In 2017, Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid. And on Sunday (August 11), in one of her first acts as governor of the island, Wanda Vázquez suspended the contract that was slated to rebuild it.
The $450,000 contract was between Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Canadian consulting firm Stantec. Reports NBC News, “Vázquez did not explain why she was suspending the deal, saying only that transparency is a priority for her administration.”
Vázquez, who was sworn into office last Wednesday (August 7) after mass protests led to the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló, told the press, “We are evaluating all government contracts, no exceptions. There is no room in this administration for unreasonable expenses.”
According to NBC News:
Puerto Rico’s power company has awarded several multimillion-dollar contracts since the Category Four storm hit on September 20, 2017, and many of those deals have come under intense scrutiny, with some being canceled. Currently, Mammoth Energy Services’ subsidiary Cobra Acquisitions, which has some $1.8 billion in contracts with the power company, is facing a federal investigation.
A power company spokesperson emailed a statement to The Associated Press saying that if there is not a signed contract by October 6, there will be a dire impact on receiving federal hurricane recovery funds. Maria resulted not only in a failure of the power grid (and total blackout), but nearly 3,000 people died and there was vast destruction of homes, bridges and other infrastructure. The island of 3.2 million people still experiences electrical outages as a result of damage to the power grid.
Some economists hope that Vázquez’s suspension of the contract is an indication that she is being fiscally cautious in her decisionmaking for the island, which in July reached the final stages of a plan to restructure the territory’s $124 billion in debt. Economist José Caraballo told The AP, “I hope this isn’t a smoke screen and that there’s a real audit. That’s what all these people who have lost trust in the government expect.”