.
Small Company, Big Challenge
Whitefish said they now have 300 people on the ground in Puerto Rico with more to come to restore the island's power grid.
Whitefish Not Alone In Controversy
After disturbing reports that post-Maria federal contracts in PR may not have been vetted, I’m demanding oversight: https://t.co/Ttt2NkpDpi— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) October 23, 2017
Lawmakers are also calling for reviews into other contracts to rebuild Puerto Rico.
Allegations Of Nepotism
What happened to competitive bids for these govt contracts ? Linemen/ tradesmen $300 and up hourly rate ? Sounds like nepotism or cronyism— Yznhymer (@Yznhymer) October 24, 2017
A report says Puerto Rico's power outages are the largest in U.S. history, and a contractor with relatively little experience has been tasked to fix this problem.
FEMA Claps Back
There seems to be a misunderstanding between Whitefish and FEMA.
Trump's Next Move
President Trump has not publicly commented on the nature of the Whitefish contract.
Whitefish Faces News Competition
Puerto Ricans have accused the mainland United States of ignoring and mishandling the island.
An Exceedingly High Paycheck
According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a supervisor is $62,764 a year, and $42,482 in Puerto Rico.
And now the details of the Whitefish contract are made public. Open corruption. Is this anybody's idea of draining the swamp?— Keith_Simonian (@Keith_Simonian) October 27, 2017
Critics have been slamming the Whitefish contract for its perceived corruption, both in how the firm "won" the contract and how Whitefish is utilizing its budget.
The energy company, however, insists the contract award came with no influence from Zinke nor one of its backers, HBC Investments, a Texas-based firm whose founder donated more than $70,000 to Trump and the Republican National Committee in 2016.
It's unclear what will happen next as we wait for the results of government reviews. In the meantime, the details of the contract will give both Americans and Puerto Ricans much to consider.