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Cleaver Heights – The tangled web

Published Sunday 22nd March 2009

Cleaver Heights is one of the projects on which the Uff Commission is to carry out detailed studies, it having been formally added to its terms of reference on 10th December 2008. This is a project of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to build 383 new homes on a rolling site at Cleaver Woods in Arima.

This project shot to prominence when the PM raised the question of ‘where the money gone?’ with his former Minister of Housing, Dr. Keith Rowley on 30th September 2008, during the budget debate. Those concerns are now at the centre of an unfolding drama with many new and incredible depths being plumbed.

The Uff Commission obtained approval from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to get the independent advice of a Glasgow-based firm of Construction experts. ACUTUS appointed 2 of their Expert Witnesses, Gerry McCaffrey and Dr. Ronan Champion, to the exercise.

In respect of the Uff Commission, I have read the HDC’s original submission and the rebuttal on 27th January 2009 by the Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment. I have also read the Initial Report of 20th February prepared by ACUTAS on the instructions of the Commission, in respect of 4 projects.

One of those projects was Cleaver Woods and the ACUTUS findings bear reflection. For the benefit of readers, I am going to lay out these events in date order –

  • May 2008 – PM Manning resists calls for a forensic investigation of UDeCOTT, which is coming under heavy criticism. The PM opts for a Commission of Enquiry and mentions that his choice for Chairman is Gordon Deane. This is greeted by a storm of protest over Deane’s handling (mis?) of the Rowley reports which came to him during his term as Chairman of the Integrity Commission. Those public concerns over Deane’s performance at the Integrity Commission were subsequently justified by the High Court judgement against them in the action brought by Dr. Keith Rowley, but more on that at another time. Deane’s nomination is dropped after some unspecified talk (ole?) over some threats.
     
  • 9th September 2008 – Professor John Uff QC, Israel Khan SC, Desmond Thornhill and Keith Sirju are appointed to the Commission. Professor Uff is the Chairman hence the name.
     
  • 12th January 2009 – Public hearings start. Those were reported on in ‘Property Matters’ of 18th January (The Uff Commission) and 1st February (Testing UDeCOTT’s claims).
     
  • 21st January 2009 – HDC submits a detailed statement to the Commission, including a significant section on the spotlighted Cleaver Heights project. That HDC report, in respect of that project, states that the apparent discrepancy can be explained by typographical/administrative errors.
     
  • 27th January 2009 – The Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment submits her own 19-page statement to the Commission. We have well and truly entered uncharted waters here, since it flatly contradicts the HDC, itself a State Agency within that very Ministry. In addition, the Minister told the Parliament that the State had secured the services of Bob Lindquist, the Canadian forensic investigator, to probe the discrepancies.
     
  • 20th February 2009 – ACUTUS submits its interim report on the 4 projects, including Cleaver Heights. The Minister’s statement listed 7 concerns with the Cleaver Heights project and #5 of these was “The number of the contracted houses has been reduced from 408 to 383 with no commensurate decrease in the housing units contracted cost.” ACUTUS’ Interim Report at 2.5.6 states “In the overall scheme of things, the increase in the unit cost per dwelling (TT$ 236,112.02 minus TT$227,080.88) is a relatively small issue (4%). Having compared the planned and actual unit costs of dwellings, and accepting the spreadsheet (attachment #12) at face value, in my view there is no need for further explanation at this stage in relation to the reduction in dwellings from 408 to 383.” ACUTUS also comes to innocuous conclusions as to the origin of the $10M/$20M alleged discrepancy.
     
  • Last week – We learned that the entire HDC Board of Directors, save the Chairman, had been dismissed. The Minister cited a ‘governance crisis’ as the rationale for that strong action. If we are being told that there was a ‘governance crisis’ which led to the dismissals, one can only wonder why the Chairman was not removed. Conventional notions of responsibility and leadership appear to have become victim to the ‘wrong-side’ thinking which has beset our leaders. In addition, there are also apparently reliable reports that the OPM has declined to provide further funding for ACUTUS’ work for the Commission.

According to the Investment Memorandum issued by the HDC in January 2009 in seeking to raise a $500M bond, the members of the HDC’s Board of Directors were as follows:

Mr. Sydney Mc Intosh - Chairman
Ms. Macrina Peters
Mr. Faris Al-Rawi
Mr. Geoffrey Herrera
Mr. Patrick Rambert
Mr. Rajnath Chankar
Mr. Clifton Winchester
Ms. Abigail Cox

We also learned that the acting CEO of the HDC, Ms. Margaret Chow, who came in for heavy criticism in the Minister’s rebuttal, resigned her post and filed a submission with the Commission.

  • On Monday 23rd, I also attended the first day’s hearing of the resumed hearings of the Uff Commission and heard for myself the attempts by UDeCOTT’s attorney to discredit the ACUTUS report.

We can only wait for these contending written testimonies to be tested by cross-examination.

 

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

Allocation Policy

The HDC’s allocations policy for the new homes which they are responsible for producing and distributing came in for criticism in the Property Matters series ‘A critique of State Housing policy’ published in these pages in August 2007. I was pleased to note the new Minister’s early determination to review that policy and the new HDC allocations policy was published in October 2008. It can be accessed at this link.

The new policy is an encouraging departure from the old criteria, which placed an emphasis on the ability of the applicants to pay for the new homes. The new policy gives weight to the length of time since the application was made and the number of inhabitants who will live in the new homes. Those are steps in the right direction of creating an equitable policy for the distribution of these affordable homes and we have to now monitor how it all works for the benefit of our needy citizens.