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The Udecott check list

Published Thursday 31st July, 2008

The chairman of the Commission of Enquiry has been named by Minister of Works and Transportation, Colm Imbert, as British professor John Uff. The online profile and reported calibre of Professor Uff makes him a strong choice for the job.

The real concern here is the wide scope of the terms of reference and the probable impact of that on the outcome. We have repeated those terms in the sidebar. We were told by Imbert that the other members of the commission would be locals who would be identified soon. It seems that the enquiry is set to start in the next three months or so, but when one considers the nature and extent of its terms of reference, it is difficult to believe that it will end in mid-2009, as Imbert indicated.

There were no stated timeframes to the enquiry. The lack of these raises the probability that all kinds of examples and evidence could come before the commission. We should not be surprised to hear the Piarco project, Caroni horseracing complex, Mount Hope Medical Complex or Twin Towers featuring in this Commission of Enquiry.

I have no doubt that many of the areas identified in the terms of reference are going to yield fascinating results which are going to be of value to us. However, one has to ask, what likelihood of decisive answers to the pressing concerns now being voiced about Udecott, in this column and other places?

More to the point, we are also aware of the stunning pace at which Udecott continues to press ahead with its client’s instructions. The PM has stated repeatedly that Udecott is a state company in which he has confidence. Just last week we heard that the company had been selected to facilitate the development of the new hospital in Point Fortin.

Another aspect of the entire process being proposed is that the reports of the various commissions of enquiry conducted in this place are notoriously hard to get. In the course of writing this column, I tried to get a copy of one such report and it was only through “contact”—word which almost rhymes with kickback—that one ended up at my office.

This is the same point we made last week as to the new information fix being crafted as we bump along towards developed nation status. How do we know that the results of this commission will not also end up shelved somewhere out of our reach?

What we need to do here is understand the gaps in the story being told so far and consider the real state of affairs here. We do have to stray briefly out of the conventional scope of this column, into the political arena, to make our point. Our various rulers have spoken and they have all steadfastly avoided the primary question of the investment decision.

To consider the investment decision one would have to ask: why are we doing these projects and what is the process for their conception, ranking and selection? Our leaders appear unwilling or unable to discuss that elementary process and its ideology in public. We can be sure that those aspects are discussed in private. We can also be sure that past and present members of the Cabinet are fully aware of the shaky process by which projects are approved by Cabinet.

For the record, let us be clear that that list of rulers would have to include the Joint Consultative Council of the Construction Industry, T&T Institute of Architects, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, T&T Manufacturers’ Association, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and so on. The only two columnists who consistently focus on the investment decision as a crucial component of the national development process are economists Dennis Pantin and Mary King.

The power of consensus and agreement is lauded in today’s world as being a necessary ingredient for development. I am taking the view that in our country we have achieved an awkward and silent consensus on the investment decision. That consensus would seem to be that the party winning elections controls the treasury. To such an extent that the others—be they opposition politicians or civic groups—would only question plainly illegal acts. Those acts which are borderline illegal or just bad investment decisions arouse little fire. That, strange as it may seem, fits all the facts.

This is an example in which consensus is detrimental because a critical set of issues go unaddressed. The matter has constitutional and regional aspects as well, but those are well beyond our scope here.

In our country we have achieved an awkward and silent consensus on the investment decision.

That consensus would seem to be that the party winning elections controls the treasury. To such an extent that the others—be they opposition politicians or civic groups—would only question plainly illegal acts.

 

The Uff Commission

The terms of reference of the Commission of Enquiry were outlined by the Prime Minister on May 23. It is instructive at this stage to set these out for consideration:

·        to enquire into the procurement practices in the public construction sector;

·        the effect of the use (sic) provisional sums, prime cost sums, nominated suppliers and nominated contractors in construction contracts in the public sector;

·        the effect of incomplete designs, design changes, variations, poor supervision and poor management on the cost and delivery of construction projects in the public sector;

·        the performance of local and foreign contractors and consultants on public sector projects; the effectiveness of the turnkey approach, also called the design/build approach, for the delivery of public sector construction projects as compared to the traditional design and tender approach;

·        the reasons for and the effect of cost overruns, delays and defective workmanship in public sector construction projects;

·        the existence of price gouging and profiteering in the public construction sector;

·        the procurement practices and methods of operation of Udecott;

·        to make such recommendations and observations arising out of these deliberations as the commission may deem appropriate to ensure that with respect to public sector construction projects and the procurement practices and methods of operation of Udecott taxpayers get value for money;

·        the delivery of projects, the highest standard of workmanship, quality, safety, the provision of quality of provision and practice are achieved and maintained;

·        there is free and fair competition, full participation and access for all citizens in the public procurement process; and

·        the integrity and transparency in the public procurement practice is assured.

 

Afra Raymond is a chartered surveyor and a director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

To consider the investment decision one would have to ask: why are we doing these projects and what is the process for their conception, ranking and selection? Our leaders appear unwilling or unable to discuss that elementary process and its ideology in public. We can be sure that those aspects are discussed in private. We can also be sure that past and present members of the Cabinet are fully aware of the shaky process by which projects are approved by Cabinet.

For the record, let us be clear that that list of rulers would have to include the Joint Consultative Council of the Construction Industry, T&T Institute of Architects, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, T&T Manufacturers’ Association, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and so on. The only two columnists who consistently focus on the investment decision as a crucial component of the national development process are economists Dennis Pantin and Mary King.