|The Uff Report - Learning the Lessons
- Part 4
Published Thursday May 6th, 2010
Last week I promised readers some details of the scale of the failure at
the HDC and UDeCOTT.
failure is systemic and exists at every level.
Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) were established to achieve a more rapid
rate of national development. The idea was that we, the public, would
benefit from the ‘best of both worlds’, so to speak, in that the ‘best
practice’ of the private sector would be used in the SPEs to satisfy the
requirements of the public for better roads, housing or other goods or
Starting at the level of underlying purpose of these SPEs –
was established in 2005 as the successor agency to the NHA. The target
set in the 2002 National Housing Policy is for 100,000 new homes to be
built in a decade, but that annual target was reduced in the first year
seven years between 2003 and 2009, there should have been an output of
56,000 new homes, but the total output claimed was repeatedly given by
the PM and the Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment as
being about 26,000. In March, I publicly challenged the accuracy of
those claims and the new MD of the HDC, Jearlean John, released revised
figures – see
link - which showed a total of 15,394 new homes built in the
period. An annual average of about 2,200 new homes, about a quarter of
the reduced target.
is at least 10,000 less new homes than the HDC’s chiefs had been
claiming. What trouble is this?! Now, at the same time as we thanked
Ms. John for setting the record straight, just try to imagine the
record-keeping and integrity of an organization which could repeatedly
overstate its achievements in this fashion.
is the scale of the problem.
UDeCOTT’s mission is to develop the structures that form part of Vision
2020 and which “…will be achieved in accordance with…commercially
viable principles…” - see
link. Those claims are equally baseless, since Calder Hart
admitted under my cross-examination that only one of UDeCOTT’s many
projects had been the subject of a feasibility test. Only one. That
was the International Waterfront Complex and my further questioning
revealed that the value of the land had been omitted from the equation.
That is nothing less than scandalous and deceptive behavior from those
we trusted with our national wealth. It is like doing a business plan
to open a ‘Chicken and Chips’ outlet and leaving-out the cost of the
chicken. Bogus. Our PM went to great lengths when he addressed the
Senate on 13th May 2008 to point out that UDeCOTT’s projects were all
approved by Cabinet, after a thorough review process – see
Additional claims were also made as to the ways in which Cabinet
monitored UDeCOTT’s operations. As I wrote in this column, early in my
critique of UDeCOTT – There is either a sobering naivete or a lack of
rectitude in the highest chambers in our Republic.
is the scale of the problem.
both cases, we are witness to fundamental dishonesty on a huge scale.
on to the findings of the Uff Report –
Looking at the controversial Cleaver Heights project, at para 25.30, the
Report states “…The absence of a written contract was put in context
in the cross-examination of Minister Dick-Forde when she confirmed
advice from HDC to the effect that none of their large projects and none
of the small projects either had a signed contract . It was
subsequently confirmed that as at January 2009 HDC had 64 large projects
ongoing and 591 small projects, none of which had a signed contract.
Large projects were those over $50m in value. Thus, while there appeared
to be no good reason why a formal contract was not signed between NHA
and NHIC, it seems clear that to have done so would have been a highly
unusual step and one which was presumably regarded, both by NHA and HDC,
as unnecessary.…” Not one HDC contract has been formally drawn up
or executed. Not one.
My colleague, Ken Ali, put out a hard-hitting exclusive on the ‘HDC’s
Silent Projects’, published in last Monday’s Guardian at this
UDeCOTT was also
involved in its own widespread and unconventional practices, namely
‘back-fitting’ of data, as described in the sidebar.
On the blighted Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA), being built by Hafeez
Karamath Ltd. (HKL), we are told –
Para 16.16 – referring to advance payments to the contractor – “…As
a result money was advanced in circumstances which do not appear to have
been governed by any ascertainable rules and amounted effectively to
very substantial loans to HKL. Such a procedure is quite unique in the
experience of the Commissioners. It calls for explanation but none has
Para 16.17 – referring to UDeCOTT’s accounting system – “…UDeCOTT's
administration and recording of the payment process was "appalling" and
required a great deal of detective work to get to the bottom…”
Para 16.21 – referring to UDeCOTT’s attempts to explain its
management of the BLCA - “…does not by any means explain why UDeCOTT
staff had gone to such extraordinary lengths to ensure that HKL was paid
as soon as the money became available; why UDeCOTT was seemingly so
anxious to make payments substantially beyond the value of work carried
out (and in circumstances where the contractor was already in default
such that TAL had long since recommended termination); and why UDeCOTT
chose to disregard the opinions of the appointed engineer (TAL)…”
Para 12.45, citing the work of MacCaffrey –
(i) Of 79 Certificates issued for advance payments, 39 were wrong in
relation to the sum for payment of advance payment, 60 were wrong in
relation to the amount of advance payment made to date and only 4 out of
79 correctly recorded the advance payment and the amount of repayment.
(ii) UDeCOTT's contemporaneous reporting of advance payment is
materially wrong (i.e. under-reported) by tens of millions of TT$ for
the vast majority of the duration of the project.
(iii) UDeCOTT decided to back-fit Payment Certificates in February
2008. Those back-fitted Certificates also materially under-reported the
amount of advance payments made. All the back-fitted Certificates have
been endorsed by at least two signatories and in some cases three.
Little wonder that UDeCOTT’s audited accounts have not been published
since the end of 2006.
The Cancerous Cozy Consensus
the scale of the bobol revealed in this single Enquiry, one can only
wonder what else is taking place at other SPEs. The relationships are
so cozy that one seldom, if ever, hears of anyone being made to repay
the monies stolen or even face the Courts. I am repeating my call that
it is time for us to review the performance and proper role of the SPEs.
might also be useful at this stage, for those of us who exist in the
‘comfort zone’ of private sector superiority to reflect on how seldom,
if ever, we act against ‘White-collar’ crime.
Afra Raymond is
Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the
Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago. Comments can be sent to