Published Thursday December 20th, 2010
This is the time to reflect on the
changes we have witnessed in the last year and the several challenges
arising from those. This column will attempt to combine the ‘Property
Matters’ concerns with the ongoing examination of the CL Financial
The Uff Report
For me, the largest single event this
year was the completion of the work of the Uff Commission of Enquiry
into the Public Sector Construction Industry, with particular reference
to UDeCOTT and the HDC. The controversial Commission of Enquiry was at
the centre of widespread public concerns as to the level of corruption
in the State construction sector. To his credit, the Enquiry Chairman,
Professor John Uff QC, PhD, insisted that the proceedings be televised
and the results of each day’s hearings were also posted to its website.
The Uff Report made history in this
country, since it is the first time that a government has published the
Report of a Commission of Enquiry. That is no small accomplishment and
despite the fact that these massive wrongdoings took place under the
last PNM administration, the act of publication has to be welcomed.
But there are still challenges,
because, for whatever reason, the Uff Commission’s website,
has now been shut down, which is a real pity, since it contains the
important testimony of many witnesses on the issues in this area. That
website needs to be re-opened and I am calling on the Attorney General,
under whose Ministry the Enquiry was operated, to ensure that takes
place. It is no large expense to have these important documents made
available to the public. In light of their educative content, I would
suggest that the actual documents be housed at UWI, as they have a
direct bearing on the deliberations of the Engineering and Social
Of course we had the sight of a
fleeing Calder Hart and a defeated Patrick Manning, his PNM cohorts
drinking bitter tea for his fever, all attributable in my view to the
groundbreaking Uff Commission.
Looking forward, we have the fact
that the 91 recommendations of the Uff Report were adopted by the
Peoples Partnership in the run-up to the 24th May General
Election. We have now been promised that those are to be implemented by
Minister of Justice, Herbert Volney. We await Volney’s early report as
to the implementation.
In that connection and taking from
the PNM example, I am, once again, calling for the publication of the
report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Piarco Airport project. The
Bernard Report must be published now.
CL Financial bailout
The other huge event of the year was
the budget speech on 8th September 2010, in which Finance Minister,
Winston Dookeran, disclosed publicly that he was revising the terms of
the CL Financial bailout. That bailout was a hugely suspect act, the
largest financial commitment ever undertaken in this country, without
proper due diligence or even any proper ventilation in the Parliament.
Our Republic had never been so financially violated and in broad
daylight. It was encouraging to see the Finance Minister take the point
to its logical conclusion and of course that brought about the
large-scale organisation of various aggrieved groups to put their point.
That series of organisations,
committed to the doubtful mantra of the guaranteed investment – whatever
that is – took on a series of bizarre and increasingly combative
stances. The signature theme being that ‘We are not responsible for our
decision’. We were being treated to a spectacle worthy of any of the
‘Ole Mas’ presentations of yore, in which successful investors – on
average at least $700,000 was invested by each of these ‘protestors’ –
having benefited from the operation of the capitalist system were
seeking 100% redemption from the State.
The entry of the Prime Minister into
this debate on 1st October was in my view a turning-point in our
development. For the first time in my memory a politician, who had the
majority, to achieve the significant changes which had been tabled,
stepped back from that act of sheer power to attempt an act of
persuasion. It was a signal lesson in the reality of possibility in our
lifetime. Even if one is amongst the Clico Policyholders’ Group (CPG)
and feeling aggrieved, the calm audacity of the Prime Minister’s
decision must be respected.
Most importantly, we now have a
one-man Commission of Enquiry established with the eminent UK jurist,
Sir John Colman QC sworn in. That Commission is to examine the causes of
the CL Financial and Hindu Credit Union collapses. The Colman Commission
is expected to start sittings in January 2011 and the Attorney General
has directed that its report be delivered in 6 months’ time.
