Learning the Lessons of the UdeCOTT fiasco

Former UDeCOTT Board
Former UDeCOTT Board, (l-r) Dr. Krishna Bahadoorsingh, Sen. Michael Annisette, Mr. Anthony Cherrie, Mr. Wendell Dottin

The leaking of the Uff Report, the delayed dismissal of the remaining, ‘squeaky-clean’ UdeCOTT Board members and the dissolution of Parliament are all part of a major distraction operation. The fallout from suppressing the Uff Report would have been huge and unpredictable, so the name of the game was spin. That spin is what we have been getting from government ever since we entered the end-game. The ultimate attempt to distract us was of course the dissolution of the Parliament by FAX on Thursday 8th April.

The strategy seems to be an attempt to provide the media and the population with even more interesting talking points, so that the Uff Report slips into obscurity. I expect that if the incumbent party is returned to office, there will be attempts to claim that the ‘mandate’ granted by that vote is a justification for the matters revealed in the Uff Report. Already a large slice of attention has been shifted to the impending elections, as expected.

I have no intention of allowing those distractions to take hold. I will continue to write on the lessons of the UdeCOTT fiasco.

This entire series of revelations is historic in that finally we have a Report by a Commission of Enquiry published. The second note for us is that it raises once again sobering governance issues, including matters of professional integrity and Directors’ responsibility. Those are aspects into which Property Matters will delve in the coming series.

Some main points for us to consider –

  • Cleaver Heights – The Uff Report makes it clear that there is no missing money. None. There are other serious concerns addressed in the Report as to the change in the form of contract and the fact that some $140M was paid to the contractor without title having passed to the State. I do agree that those are matters worthy of further investigation. To be clear, the questions would have to be whether any undue benefit was enjoyed by the contractor and, if so, how did the HDC’s checks and balances fail to detect and arrest this? Please note that the entire contract sum was never estimated to exceed $150M for this project. That said, we still have two mysterious parts of the puzzle to figure out – firstly, now that, under cross-examination, everyone has denied doing so, ‘Who told the Prime Minister that blatant untruth about ‘missing money’? Secondly, the renowned Forensic Accountant, Bob Lindquist, has been investigating the Cleaver Heights project for some considerable time now, so what are his findings? Note well that I am not asking for his report, since some ‘bright’ person would be quick to say that he never submitted his report or that it is incomplete. I am asking for his findings, even the interim ones, before we spend more money on more investigations.
  • The non-gazetting of the Uff Commission – We were all shocked to learn, at the end of August 2009, that the Enquiry had not been properly set-up, due the failure to ‘Gazette’. A special, one-man Enquiry into that episode was launched by the AG, with a final report handed into the AG on 9th December 2009 by retired Judge, Anthony Lucky – see http://guardian.co.tt/news/politics/2009/12/10/lucky-report-goes-cabinet-today-lead-pg3. What are the findings of the Lucky Report, Mr. AG? I think that we need to know and now, please.
  • Was there any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by UdeCOTT? – According to Para 14.41 of the Uff Report – “…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….”
  • Calder Hart – Was Calder Hart a good executive manager, who may have just ‘over-reached’ his authority in an effort to meet his demanding targets? According to Para 12.55 of the Uff Report – “…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…”
  • That UdeCOTT Board – It was a relief to see the dismissal of these Directors. In fact, the more one considers their bizarre and reckless statements, the more obvious it was that this was indeed a large corporation in crisis. Problem was, that it was our money they were wasting and worse yet, failing to publish audited account for three years. A sad example of wrong and strong. The AG said, on 1st April as he announced that the Uff Report would be published in full, that Calder Hart was just ‘an ordinary citizen’. It seems to me that Calder Hart enjoyed benefits far beyond those extended to the ‘ordinary citizen’. I have never heard of the PM tipping off anyone else under serious investigation. The other UdeCOTT Board members were not given the ‘tip’ to resign and have had to be fired. There must be a lesson in there, somewhere.
  • The Model – This colossal failure is such as to prompt a serious re-examination of the idea that the Special Purpose Entity (SPE)is the preferred vehicle for our national development. The continued down-sizing and sidelining of Ministries and the promotion of SPEs have continued apace, most recently in the TTRA proposals. I am saying that it is time to soberly re-examine these ideas against the actual results, so that we can chart a better way forward.

Next, I will be examining the implications of the SPE model and its effects on the nation.

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