|The Uff Commission – The Final
Published Thursday 3rd September 2009
After a necessary and prolonged pause to review other matters of
public interest, Property Matters returns to the high-profile Uff
Commission as its final hearings are set to begin on Monday 7th
This series of hearings was not a part of the original agenda for the
Commission of Enquiry. It was only announced at the close of its last
sitting in May that the Commission would sit again to hear further
evidence on the Cleaver Heights project and the testimony of Mr. Carl
I already wrote here on 18th January 2009 (The Uff Commission)
of the vigorous stand taken by UdeCOTT's and Calder Hart's attorney in
the early stages of the Enquiry. At the time, I was very critical of
their stance - “...It is difficult to imagine a less-cooperative or
more disdainful stance from a party under investigation...”
In their latest sally on 24th July, these attorneys issued a 12-page
letter to the Uff Commission, challenging the impartiality of the
Commissioners. That letter made allegations against Israel Khan, Keith
Sirju and the Chairman, Professor John Uff. It ended by calling for all
4 of the Commissioners to recuse themselves. Ours is a country which can
guarantee a daily surprise, but this one took the prize. UdeCOTT was
continuing to resist the lawful investigation being undertaken on behalf
of its owners, the people of this country, as represented by their
There were reports on 6th August that the Board of UDeCOTT was
instructed to withdraw those legal threats. (link
here) UDeCOTT withdrew those threats, albeit conditionally.
UDeCOTT placed full-page advertisements in the press to deny the
statement by Dr. Keith Rowley that they were attempting to 'de-rail' the
Uff Commission. The threat of legal action by UDeCOTT and its rapid
withdrawal is indicative of a deep divide between the Cabinet and this
flagship State enterprise. It is the only way to make sense of the
UDeCOTT Board's incredible decision to attempt to thwart the
government-appointed Commission. The published denials made no sense at
all. You really have to wonder how many people believed UDeCOTT's
assertions that they were not trying to 'de-rail' the Uff Commission.
Then on 11th August, Israel Khan SC, resigned.
There have now been further attempts by UDeCOTT's lawyers to dislodge
Commissioner Kenneth Sirju, with allegations of conflict of interest.
The Commission is trying to overcome those objections by seeking
consensus on the Cleaver Heights part of the session and that is
expected to be decided on Tuesday 2nd September.
The main issues arising at this stage are -
- The local limits of integrity standards – The accusations of
conflict of interest made against Commissioner Sirju seem to suggest
some real limits as to the extent to which we can effectively import
first-world norms as to integrity and conflicts of interest. We need
to develop our own effective norms on integrity in public affairs,
but, in this case, the deciding factor would be the declarations
made by Commissioner Sirju.
- Cleaver Heights – Apart from the turbid result of the Enquiry
into the 'missing money', there are two serious side-effects of the
Cleaver Heights saga. Firstly, the inimical effect of the State
seeming to target a perceived critic/rival of the PM. In my view,
that widespread impression of the State targeting Dr. Rowley is
toxic to our nation developing healthy habits of public debate and
dissent. Secondly, the fact that we seem to have become distracted
by Cleaver Heights and lost the opportunity to delve into
substantive questions on the poor output of the national housing
program. As stated in Property Matters of 25th January, the HDC is
producing less than 50% of the reduced annual target of 8,000 new
homes. The Uff Commission was appointed to enquire into the public
sector construction industry and it is now drawing to a close with
no time spent on this strategic shortfall. That is a real shame.
- The personal aspect – I have never encouraged any discussion or
interest in the personal lives of the key players in this Enquiry,
notably Calder Hart and his family. To my mind, that was just sheer
bacchanal which distracted from the main issues of poor process.
That said, and having heard much of the evidence, it would be
interesting to see if there is indeed any ‘fire’ here, amidst all
the ‘smoke and mirrors’.
- UDeCOTT's accounts – It is impossible to enquire into the
operations of a commercial company without considering its financial
situation. On 28th January, the CoE heard sworn testimony from the
Executive Chairman of UDeCOTT, Mr. Calder Hart, while he was being
cross-examined by Alvin Fitzpatrick SC, to the effect that the 2007
accounts would be ready within a week a or two. Yet we seem to have
drifted into a situation in which the Commission will have to
deliver its report without having considered any accounts from
UDeCOTT after 31st December 2006. If that were the case, it could
have the effect of significantly discrediting the Commission's
findings as to UdeCOTT's operations.
Our locally-grown, Nobel Prize-winning author, V.S. Naipaul created,
in the seminal ‘Miguel Street’, a pregnant phrase which has come to
typify this place…”...amazing scenes were witnessed…” I expect
the final series of hearings of the Uff Commission to contain many
'amazing scenes' as parties battle to defend their honour and, in some
cases, preserve their liberty.
Afra Raymond is a chartered surveyor and a director of Raymond & Pierre
Ltd. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|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.