More on the Puerto Rico Shakedown

President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd as he hands out supplies at Calvary Chapel, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP

A quick follow up about my questions from last night about the situation in Puerto Rico. I noted yesterday that the White House wants to have the board overseeing Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy appoint an emergency manager to oversee the territory’s power company and its accompanying reconstruction efforts. The guy they want to appoint is named Noel Zamot, a retired Air Force Colonel.

Often in situations like this, especially with a White House like Trump’s, you’d expect some crony or money man to get such an appointment and oversee the fleecing. But I did some poking around last night and my impression is that Zamot is a respected professional with relevant industry and management experience. A reader who has direct experience with Zamot checked in last night in response to my request and confirmed this impression. That doesn’t mean Zamot’s perfect or that I’d agree with him on all decisions. The privatization push tied to Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, which long predates Trump, is a complicated matter with a lot of potential policy pitfalls. The point here is that Zamot does not appear to be any sort of Trump crony or the kind of cash-in type which was ubiquitous during the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

So again, why is he in the mix?

More to the point, the whole effort to appoint an emergency manager seems to be walking around the key question: who gave out this sweetheart deal to Whitefish Energy, the company in Montana that has no apparent experience or capacity to execute such a mammoth project? Any company that goes on Twitter and snarks about leaving the victims to their own devices isn’t remotely a professional operation you’d want tied to anything like this.

I’m always skeptical of appointing ’emergency managers’ since they are almost by definition supplanting democratically elected executives. That’s not quite the case here. The power company is not the government. But it’s understandable that the government of Puerto Rico would resist such an effort just on principle. My main thought is that such an appointment might be wise or unwise. The appointee seems qualified as far as it goes. But the real question is who agreed to this contract. That contract should never have been approved. And we need to know who approved it and why.

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