The Manning Factor
The most comical event of the year is
the bold-faced attempt by the former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, to
shift attention away from the PP’s revelations as to the illegal spying
activities of various State agencies. Manning, the original PM,
attempted to show-up the Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with a
series of allegations on the status of a house being built with private
funds on private lands for a private purpose. The Prime Minister
effectively dismissed Manning’s concocted concerns with the telling
observation that all the refutations she quoted were available from the
public record, if the accuser had ever been interested in examining that
Having stirred to life and found his
voice, it is important to note the several matters on which Manning
maintains a stony silence -
Calder Hart – Where is Calder Hart? The nation was told
solemnly by Manning that he knewCalder Hart’s whereabouts and
further, that Hart was not a fugitive. We are now told that
Calder Hart cannot be located and Manning needs to speak on this.
Is it true that Hart gave Manning his location? Has Hart changed
locations? Or is it that Manning has not shared that information
with the correct authorities?
Election rationale – What, if any, was his rationale for calling
the general election at mid-term? I am not sure that anyone knows
the answer to this one, but it is surely of continuing interest.
Guanapo Church – What is the truth behind the ill-fated Guanapo
Church? It is not my habit to wax scriptural, but that was a
‘house built on sand’ if ever we saw one. The reason for the State
Grant of this land and the rapid grant of full planning permission
– a record of only one month between the date of application and
the grant – remains unexplained. As for the architect’s plans for
this huge church in the grounds of the PM’s residence, the mind
boggles. Where is Pastor Pena? We need to insist that Manning
tells us more about this miraculous church.
Cleaver Heights – Another area is the wild allegation Manning
made, at the close of the 2008 budget debate, as to a ‘missing’
$10M at an HDC project at Cleaver Heights in Arima. Or was it
$20M? After inserting that case into the ongoing Uff Commission
and having the embarrassment of having the allegation evaporate
under cross-examination, Manning needs to tell us just how he came
to learn of this allegedly missing money.
CL Financial bailout – Manning’s conduct in this matter has been
the crowning-point of his administration, in my view. The then
Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Teshiera, was accused of using
‘inside information’ to make early withdrawals of her own funds
from the CL Financial Group and to compound the mischief, being a
shareholder of the CL Financial group in the sum of over $10M.
Manning’s steadfast defense of his beleaguered Minister of Finance
was a display of loyalty which is seldom seen in higher political
circles. We need to know if the Minister told her colleagues that
she was indeed a shareholder of the troubled group. Did she or did
she not recuse herself from the Cabinet’s deliberations? My
reading of the events, as told by the very Minister, is that she
For Manning to fail to come clean on
these questions, he would run the risk of damaging his hard-won
reputation for upstanding values and leadership.
White Collar Crime
The obvious connection between these
various events is the fact that White Collar Crime – which is sometimes,
mistakenly, called victim-less crime – is afflicting our country in a
The year ahead holds significant
challenges as we try to go forward in this morass, to escape the
conspiracy which I have titled The Code of Silence.
The only way political rulers can
carry on as they do, wasting the country’s money for the benefit of
their friends and family, is because they are sure of each other’s
silence. The people in the private sector who were responsible for the
financial collapse are no different. The financial collapse is not, as
some have falsely claimed, in any way connected with the Wall Street
crisis. That is only a handy coincidence. If our regulators and
politicians were doing their jobs we would not be in this position.
Please remember that the alarm bells
on CL Financial were sounded by Trevor Sudama, since the 1999 budget
debate. More to the point, many of the people who still inhabit the
Parliament were there at the time. Again, I give this administration
credit for appointing a Commission of Enquiry into this sordid affair.
Also, please remember that both
UDeCOTT and the HDC failed to file accounts for years, in breach of the
law and State guidelines. That failure was not remarked upon by members
of the then Opposition. More to the point, we have now had a change in
administration, with no word on the UDeCOTT accounts. I do acknowledge
that certain HDC accounts have now been published and that is to be the
subject of upcoming commentary.
The Code of Silence must be broken if
we are to progress.
Afra Raymond is Managing Director of
Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the Joint Consultative Council
for the Construction Industry (JCC).
|The obvious connection between these
various events is the fact that White Collar Crime – which is
sometimes, mistakenly, called victim-less crime – is afflicting
our country in a big way.
The year ahead holds significant challenges
as we try to go forward in this morass, to escape the conspiracy
which I have titled The Code of Silence...
The Code of Silence must be broken if we
are to progress.