A scanned copy of Uff’s 512-page report, bearing Uff’s signature and the signatures of commissioner Desmond Thornhill and commission secretary Judith Gonzalez, was yesterday emailed to Sunday Newsday.
The Report recommends:
…a full investigation by law enforcement authorities of the award of the $368 million Ministry of Legal Affairs construction contract to CH Development Limited, a Malaysian company which later changed its name to Sunway Construction (Caribbean) Limited;
…a full investigation by law enforcement authorities into the award of five contract packages at the Brian Lara stadium project to contractor Hafeez Karamath Limited (HKL) and the issuing of tens of millions of advance payments to that contractor without vouched accounts;
…a full forensic audit of all sums advanced to HKL for materials and an investigation into the planning and administration of the Brian Lara project, including measures taken by Udecott management to review and approve the design of the steel superstructure;
…an audit of the conduct of all of Udecott’s senior staff and directors for the period 2004 to 2009 as to their “involvement in errors and omissions” concerning the Brian Lara project;
…an investigation into the circumstances in which 9 hectares of lands owned by the National Union of Government and Federated Workers, which had been sold to the NUGFW at subsidised rates, was purchased by Udecott, at a profit for NUGFW. The sale occurred while director Senator Michael Annisette was both a Udecott board member and shareholder in the NUGFW holding company that sold the land;
…an investigation into what steps were taken by Udecott’s managers to control and reduce delay at the $3.2 billion Government Campus Plaza project in downtown Port-of-Spain;
…a review and redefinition of the roles of Udecott and related state agencies.
Professor Uff’s findings, which note apparently deep-rooted systemic failures within Udecott in its handling of billion-dollar state projects, deepens concerns over the failure of the State to heed calls to review the role of the state enterprise company. Calls which came as Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s administration defended and praised Udecott approximately 50 times since issues of corruption – now laid bare by Uff’s report – emerged.
In his Report, Uff describes the Brian Lara project as “nothing short of scandalous”, “out of control” and “a major failure of management on the part of Udecott”; laments the “poor organisation and administration” within Udecott in relation to its handling of housing project canvassed by a report by Lockwood Green; laments the inability of the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee to provide adequate oversight of Udecott; calls for a clarification of the issue of whether Government ministers can direct Udecott; calls for a review of the law making Udecott’s tendering immune from judicial review; and calls for a separation of the role of chairman and chief executive officer at Udecott.
In his Report, Uff also arguably clears former housing minister Dr Keith Rowley of any wrongdoing in relation to the Cleaver Heights Housing project in Arima. Noting that there was an issue of a $10 million contract discrepancy in the contract for that project, which was first raised by Prime Minister Patrick Manning, he finds that no money was ever paid on the wrong contract sum.
However, Uff also notes that the discrepancy originated at the “National Housing Authority” now known as the Housing Development Corporation and finds that there was an attempt to “manipulate the figures” which “might have resulted in the incorrect figure being paid out.” But crucially, he makes no recommendation that the project be investigated by authorities.
Uff, however, makes a string of recommendations in relation to the handling of projects by the Housing Development Corporation and the construction industry in general.
Hart left the country last month on the very day his resignation was announced, after having a conversation with Prime Minister Patrick Manning. That month, documents obtained by the Congress of the People appeared to corroborate allegations first made in public since May 2008 that Hart had ties to CH Development/Sunway.
Just last month the Udecott line minister, Dr Emily Gaynor Dick-Forde, attacked critics for hounding Hart out of the country, even in the face of compelling evidence that all was not well with him and the Udecott board.
In his report Uff noted that Carl Khan, the ex-husband of Hart’s Malaysian-born wife Sherrine, had alleged that two CH Development/Sunway directors Lee Hup Ming and Ng Chin Poh were Sherrine’s brother and brother-in-law.
“There should be a full investigation by an appropriate law enforcement authority into the award of the Ministry of Legal Affairs contract to CH Development, including 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,” Uff recommends.
He notes that to date no explanation has been given as to: why Udecott in breach of its own rules, failed to ensure that it obtained a proper parent company guarantee before awarding the $368 million contract to CH Development and what an initial letter of award was received and sent on the private fax machine of Calder Hart.
