Uff: Evidence strong for court

Immediately after Uff handed in the Report at President’s House, St Ann’s at 10 am, it was forwarded by Richards to the Office of the Prime Minister. The Report was then forwarded to Jeremie, who called a meeting with officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau (ACIB) on the basis of sections of the Report relevant to their remit.

Hours after Uff handed in his Report, and as the Attorney General moved to meet with ACIB, it emerged that Neelanda Rampaul, who as chief operating officer often acted as a virtual second- in-command to former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart, resigned.

Questioned by reporters at a PNM walkabout in Sangre Grande, Prime Minister Patrick Manning revealed that he received the Uff Report at about10 am and that Cabinet held a meeting yesterday morning. But he said he did not read the Report.

Asked if the contents of the Report would be published, Manning said, “Yes, that was always the idea.” He did not give a timeline for publication, however.

Sources yesterday reported that Uff’s more than 500-page Report contains recommendations that Udecott projects be further investigated by the authorities. Newsday understands that the Report:

...calls for an examination of the award of the $368 million construction contract for the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower to Sunway Construction (Caribbean) Limited by the Udecott board;

...advises that the authorities examine the award of contracts for the $885 million Brian Lara Cricket Stadium at Tarouba, inclusive of questions of whether the Udecott board may have to answer questions over the possible manipulation of tender procedures;

...touches upon concerns over the back-fitting of and discrepancies in million-dollar payment certificates for the Tarouba project, issues raised by inquiry expert Gerry McCaffrey in a final report submitted to the commissioners on the Tarouba project.

ACIB investigators have already begun probes of the Sunway contract and Tarouba project.

Uff yesterday morning held a press conference at the Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port- of-Spain, the same building which houses the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“There was a great deal of material concerning Udecott,” Uff noted of the contents of his Report. He noted that the Report deals with “Udecott as an organisation plus a number of very significant Udecott projects. As well as Udecott, we had a battery of other state enterprise companies who are similarly set up, including the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). We investigated all of them but of course Udecott drew more attention and has more attention in the Report.”

“There are a total of 91 recommendations addressed to the attainment of value for money, delivery of high standards of workmanship, free and fair competition and the maintenance of integrity and transparency in the public procurement practice,” Uff noted.

Uff declined to give details of the 91 recommendations in his Report. However he revealed that:

...the resignation of Hart, who fled the country this month, did not feature in the report, but was instead a footnote inserted while the report was being drafted; and

...the commissioners made no finding of fact in relation to the credibility of the evidence of Carl Khan, the ex-husband of Hart’s wife Sherrine, who had in the inquiry proceedings sworn to family links between Mrs Hart and Sunway Construction (Caribbean) Limited.

Uff yesterday assured that because of the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry (Validation and Immunity from Proceedings) Act 2009, passed by Government last year, the evidence in the inquiry proceedings, which have been budgeted to have cost $23 million, will stand in a criminal court of law.

“The evidence given before this commission of inquiry should be admissible in a court of law whether civil or criminal. The proceedings of the inquiry can be taken forward in another place. That’s all I can tell you. You’ll have to wait on the Report,” Uff said.

He said he only heard of Hart’s resignation after the Report had been drafted, and that the resignation did not feature in the main report, but rather as a footnote.

Of legal issues surrounding the fact that Hart denied “family connections” to Sunway during the inquiry proceedings, Uff noted that the inquiry was never designed to resolve the issue of allegations of family links raised by Khan, allegations which were later corroborated by documents obtained by the Congress of the People, this month, on the eve of Hart fleeing the country.

“It was not our intention to resolve the conflict of evidence between Carl Khan and Mr Calder Hart. The reasons for that were that those concerned very serious accusations,” Uff said. “We were not a court of law. We were not set up in such a way as to be appropriate for that kind of adjudication.”

The British jurist said he hoped that his report would be published in full and while noting that the matter was ultimately one for the Government, expressed confidence that this would be the case.

“The practice in the United Kingdom is that the report is published by the commission or body set up to conduct the inquiry,” Uff noted. “That is not the practice in Trinidad and Tobago and it is not for me to question it.” He added, “the Report will be published at some point. I hope it will be published in full. The Report is the Report. It’s either published or not published. There is not a question of the Report being manipulated in any way and I should add that the Report is the Report of the commissioners.”

Government sources yesterday indicated that Cabinet could consider a note on the Report as early as this week and could on Thursday determine whether or not to release the Report to the public.

Uff noted that during the course of the proceedings, Udecott launched a court action to pre-empt the submission of his final report and described Udecott’s behaviour during the proceedings as “highly unusual”.

“Udecott decided to pre-empt...what was in the Report by challenging the commissioners for the most part (on the basis of) apparent bias,” he noted. “That is a matter which caused me some concern because in order to answer those accusations it potentially led me into a battle with Udecott.” Noting that Udecott called on him to take the stand in its failed court action against the proceedings, Uff said, “that I refused to do because it seems to me that that would lead me inevitably into a conflict which I would have to avoid. To that extent, that was most certainly a distraction and was highly unusual.”

Uff also noted that Udecott had attempted to rubbish the work of the inquiry’s independent expert Gerry McCaffrey, but backed down.

“There was, to put it crudely, an attempt to rubbish his report which you would have read about in the newspapers,” Uff said. “That attempt was not pursued in Udecott’s final submissions. They, I think, were reconciled to the fact that the reports which McCaffrey produced were of a high professional quality...That’s a matter we had to deal with and was fully dealt with in our report.”

Uff said in preparing his Report he had no concerns about politics or creating political fallout, simply focussing on his job. “I have no direct political connection with (any issue of) fallout,” he said, noting that his fellow commissioners had been more sensitive to issues of local politics than he was. “I can assure you that any question of political fallout was not a matter that was relevant to our Report.”

He thanked inquiry staff and the media for its role in covering the inquiry extensively. “We would like to thank the press for their continued and expert coverage of the inquiry,” he said. “I am personally honoured to have had the opportunity, as I hope, to serve the interests of the construction industry and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”


"Uff: Evidence strong for court"

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