In his Report, submitted to President George Maxwell Richards last week and published on Easter Sunday exclusively in the Sunday Newsday, Uff finds that Rowley would not have been aware of the $10 million error, but argues that he would have, ultimately as housing minister, been responsible for it.
Uff also rejects arguments made by Rowley’s former Cabinet colleague, Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert, that something was amiss in the financing for the project.
Of the $10 million discrepancy, which first emerged when Prime Minister Patrick Manning launched an attack on Rowley in Parliament, asking, “Where the money gone?” Uff said, “The person least likely to have picked up the discrepancy was the Minister, Dr Rowley, when authorising this project along with others, by signing off the letter of April 26, 2005.”
“While Dr Rowley must ultimately bear responsibility for mistakes on the part of agency companies undertaking the business of the Ministry of Housing, no personal blame can attach to Dr Rowley for the original discrepancy, for its non-discovery until 2008,” Uff finds.
In relation to Rowley, Uff also notes that the former housing minister was the subject of a secret Integrity Commission investigation in relation to the aborted tender procedure at the Customs and Excise Building in 2002, an investigation which rebounded on the Integrity Commission itself. He described that probe and the circumstances surrounding as part of an “extraordinary and unfolding saga” involving Rowley.
“No doubt there are lessons to be learnt here, but they are not matters for this inquiry,” Uff observes.
However, while Uff arguably clears Rowley of personal wrong-doing in relation to the $10 million discrepancy issue, he make other key findings. Uff notes that the $10 million discrepancy was an “error” that was, surprisingly, not picked up at the HDC.
The British jurist notes that it was open to interpret the error, which he traced to paper work at the HDC and was reflected in paperwork of the project’s contractor NH (International) Caribbean Limited, as being dishonest on the part of persons who may have perpetuated it. “The ‘errors’ were patent and should have been quickly detected by the most rudimentary system of checking,” he observes. “It remains a matter of considerable surprise that the (errors) were not picked up during the period between their first appearance on April 11, 2005 and the letter of award of May 3, 2005.”
“We are alarmed that such a serious error should not have been formally documented,” he says. “The conclusion we draw from the above facts is that while the original ‘error’ could have been the result of one or more clerical slips, the fact that it apparently went unnoticed up to and beyond the award of the contract is difficult to comprehend and at best reflects poorly on the operations and management of NHA/HDC.”
He notes that later changes to documents may have been attempts to reconcile the figures but also “equally consistent with a dishonest motive”.
Noting that Planning Minister Emily Gaynor Dick-Forde retained the services of forensic accountant Bob Lindquist to probe the project but has to date failed to produce Lindquist’s report, Uff however does not recommend further investigation in the absence of fresh evidence on the matter.
On general matters at Cleaver Heights, Uff notes that there were problems with the transfer of the title of lands to home-owners and expressed surprise that the State would advance millions on projects without ensuring that issues like land title were resolved, even up to 2009 under Dick- Forde.