The Uff Commission ended its hearings last week, amidst even more ‘amazing scenes’.
There are so many examples to draw on, but here are a few choices –
Cleaver Heights missing money – The entire reason this HDC project being included on the Uff Commission’s agenda is PM Manning’s $10M question to his former Housing Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley ‘Where the money gone?’ After months of evasion, the purging of an HDC Board, the resignation of the HDC’s CEO and the rustication of the UK-based expert, Gerry McCaffrey, the truth is out. No money missing. Simple so. Given the denials by Noel Garcia, the then-CEO of the HDC, and his principal assistants, the question remains who informed the PM of that missing money. I do not expect our PM to either apologise to or re-appoint Dr. Rowley.
- Cleaver Heights contract type – Another point which emerged recently is that Cleaver Heights started off as a Design, Finance and Construct and became a modified Design/Build contract without a financing component, seemingly without a corresponding adjustment in the contract sum. If that is the case, it would be grounds for serious concern.
- Carl Khan – The ‘surprise witness’, Carl Khan was unchallenged by either Calder Hart’s or UDeCOTT’s attorneys. They adopted the ambiguous course of trying to cast doubt on that testimony, but yet declining to cross-examine Mr. Khan. It seems that these attorneys are so ‘bright’, they want to have their dinner ‘both boiled and fried’. We not so easy to destabilise. We too have eyes.
- The new creature – Lastly, it is interesting to consider the new creature all of this has laid bare. There is now a species of Super State Enterprise, who seem to enjoy an exemption from the rules, norms and guidelines which would apply. A State Enterprise which can mount a legal challenge to a Cabinet decision and the President of the Republic. Imagine that.
More questions than answers – The open process adopted by this Enquiry was refreshing, so much so that it has yielded a real ‘windfall’ in terms of public awareness. Even the least-interested or most-loyal citizens are now aware that something huge is wrong here. We now see that our PM dismissed a Cabinet Minister on grounds which have all proven baseless, yet continues to publicly defend one of his key lieutenants, whose behaviour is now revealed to be questionable. That outcome would have been entirely unthinkable to the government at the outset of this bizarre year. It is a prime example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
‘Who is Calder Hart?’
Calder Hart is Executive Chairman of UDeCOTT, Chairman of the Home Mortgage Bank, Trinidad & Tobago Mortgage Finance, the National Insurance Board (NIB) and the National Insurance Property Development Company (NIPDEC). He obviously enjoys the highest level of trust from the government. So consider this extract from Calder Hart’s cross-examination, under oath, at the Enquiry on Wednesday 28th January. Hart is being questioned by Gilbert Peterson SC, attorney for Dr. Keith Rowley –
Continued Cross-Examination By Mr. Peterson:
Q. Mr. Hart, I am examining your CV. I see that you attended St. Francis Xavier University. What degree did you obtain from that University?
A. Bachelor of Arts in Economics.
Q. Bachelor of Arts in Economics. And I also see that you attended a course at MIT?
A. That’s correct.
Q. What was the scope of that course?
A. Well, I think it’s down there as Urban Economics and Public Policy.
Q. What was the duration of that course?
A. I think it was either two or three weeks.
Q. And the one at Alberta?
A. The University of Alberta I gained managing human resources; the same amount of time, two or three weeks.
Q. You would not describe yourself as a financial expert, would you?
A. No, I would not describe myself as a financial expert. But I would describe myself as a person with a body of experience.
Q. Yes. But your lawyers misdescribed you in these proceedings as a financial expert. You would not agree with that description?
A. I would not describe myself as an expert of anything.
That cross-examination can be found at page 53 of that day’s transcript – http://www.constructionenquiry.gov.tt/getattachment/6f957486-f0f4-4aad-b585-d644f3212806/COE-Construction-Industry-20090128-Merged-doc.aspx.
We have repeatedly been told that UDeCOTT is an exemplary and highly-efficient State Enterprise. In light of those assertions, coming from the PM and his colleagues, we are entitled to be concerned as to their lack of financial transparency. On 28th January, Calder Hart was cross-examined, also under oath, by Alvin Fitzpatrick SC, attorney for the JCC. Consider his testimony on the specific issue of UDeCOTT’s audited accounts –
Continued Cross-Examination By Mr. Fitzpatrick
Q. Now, rather than go through all of them, would you accept that in respect of the audited accounts for the periods which are due at 31st December of each year and the all the accounts from 2003 to 2006 were signed off by your external auditors prior to the end of March of the following year?
A. That’s correct.
Q. That’s correct. And your external auditors are Price Waterhouse?
Q. Now, I notice that there are no audited accounts for the period ending December 2007?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Now, that is close to two years ago they are overdue. Is that so?
A. Just one year.
Q. Just one year.
A. Not quite a year. Normally they would have been due in March.
Q. They would have been due in March and they are now overdue?
Q. Now, the period 2007 would have included a number of costs related to the Brian Lara Cricket Academy?
Q. Would you agree that external auditors will not sign off on statements where they are not satisfied with the records or they have some concerns about the records?
A. No, that’s not my understanding at all. My understanding is that there were issues surrounding the notes to the accounts in terms of some of the areas where they wanted to change some of the interpretation of what we had been doing. So there was a long discussion. I think some of the problems had to do with getting all of the information reconfigured. So my understanding is that probably before the end of next week we shall have our 2007 accounts.
Q. I will be very glad to hear that. So what you are saying is that the accounts have not been signed off by your external auditors, because they did not agree with the existing configuration of some of the figures?
A Well no, I mean, you have to understand that PWC have been doing our accounts from day one. But I think that what they wanted to do was to deal with some of the notes as well as the manner in which the structure of our operations—I think what has happened is that as we have moved to expand our financing in the international markets. My understanding is that they are obviously ensuring that international standards are followed and in looking at them they want to restate some of the elements in it.
And my understanding is that has all been agreed between the accountants. There were some issues surrounding some of the information and that sort of thing which they have now been satisfied with. And we are expecting it obviously within the next couple weeks.
Q. Let me see if I can summarize that. It was quite a mouthful. PWC have not signed off because there were some unresolved issues which have now been resolved?
A. As I understand it, yes.
Q. And, of course, PWC will not sign off on any financial statements unless they are satisfied that all the issues remain unresolved (sic)?
A. Mr. Fitzpatrick, let me assure you, there is no flight of fantasy eh.
Q. Thank you. Well, I assume before we resume on the next occasion we will have those audited accounts?
This part can be found at pages 37 to 39 of the same day’s transcript.
No accounts yet for 2007, none for 2008 and we are near to the end of 2009. If this is exemplary performance, what next?
Afra Raymond is Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and President of the Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad & Tobago. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.