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Senators Subpoenaed 29 Records from WAPA to Conduct October Investigative Hearing

St. Thomas 𑁋 The 33rd Legislature subpoenaed at least 29 documents from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to prepare for its October investigative hearing. Opening statements in October from senators representing both districts and testimony from representatives from WAPA ended with only a handful of new information regarding the utility’s operations in the territory. 

October Investigative Hearing

Senators also subpoenaed certified copies of flight manifests of all charter flights from January 2015 to present including specifics on leasing agreements, updates on federal consent decrees and details regarding contracts. Many of the record requests were lumped together, bringing the tally of records well over 29 if broken down further. Senator Kurt A. Vialet’s line of questioning put pressure on officials’ use of corporate credit cards and limits placed on them.

Vialet asked officials from WAPA why they needed 12 credit cards to conduct business. One official reluctantly confirmed that some of those accounts had a credit limit of $100,000. In 2011, an Inspector General Report revealed credit cards issued by WAPA to officials were sometimes used for personal purchases. 

Senator Donna Frett-Gregory in her testimony at the authority’s investigative hearing in October expressed frustration in getting clear answers from officials on company finances and general operations. Frett-Gregory also referenced the 2011 Inspector General Report and pushed officials on using it as guidance in setting fiscal policies.

“The fiscal challenges of the authority have been made clear and transparent to the public,” the memo reads. Other elected officials have publicly stated that there are issues with top-level management at WAPA. Near the end of that 11-hour Senate oversight hearing, Frett-Gregory said, “we are leaving here with a lot of unanswered questions.”

With all senators representing both districts providing hours of testimony and asking fairly specific questions, senators were able to probe how transparent WAPA is with its operations and business dealings. During the hearing, senators took turns probing officials for more information into their operations, finances, and rules surrounding accountability. Documents and records subpoenaed by the 33rd Legislature are listed below:

Information Requested in Subpoena to WAPA

  1. Certified copies of contract(s) between WAPA and the lab(s) who conduct testing of the fuel grade on WAPA’s behalf from 2017 to Present;
  2. Certified copies of contract(s) between WAPA and all consultant that provide services to WAPA from 2018 to present;
  3. A list of all WAPA’s top tier level employees including management personnel and include the beginning date of employment and salary information;
  4. Fiscal Year 2019 Revenue and Expense Report dating from October 31, 2018 to July 31, 2019 (year-to-date report);
  5. Fiscal Year 2020 Budget and Projected Revenue;
  6. Financial Audits for the years 2016 through 2019 (including single audits if Federal funding was received);
  7. Status reports of all FEMA and HUD related projects from 2017 to present;
  8. Proposals to purchase WAPA from 2017 to present;
  9. Results from any non-financial audits from the year 2017 to the present (including the Plant
  10. Environment Audit);
  11. Status of the Air Consent Decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice;
  12. Preventative Maintenance Plan (including emergency use inventory);
  13. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/Community Development Block Grant Program grant expenditure plans;
  14. Project management service contact proposals from the year 2017 to the present;
  15. Cost and status of propane gas installation (include information on conversion success and/or failure)
  16. Cost to WAPA and the Government of the Virgin Islands relating to the Seven Seas water distribution system;
  17. A certified copy of the contract between Seven Seas Corporation and WAPA;
  18. WAPA credit card financial disclosures from 2016 to the present;
  19. Conclusions of Internal Audits from January 2015 to Present;
  20. Certified copies of all procurement advertisements and bids related to current professional contracts (including funding sources and change orders) to include but not limited to: Agrekko, APR Energy, ASPLUNDH, Fortress Electric Contracting Company, Haugland Energy and Wartsila; 
  21. Certified copies of all leases executed from January 2015 to present;
  22. A certified copy of the Complaint filed by or on behalf of Julio Fung and Dwight Nicholson;
  23. Certified copies of flight manifests of all charter flights from January 2015 to present;
  24. A list of all persons issued or authorized to use company credit cards;
  25. Certified copies of authorizations, receipts and requests made to the Governing Board for the sale of equipment from January 2015 to present;
  26. WAPA protocol for wire transfers, to include a list of all persons authorized from January 2015 to the present to perform wire transfers;
  27. Correspondence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the status of the investigation on the $2.3 million of WAPA funds wired to an offshore account;
  28. Certified copies of the Governing Board’s planning and finance meetings from January 2015 to present; and
  29. Certified copies of the Governing Board’s meeting minutes from January 2015 to present.

Weeks after the hearing, and after the senate body grilled officials from WAPA on transparency and accountability, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. shared a two-page memorandum on October 24th filed with the Virgin Islands Public Service Commission (PSC) in support of increasing the base rate for WAPA. Government House shared the correspondence with the PSC just one month after Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett publicly urged Bryan and Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. to consider declaring a state of emergency in light of ongoing issues plaguing WAPA.

“The Governor’s memo was submitted to the Public Services Commission during their public comment period in October,” Government House said in a statement. “The Governor was simply placing his position on record with the PSC, as they sought input from the public.”

Senators apparently hit a wall pressing WAPA for new information and took turns chiding officials over transparency and accountability. Legislation moving through the chambers of the 33rd Legislature has been drafted to allow the PSC to better regulate markets to better protect consumers.

Frett-Gregory and Sarauw began sponsoring legislation to increase fiduciary oversight of WAPA as based on media reports in September. Sarauw said “Our residents deserve the reliability of their utilities in the 21st century,” she said in the letter. “It is time that we treat WAPA with the urgency of the emergency that it is.”

Attending October’s investigative hearing were Senators Barnes, Blyden, DeGazon, DeGraff, Francis, Frett-Gregory, Benta, Hodge, Gittens, Jackson, James., Payne, Sarauw, Thomas and Vialet.