“The Commission, not being a court of law, and not having the procedures available to a court of law in relation to such a serious matter, has declined to seek to resolve this issue or to make a finding,” Uff notes. Nonetheless his findings come amidst an ongoing police probe by officers of the Anti-Corruption Investigations Bureau and the Fraud Squad in relation to the COP documents, birth and marriage certificates linking Mrs Hart with the Sunway directors.
In relation to the Brian Lara Statdium, Uff recommends a multi-faceted investigation.
“For the Brian Lara project, there should be an investigation into the planning and administration of the whole project including the measures taken by Udecott’s managers (a) to control and reduce delay to the project (b) to review and approve the design of the steel superstructure and (c) to consider the advice of (the project manager) Turner Alpha Limited that the contract with HKL should be terminated,” Uff advises.
“There should be a full investigation by an appropriate law enforcement authority into the award of packages three and five to eight for the Brian Lara project, particularly as to (a) why no formal terms were drawn up dealing with advance payments (b) the manner in which Udecott interpreted the right to advance payments including advice sought and received (c) the accounting procedures employed by Udecott for making advance payments and repayments and why no vouched accounts were drawn up.”
Additionally, “There should be a full forensic audit of all sums advanced against the value of work and materials provided by HKL and or repayments made on the Brian Lara project,” he advises. In his Report he also notes that inquiry expert Gerry Mc Caffrey had, in two reports, unearthed evidence which raise serious questions about the Brian Lara project at Tarouba.
“Two reports prepared by the Commission’s appointed expert Mr Gerry McCaffrey (have) raised serious issues concerning financial administration of the Brian Lara project which are nothing short of scandalous,” Uff notes. “No proper explanation has been given as to the unwarranted treatment of the contractor HKL.”
“Detailed investigation by experts appointed to assist the Commission, Actus, established serious inconsistencies in Udecott’s records both of sums paid and repaid,” he also reveals, with discrepancies unearthed by Mc Caffrey running to the tens of millions.
“Such events could not have occurred without the knowledge of senior professional staff and members of the Board, all of whom should have been aware of the level of irregularity which has been permitted,” Uff finds in a report that will now place increased pressure on the Udecott board to resign. “Udecott’s own independent expert, Arun Buch, has described the project as a fiasco. It represents a major failure of management on the part of Udecott.”
The British jurist describes the oversight of the much-touted PAC as “seriously inadequate” given the failings on the Brian Lara project. He notes that an unreleased report by Lockwood Green has found serious failings at Udecott. “In the report by Lockwood Green, a detailed review of the performance by Udecott in six housing projects has revealed a degree of poor organisation and administration.”
In relation to the issue of the NUGFW lands, which has already been referred by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to the Integrity Commission, Uff recommends a probe of the transaction.
“There should be an investigation into the circumstances in which 9 hectares of land at Valsayn, sold to the NUGFW by the Government at reduced price, was re-sold at a project by the Union,” he advises. Such an investigation is “to include the reasons for re-sale and the whereabouts of the profit from the re-sale.”
In relation to the HDC and the Cleaver Heights project, Uff recommends that the HDC “must ensure that the agreed contract sum is accurately transferred into the contract documents and that no additional sums are paid other than strictly in accordance with the terms of the contract.”
Additionally, in relation to Udecott, “There should be a review and redefinition of the roles of Udecott and other Government agencies to ensure that the tasks they take on are consistent with their capabilities, as demonstrated and independently verified from their performance.”
“Udecott must recognise that a public perception of secrecy and arrogance has been engendered by its actions, which is wholly inappropriate for a body performing a public function on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Udecott should take and be seen to take remedial action by cultivating a policy of openness aimed at building public confidence in the maintenance of proper standards of integrity and transparency.”
In relation to the construction industry as a whole, Uff laments an apparent culture of corruption.
“It is accepted that corruption is a problem of serious proportions in Trinidad and Tobago and that the principle of transparency is an important means of combating corruption, to which the construction industry is particularly prone,” he observes, noting that the failure of the Government to implement a 2005 White Paper on public procurement, which would have encouraged transparency, now carries an implicit obligation on the State to prevent corruption.
See Pages 7, 14, 18 and 20