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Puerto Rico still in the dark

Puerto Rico's governor announced Monday that he is moving to privatize the U.S. territory's public power company after its slow, troubled recovery from Hurricane Maria focused new attention on longstanding accusations of mismanagement and corruption.

Nearly 30 per cent of customers on this island of 3.3 million people remain without power more than four months after Hurricane Maria. Many blame the failings of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA.

Its director was forced out in November after the utility failed to immediately call for help from its mainland counterparts after the storm. Instead, PREPA granted a power-restoration contract to a little-known company that the utility was later forced to rescind. Most recently, PREPA was blamed for the failure to distribute badly needed parts found in one of its warehouses even as repairs went undone for lack of supplies.

Founded in 1979 as a public utility run by appointees of the island's governor, PREPA is roughly $9 billion in debt and years before Maria's September landfall, the company was criticized for political patronage and inefficiency. It was also beset by frequent blackouts, including an island-wide outage in September 2016.

"The Electric Power Authority has become a heavy burden for our people, who today are held hostage by its poor service and high cost," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "The deficient and obsolete system of generation and distribution of energy is one of the great impediments to our economic development."

Because PREPA is bankrupt, a federal judge will have to approve the sale, in addition to the island's legislature, economists said.

In the next couple of days, government officials will begin working with legislators to begin defining how to sell the utility's assets. Rossello said the process could take around 18 months.

Carlos Mendez, majority leader in Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, said he will ensure the body backs the governor's objective.

"Either we remain as we are, or we take the decisions needed to push Puerto Rico ahead and lift our economy up once again," he said.



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