Contract Awarded for Design of Diagnostic Treatment Center in Vieques, More Than a Year After Funds Were Obligated

A year and four months after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced a $39.5 million obligation to rebuild the Susana Centeno Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Vieques, which Hurricane María destroyed in 2017, the Infrastructure Financing Authority (AFI), the agency to which the Municipality delegated the task of managing the project earlier this year, awarded a bid for the conceptual design of the new building to CSA Architects & Engineers, LLP, for $147,340. Thirty-seven companies procured the documents to participate in the bidding process, and nine companies submitted proposals. After awarding the contract to CSA Architects & Engineers, the document should be signed in the next few days, AFI stated. The company has had contracts with nearly 30 agencies, municipalities and public corporations for more than a decade for work related to technical services, design, architecture, surveying and repairs. Under Ricardo Rosselló’s administration, CSA Architects & Engineers locked down $26 million in contracts at 10 agencies, according to Comptroller records.

FEMA Avoids Addressing Incidents of Sexual and Workplace Harassment in Its Puerto Rico Office

Invitations to sexual threesomes from bosses, unsolicited comments about clothing, sexual organs and the carrying of firearms, and even forceful kisses in the workplace are some of the types of gender-based violence incidents that Puerto Rican female employees have experienced from supervisors and co-workers in the Puerto Rico office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the recovery process after Hurricanes Irma and María made landfall in 2017. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) received and confirmed these confidences through 13 testimonies from people who work or have worked for FEMA in Puerto Rico and who decided to tell their stories after the publication in March of an investigation by this media outlet that revealed a pattern of workplace harassment in the External Affairs Office of the federal agency, with at least six cases officially reported. There is now a total of 16 cases that the CPI has documented, the majority of which are from women who have officially filed complaints against several FEMA workers in Puerto Rico for alleged situations of sexual harassment, workplace harassment, persecution, intimidation, or discrimination due to age and gender during the job recruitment process and promotion. Some of these cases, which took place between 2018 and 2020, have remained unaddressed for more than three years and in certain instances, the employer keeps the people who filed the complaint close to their alleged aggressors and they have not been given any remedies. The CPI requested reactions and interviews on this matter for every claim related to FEMA, both local, regional, and the agency’s central office, but all refused to be interviewed and responded with general statements that do not address the questions asked and the issues reported.

Camarero Racetrack: A Money Machine that Runs on Injured and Abused Horses

It’s Friday and it’s payday. Abuelo says that it’s good to bet a few dollars from time to time “to try your luck.” That’s why we are in a horse racing betting agency putting together a lineup, wearing a mask, our hands sticky from the hand sanitizer and a few “hints” on the table. I want to bet on a horse that hasn’t run for five years. His name is Cachupito and he is number 11 of the sixth race.

Comptroller Hid Problems with Tu Hogar Renace Program

The Department of Housing (DH) paid more than $5 million for projects that were not done or were deficient under the Tu Hogar Renace housing reconstruction program, according to an evaluation by the Puerto Rico’s Office of the Comptroller (OCPR, in Spanish), conducted in 2018, but kept under wraps until now. The DH paid $5,817,382 for 633 work orders where at least one of the jobs was not done or was insufficient , as part of the program established after Hurricane María in 2017. The OCPR flagged the payment as contrary to the “policy that the Department established, that an unfinished case could not be processed for payment.” In addition, the Comptroller’s Office stated that the jobs that were not performed or that were carried out poorly were “certified as done by the Oversight Manager, the Program Manager, and ‘pre-intervened’ by the Department.” The DH did not   react to the findings of this story. The firm Hage & Integra appeared as Oversight Manager of Tu Hogar Renace, while Adjusters International was the Program Manager. Adjusters is a subsidiary of Rising Phoenix Holdings Corp., whose more than $207 million contract has been one of the largest granted with recovery funds in Puerto Rico.

LUMA: How will it be scrutinized?

Little has been said about what will happen when LUMA Energy starts managing part of the electric power system, which is an essential service.  Will the contracts signed be published? Will the meetings and minutes of such meetings in which LUMA participates be public? Will we know how public money is spent by the company? Who is the press going to call in times of emergency to get details of the situation and how it’s being handled? PREPA’s or LUMA’s management?

Let’s Blow Out a Candle for the Court Cases Against the Board and the Government

During the past years, Puerto Rico has been witnessing a mise en scene in which the Fiscal Control Board says, “We have to cut here” and the government tells the press “I am not going to cut anything.” The net result is that many of the cuts have indeed been made, seen and felt. As when there was a lack of resources in the Institute of Forensic Sciences to process “rape kits,” or when funds were cut from the Women’s Ombudsman Office. There are also less visible cuts that take their toll, as when agency employees have retired and are not replaced to “save money,” and the ones left behind are unprepared and have no references on processes and public services. Several economists have questioned the lack of transparency in the methodology used by the government as well as the Board to draft the economic projections, fiscal plans and budgets. The projections are barely met, the fiscal plans are a fictional exercise that fills the pockets of fancy consultants in the United States. And after fighting to approve budgets, all kinds of reallocations are made, and sometimes, money miraculously appears out of nowhere when there is a crisis that arouses passions in public opinion.