House committee wants Puerto Rico leadership to talk about PREPA

(Reuters) - Dysfunction at Puerto Rico’s bankrupt electric utility prompted a Congressional oversight committee on Thursday to invite the U.S. commonwealth’s governor to testify at a special hearing scheduled for next week.

FILE PHOTO: Workers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority (PREPA) repair part of the electrical grid as the island's fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Utuado, Puerto Rico May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/File Photo

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, which has oversight of U.S. territories, requested Governor Ricardo Rossello or a member of his administration appear at the July 25 hearing to discuss de-politicizing the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and a “credible plan” for its transformation.

The committee on Wednesday called for the hearing in the wake of a leadership crisis at the utility that began last week. [nL1N1U81B5]

PREPA is in the process of trying to restructure itself while also restoring and upgrading the island’s electric grid. Its operations were knocked out by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, exposing years of poor maintenance and management.

In a letter to Rossello on Thursday, House committee Chairman Rob Bishop expressed concern over “the historic mismanagement” of PREPA and political forces that may hinder its path towards privatization and becoming a resilient electrical system.

“Undoubtedly, the recovery and revitalization of Puerto Rico in the near and long term is unattainable without the depoliticization of PREPA,” the letter said.

A spokeswoman for Rossello had no immediate comment.

PREPA’s leadership has been in turmoil following last week’s decision by current executive director Walter Higgins to step down after four months on the job. [nL1N1U719J]

His initial named replacement, PREPA board member Rafael Diaz-Granados, resigned along with four other members of the seven-member board after the governor criticized a $750,000 annual salary for Diaz-Granados.

Rossello on Wednesday said Jose Ortiz, a former PREPA board chairman, would take over the job starting Monday. [nL1N1UE1EV]

Reporting by Karen Pierog; editing by Daniel Bases and James Dalgleish