Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent 13 questions to the governor questioning local response to COVID -19, in spite of the Trump administration’s notorious lack of support for the U.S. territory.
The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley, sent Governor Wanda Vázquez a five-page letter regarding Puerto Rico’s response to the coronavirus, in spite of the Trump administration’s lack of support to the U.S. territory after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the earthquakes in January.
Sen. Grassley is asking about recent cabinet changes and questionable contracts, such as the one between the government and a construction company promising to create rapid tests for COVID-19.
Federal and local authorities are investigating a $38 million government contract to buy one million testing kits that were recently canceled amid intense scrutiny.
The contract made between Apex General Contractors, a small Puerto Rican construction company — with possible ties to some government officials — and the Health Department stipulated the kits would be sourced by Promedical, a manufacturing company in Australia. Promedical later denied having being contact with anyone at the Puerto Rican government or any relationship to Apex General Contractors, El Nuevo Día reports.
The Vázquez administration received a refund for the deposit paid to Apex, but some claim the time spent focusing on the refund, could have been used to secure testing kits elsewhere.
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Senators question Vázquez response
The five-page letter sent on Monday by Sen. Grassley has been interpreted by Vázquez as an attack. The governor stated that she will reply to it in detail. “I would have preferred that Grassley or any other person who had intervened in the drafting of the letter, had the courtesy of communicating with our team or with our Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González, before attacking the people of Puerto Rico due to situations that are replicated in other jurisdictions, both in our American nation and abroad.”, said the governor on a press release.
Vázquez has been notoriously distant and has been accused by the local press of avoiding questions or any confrontation regarding the Apex scandal in particular.
Here are some of the questions that Grassley asked in his letter to Vázquez:
- About the lack of testing kits: “Did the Government of Puerto Rico submit agreements (be they purchase orders or contracts) to purchase medical products from 313 LLC, Apex General Contractors, and perhaps other vendors, for review by the Oversight Board established in PROMESA, as required under Section 204(b) (2) of PROMESA, or otherwise, in any way, notify the Oversight Board of the intended purchases?”
- About the questionable vendors and contracts: “Were there any considerations of affiliation to any particular political party in choosing to work with any medical-supply vendor offering to provide COVID-19 related medical products, such as testing kits, or to work with any intermediary who may have helped establish contact between the government of Puerto Rico and the vendors?”
- On Earthquake’s aid response: “With respect to allegations in January 2020, that relief supplies in the aftermath of Puerto Rico’s devastating earthquakes were not given to people in need but, rather, laid idle in warehouses, I understand that you fired government officials, including the former head of Puerto Rico’s office of emergency management (NMEAD) Carlos Acevedo, and ordered an investigation into why people did not receive the supplies. Has your investigation been completed? If so, please provide a report on the results of the investigation; if not, please indicate when the investigation will be complete and send a report upon completion.”
- Corruption accusations and the Coronavirus pending cases: “Provide a list of investigations initiated within the government of Puerto Rico over the past four years of possible malfeasance by the government (e.g., Whitefish Energy contracting, previous Governor’s acquisition of a $245,000 sport utility vehicle, alleged politicization of Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics, lawsuit surrounding lack of public provision of death data following recent hurricanes, etc.) and the resulting findings and reports from the investigations.”
- On Health Secretary’s red flags: “As identified in a recent article in the Miami Herald, Puerto Rico Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano said that “he discovered problems in the Health Department. In particular, there is an estimated $3 million to $4 million worth of donated medicines that had expired.” Is the Secretary’s finding of expired donated medicines accurate? If so, please describe the expired medicines, why they expired, who donated them, and whether they were donations intended to assist in Puerto Rico’s response to COVID-19; if not, please identify why your health secretary misstated conditions in the health department.”