|The Uff Commission – A Quality
Published Thursday 17th September 2009
To produce good, lasting results, it is vital that project managers
pay particular attention at the closing stages, since the finish is
often the most lasting impression which a project can make on its users.
Thus with the Uff Commission.
It requires fortitude to resist the distractions posed by the ongoing
discussions on the proposed property tax revisions. Those proposals were
set out in the 2009/2010 budget, which was laid in Parliament on Monday
7th September. Coincidentally, that was the same day that Professor John
Uff, Chairman of the Enquiry, held his press conference.
Property Matters will keep its focus on the Uff Commission.
The first question arising is – ‘Whose job was it to ensure that
the Enquiry was properly established in law/Gazetted etc.?’ Just
about everyone I have spoken with either knows and is not saying or does
not know and expects no answer. That is a perturbing part of the reality
out here, when one considers that this is supposed to be an educational
process towards betterment of a significant national activity.
We have read reports of the obscure stance taken by the last Attorney
General when faced with questions as to her possible responsibility. Her
quote is sobering – “My whole attitude to this is that I have
reverted to private life and I have no comment (on what cause the non-gazetting)...”
That was reported in the Express of 10th September at
We have also seen reports that the Attorney General has taken the
necessary steps to ensure that the oversight is addressed and that is
encouraging, for all the reasons stated in last week’s Property Matters.
The opposition UNC is also reported to have pledged their support for
any measures brought to Parliament in this matter. Both these are
Restoring the Enquiry’s legality is an important part of a good
finish to this important public work, but there is a vital ingredient,
which has been missing so far. I am referring to the constant resistance
being mounted by UDeCOTT’s attorneys. Given the PM’s strong statements
to the effect that this government has nothing to hide, it is almost
unbelievable that these attorneys acting for Calder Hart and UDeCOTT
have taken certain positions. Unbelievable, but true. It is like a
subsidiary company resisting or obstructing lawful instructions coming
from its parent company. The missing ingredient here would have to be
that the Board of UDeCOTT be instructed to desist from such actions,
since those are contrary to the atmosphere of transparency and probity
which the PM is advocating.
As a reminder to readers, please note that UDeCOTT is one of the
State Agencies within the Ministry of Planning, Housing and the
Environment (PHE). The Housing Development Corporation is another State
Agency within that Ministry. The point I am driving at here is to remind
readers of the actions of that very Minister when the HDC were trying to
complete its second submission to the Enquiry. The entire HDC Board of
Directors, save its Chairman, Andrew McIntosh, were dismissed. The
Minister cited a ‘governance crisis’ and no further explanation has been
offered. A new Board was appointed with the former Chairman staying in
place and Abigail Cox re-appointed as a Director. One can only wonder
what kind of governance crisis could lead to the sudden dismissal of an
entire Board of Directors and the retention of its Chairman. How could
any ‘governance crisis’ emerge, if the HDC Chairman had been an
effective one? If he was ineffective, what is the thinking of a Minister
who would re-appoint such a Chairman?
The simple point is that the government can dismiss an entire Board
of Directors for some infraction or other cause. In that very Ministry
they already have, in the course of the Uff Enquiry. The retention of
the UDeCOTT Board of Directors, in these circumstances, is a clear and
present peril to the PM’s stated notions of integrity in public affairs.
That those UDeCOTT Directors remain in place is a clear vote of
confidence from the PM. Any further attempts by Mr. Hart’s or UDeCOTT’s
attorneys to de-rail the Enquiry would be a recipe for a complete loss
of the limited confidence the PM now enjoys.
Insofar as the Enquiry’s examination of the HDC’s performance, I make
2 points. Firstly, I submitted questions on the project delivery
shortfall to the Enquiry to direct to the Minister of PHE. One would
expect that the Enquiry would require that the Minister make a written
reply to those legitimate queries. Secondly, the Bob Lindquist report is
also in question. The renowned Canadian forensic accountant, Bob
Lindquist, was hired by the HDC, amidst much fanfare, in January this
year, to investigate the alleged missing funds from the Cleaver Heights
housing project. We have never been given an update on his findings, but
have recently seen reports of this Minister refusing to answer questions
as to whether the report has been completed or will be published. I
smiled while reading the Minister’s firm statement – “…We aren’t
interested in all the bacchanal and back and forth people seemed to be
focused on…” That story is at
http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,106338.html . We would also suggest
that the Enquiry use its legal powers have the Bob Lindquist report
submitted without delay.
Finally, we come to the big and truly disgusting one. Yes, I am
referring to UDeCOTT’s missing accounts. According to the Ministry of
Finance guidelines published in January 2008, State Enterprises are
“…required to publish…audited financial statements…within 4 months to
(sic) the end of their financial year…”. UDeCOTT’s last audited
accounts are up to the end of 2006.
On Monday 8th June, the Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Mariano
Browne, addressed a corporate governance meeting for leaders of State
Enterprises. In doing so, Senator Browne set out some very clear points
– “..you are now required to ensure the timely submission of board
minutes, strategic plans, financial statements, cash statements of
operations and loan overdraft portfolios…”.
Calder Hart told the Enquiry, under oath on 28th January, that all
the outstanding issues for UDeCOTT’s 2007 accounts had been resolved and
that those accounts should be available in about 2 weeks’ time. Yet it
seems that we are drifting into the closing chapter of this Enquiry
without any accounts for either 2007 or 2008. That is a breach of the
published Guidelines and I am again suggesting that the Enquiry use its
powers to seek some public account of these colossal sums of our money.
Afra Raymond is Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited.
Comments can be sent to
|The upcoming agenda
The expected agenda for the final sitting of the Uff
Commission includes –
- The testimony of Carl Khan – This is the surprise
witness who gave his evidence on 19th May on his previous
marriage to the present wife of UDeCOTT’s Executive
Chairman, Calder Hart. Khan also referred to the Mrs. Hart's
relatives. This would be the first evidence to the
Commission on the matters raised by Ramesh Maharaj in
Parliament on 23rd May 2008.
- The Cleaver Heights Saga – At the end of May, the
government announced the new hearings for the Uff Commission
to include further evidence on the Cleaver Heights project.
The initial report on Cleaver Heights was prepared by Mr.
Jerry McAffrey of UK-based construction consultants, ACUTAS.
That report did not support the original allegations, made
by the PM during the budget debate in October 2008, as to a
‘missing’ sum of money, said to be $10M.
- Mrs Sherrine Hart – There have been recent reports that
Mrs. Hart will be testifying in this session of hearings.