An overview of the Uff Report

Professor John Uff. Photo courtesy Trinidad Guardian
Professor John Uff

The Attorney General announced at the Post Cabinet press briefing on Thursday 1st April that the full Uff Commission Report will be laid in the Senate on Tuesday 6th April – see http://guardian.co.tt/news/politics/2010/04/02/uff-report-senate-tuesday.  I was pleased to hear that, but there remained a widespread attitude of skepticism as to the outcome of the AG’s promise.  One can hardly blame people for having those feelings since, as TTTI’s President, Victor Hart, has recently reminded us, PM Manning broke his promise to publish the report of the Bernard Commission into the Piarco Airport project.  That was over 6 years ago and still no Bernard Report yet.

I received a copy of the Uff Report in my email on Saturday and several other concerned citizens as well, so it seems that some publicly-minded person wanted to ensure that it was not either suppressed or edited.  Thank you, whoever you are.

The Uff Report is 512 pages long and contains 91 recommendations, so its sheer volume and the limited time available mean that I am unable to give a detailed review.  This week’s column will therefore comprise an overview of the main concerns raised in the Enquiry and the way in which the Report has handled those.

CORRUPTION

Q – Does corruption exist in the manner alleged by the government’s critics?

A – At para 59. the Uff Report states that “…It is accepted that corruption is a problem of serious proportions in Trinidad & Tobago…to which the construction industry is particularly prone…

Was there actually something corrupt or wrong at UDeCOTT?
Q – Is there good reason for concern at UDeCOTT’s operations, or is it a case of politically-motivated attacks?

A – Para 14.36, from the Commission’s discussion of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower/CH contract, is a classic of understatement – “…UDeCOTT’s application of its own rules discloses a worrying lack of transparency as well as inconsistency…

Para 14.37 states – “…the appearance of Mr. Calder Hart’s fax number on the notepaper, which was no doubt hurriedly printed by CH Development, remains unexplained…

Para 14.41 –“…there should be an investigation by an appropriate criminal Law Authority into the award of the MLA contract to CH Development, to include the role of Mr. Calder Hart and the conduct of the Board in not ensuring that an enforceable guarantee was given by the parent company of CH Development…

LOCAL VS FOREIGN

Q – Are local contractors being unfairly replaced by foreign contractors or do the foreigners really deliver better performance?

A – Para 6.18 states that – “…no convincing comparison has yet been presented from which reliable conclusions can be drawn as to the relative performance of local and foreign contractors or consultants…

PROCUREMENT

Q – Is it better for the government to try using Design and Build or should they stick with the traditional Design and Tender method of procurement?

A – Para 7.20 states that – “…there is no single system of procurement which should be preferred in all circumstances…

The Hart legacy –
According to Para 12.55 – “…We have noted the apparent absence of any note of criticism or dissent within the UdeCOTT staff and the dominant influence of the Executive Chairman, Mr. Calder Hart.  To the extent the failure of senior staff and directors to raise any voice in opposition to the level of financial irregularity found on the Brian Lara Project amounts to loyalty, such loyalty is clearly misplaced…

The Property Matters critique of UDeCOTT started in 2008 on the theme ‘A considerable concentration of power’, which attempted to draw lessons from the Cadbury Commission as to the perils of the Executive Chairman.

The role of UDeCOTT’s Board and its Executive Chairman came in for heavy criticism, with the Report calling for full investigations into the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower and the Brian Lara Cricket Academy.  Furthermore, there is a recommendation that the roles of Chairman and CEO should be separated.

The Rowley saga –

Q – Was there really any money missing at Cleaver Heights?

A – Para 27.11 – “…the entirely erroneous addition of $10,000,000…

SIDEBAR: Notes to Jearlean John

Jearlean John. Photo courtesy Trinidad Guardian
Jearlean John, Chairman UDeCOTT

On Tuesday 16th March, I spoke at a JCC press conference and took the opportunity to issue two calls to Ms. Jearlean John – the MD of the Housing Development Corporation and newly-appointed Chairwoman of UDeCOTT.  See http://www.caribdaily.com/article/267861/publish-udecott-accounts/.

On the question of the HDC’s fundamental role and its performance, I again raised the issue of their output.  In the course of the Enquiry and in this column, I have pointed out the serious output shortfall of the HDC, the primary function of which is contained in its name.  Housing Development.  At the press conference I was openly skeptical about the often-repeated figure of 26,000 new homes built by the HDC in the execution of the present national housing policy (implemented in 2003) which set a target of 100,000 new homes in a decade.  I doubted that even half that amount had actually been built and requested that Ms. John should publish a list of where and how many new homes were completed.  On Sunday 28th March, this newspaper carried a two-page ‘Special Report’ on UNC claims of voter-padding and that included the requested information.  The article was probing another aspect of the housing riddle, but the two figures which struck me were ‘15,394 housing units constructed by the government in 2003-2009’ and the table detailing the locations and unit numbers with a closing total of 13,677 units.  Either way, the total is far less than that claimed thus far and using the upper figure equates to an average of just about 2,200 new homes per year.  That is a far cry from the original annual target of 10,000 new homes and even the revised target of 8,000.  One can only wonder where the wrong, inflated figure came from and, those having been fed into the budget process, how accurate is our planning?  It is all reminiscent of the outstanding query from the Uff Commission as to the Cleaver Heights housing project and the false claims as to missing money – Who told the PM that false information for him to have made those baseless and misleading statements to the Parliament?  No one ever admitted to that in the course of the Uff Commission.

Thank you for releasing that info, Ms. John, even if it was in response to another call.  Given our persistent culture of secrecy, especially in public matters, it is a welcome change.

My second call to Ms. John at that press conference was to publish the UDeCOTT accounts without further delay.  As I put it – ‘Ms. John, if you want to be noted for integrity and transparency, you must publish the UDeCOTT accounts without delay.  UDeCOTT has published no audited accounts since the end of 2006 and I was pleased to see the Ms. John’s positive response to those calls.  See – http://www.caribdaily.com/article/268401/john-udecott-will-publish-accounts/.

Ms. John was reported to have been appointed and met with UDeCOTT’s Board on 25th March – See http://guardian.co.tt/news/general/2010/03/26/udecott-pushes-complete-priority-jobs.  That report in this newspaper concluded with a telling quote from the Deputy Chairman – “Bahadoorsingh said John was an excellent chairman, “Highly competent, very knowledgeable, no nonsense and to the point and very friendly, a pleasure to work with. “It’s a new era with this new chairman. I’m very impressed,”

We are waiting for either the prompt publication of UDeCOTT’s Annual Report, accompanied by audited accounts, or some cogent public explanation for the unacceptable delay in so doing.  For all this time to pass, with neither of those events to taking place, can only deepen the atmosphere of distrust.  We, the taxpaying public, expect better from you, Ms. John.

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