The resignation of Calder Hart as Executive Chairman of UDeCOTT and all four other major Boards he chaired is no surprise to me. None whatsoever. I had already noted in this space the consistent false claims and bogus rationales emerging from that individual.
One of the main ones is the ‘Anancy-story’ that all these new buildings would reduce the rents paid by government for offices. Those false claims of savings to the public purse were often repeated by the PM and his then Minister of Planning and Development, Camille Robinson-Regis, but they were withdrawn when challenged to let us have some figures. By my calculations, the UdeCOTT offices will cost this country about 3 times MORE per square foot than the space now occupied. Hart has consistently declined/refused or ignored my several requests for information on the touted savings.
We need to locate this moment firmly in context, so that we are not fooled, again, into seeing these issues too narrowly. Some main issues are –
- Rationale – If we are to do better with our limited resources, we need to behave differently. Before we can behave differently, we need to think differently. This entire UDeCOTT/Calder Hart/JCC/Imbert/Rowley/Uff scene has been useful in that huge areas, previously hidden, have now been revealed. It is an opportunity for us to learn from our mistakes. In my view, the weak spot in the link is that we have no proper system for project origination, selection and ranking. We need to start asking the essential questions – ‘What are we proposing?’ and ‘Why are we proposing that?’
- Cabinet-Approved? – We need to be mindful of the PM’s address to the Senate on 13th May 2008 – see http://www.ttembassy.org/051308.htm – in which he emphasised that all UDeCOTT’s projects were carried out with proper Cabinet approval – after a thorough process – and that that organisation enjoyed his full confidence. One is now bound to reflect on the implications of the doctrine of Cabinet solidarity – one for all and all for one. Does the Cabinet as a whole share in the political cost of Mr. Manning’s vote of confidence? If Mr. Hart’s actions were indeed Cabinet-approved, why the need for him to resign? If he is guilty of ‘going too far’, does the doctrine of collective responsibility apply here? Do his fellow Board Directors share in that responsibility? How far does the stain spread? Are the other companies Hart chaired OK?
- UDeCOTT’s procedures – For example, UDeCOTT was shown at the Uff Commission to have separate tendering rules from those applicable to other State Enterprises. Even with that special approval in hand, UDeCOTT found it necessary to breach its own tender procedure. Other shocking evidence of improper practices emerged at the Uff Commission, so one can understand their strong attempts to derail that enquiry. The public should brace for a critical report with many unpleasant revelations. The report of the Uff Commission must be published without delay or dilution.
- UDeCOTT’s board – On Monday morning, I was disgusted, but not surprised, to read about the flat refusal of the other UDeCOTT directors to step down. Some real predictable alibis there – ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, ‘needing more information before a statement could be made’ and, of course, the classic one, ‘squeaky-clean’. The most worrying aspect of UDeCOTT’s shambles is the steadfast silence on its audited accounts. I published End-notes on the Uff Commission in this space on 17th December 2009 – that article highlighted Hart’s opaque explanation for the lack of accounts for UDeCOTT. UDeCOTT is the largest State Enterprise and, at the Uff commission, its attorneys stated it to be a $20Bn + company. We have all heard over and over from the PM that it is the best-performing State Enterprise. The lack of audited accounts since 2006 is shocking. No accounts for 2007, 2008 or 2009 and that could never be exemplary or squeaky-clean. It is obvious, to anyone with a shred of sense, that a company which was unable or unwilling to publish audited accounts for three years has serious issues, none of them likely to be positive. I doubt that the Unit Trust would buy, or continue to hold, shares in a company which had failed to publish accounts for three years. I doubt that any prudent or proper investment house would do so. What is worse, UDeCOTT has offered no cogent explanation for its failure to publish accounts. The difference with UDeCOTT is that we are constitutionally unable to divest ourselves of those shares. It seems to me that the contemptuous attitude of those at the top is informed by this reality.
- Hart’s testimony – Calder Hart, under oath, denied the allegations made by Carl Khan as to the link between the owners of CH Limited and himself. Given what has transpired here, is Hart guilty of lying to the Commission? Is that a criminal offence? Readers need to note that the instant Calder Hart’s and UDeCOTT’s attorneys refused to question testimony of Carl Khan, it was tantamount to an admission of the truth. That refusal to cross-examine Carl Khan was almost 6 months ago, so this trusted civil servant was given time to prepare before his resignation. Not everyone is offered that sort of courtesy and consideration, as Dr. Rowley’s case shows. It is a clear case of double-standards. Calder Hart appears to have enjoyed a most favoured status, for whatever reason.
- Manning’s judgement – This entire sorry episode casts a shadow of doubt over the quality of judgement exercised by our Prime Minister. Consider that since Carl Khan filed his evidence in May, Calder Hart must have known that his days were numbered. Did Hart tell Manning that there was truth to the accusations? Yes or no? Did Manning ask him? Did they just keep on with the relationship long after a wise person would have broken it off?
Finally, we need to deal with the widespread belief that after all is said and done, the country is better off as we have gotten many new buildings for our money, even if a few things went wrong, or too far. I do not support those views, for three reasons –
- Firstly, none of the UDecott projects make any commercial sense. Even NAPA, which is supposedly of some cultural or artistic importance is now being seriously questioned by many responsible groups.
- Secondly, what we are hearing is a version of ‘the ends justify the means’ and that is not an acceptable path to developing any modern country. Every time we have tried that, the costs far outweigh the benefits. That is the strategic and moral bankruptcy which took us to this sorry place.
- Lastly, we need to remember that most of UDeCOTT’s projects were paid for with borrowed monies, which we are only now starting to repay.