GOP chairman cites ‘credibility gap’ in Puerto Rico recovery

GOP chairman cites ‘credibility gap’ in Puerto Rico recovery
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The head of the House panel responsible for Puerto Rico's recovery said Tuesday the territory suffers from a “credibility gap” that it needs to overcome if it wants more federal disaster aid.
Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (R-Utah) said at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing that problems in the island's recovery from Hurricane Maria, such as the botched $300 million utility-repair contract with Whitefish Energy, show issues with the island’s ability to manage the recovery.
“One of the things that I think we’re walking into here is a tremendous credibility gap, based on Whitefish and other subsequent decisions that are going on there,” Bishop told Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló at the hearing.
“You’re asking for an unprecedented $94 billion. That’s a lot of money. That’s not going to happen unless people are going to see some changes in the way cooperation is made, and the way that money’s going to be spent.”
Rosselló largely used the hearing to demonstrate to lawmakers that Puerto Rico’s government can handle the billions of dollars that would go to the territory under the $94.4 billion aid package he asked Congress for Monday.
“We can certainly manage it. We’ve established an office based on the best practices of other offices from other jurisdictions,” he said.
“We believe in controls. We’re actively pursuing controls. We’re open to transparency.”
But Rosselló also pushed back at the notion that the Fiscal Oversight Board, which Congress established last year to oversee the island’s finances through debt reorganization, should get the power to oversee the federal funds.
“What we don’t want is that the sovereign powers of the government of Puerto Rico over this oversight board would get expanded and start nullifying what it is that the people of Puerto Rico democratically elected,” he said.
On Monday, a federal judge in New York City handed a victory to Rosselló over the oversight board.
Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled that the oversight board doesn’t have the authority to appoint Noel Zamot to oversee the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) as its chief transformation officer, because last year’s Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) doesn’t give the board that power.
Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the oversight board, told The Hill last week the move to appoint Zamot does not exceed the board's powers because PREPA is a public corporation, rather than a democratic institution.
Asked whether the board had intentions to appoint other budget-wielding positions in Puerto Rican public administration, Jaresko said "none."
Going into Tuesday’s hearing, the Monday ruling gave Rosselló the upper hand in the developing power struggle over who can can dictate specific financial decisions.
“We are very much willing to work with the board, with their powers,” he said. “But we do not want to give out the sovereign powers of the government of Puerto Rico, the elected government of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Rosselló added that the board's powers, according to PROMESA and Swain's ruling, are limited to oversight over budget proceedings, representation of the territory in its bankruptcy-like lawsuit with creditors and a return to global bond markets.
Bishop said he wants to see Rosselló's government work closely with the oversight board more frequently.
“You need to be working with each other. You need to be coming up here arm in arm, not arm wrestling. There needs to be fewer lawsuits going on,” Bishop said. “It is significant, if you’re going to receive that kind of money and aid — and I do believe it is needed — it is significant that there is one plan and one voice and everyone is coming together.”