Moreover, we welcome his statement that Cabinet has agreed to dismiss the Udecott Board of Directors, which we say was long overdue, as they now go the way of former executive chairman, Calder Hart.
The Uff Commission Report expressed serious concerns about the conduct of board members and senior managers, stating that they showed no regard for the public purse.
We also welcome Jeremie’s pledge to send the Uff Report to the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate. He said, “If it is determined that there was criminal wrongdoing, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago would expect that the responsible authorities would lay charges and pursue prosecutions in a court of law, and these matters would be dealt with in a robust fashion.”
These are all fine fighting words with which we totally agree, except to say that the Government took too long in taking action on Udecott, and we can only hope that there will be full accountability for the billions of dollars involved.
However, in our view, Jeremie fell short in several regards.
Firstly, he made only what can be described as passing reference to Calder Hart, who had spent two years under the public spotlight, only to resign and suddenly flee Trinidad and Tobago, a month before the Uff Report was released.
Questions remain over the award of a $368 million contract to a firm formerly headed by Hart’s in-laws.
Jeremie seemed to show little concern about the fact that up to yesterday the general public has no idea where Hart is. Past claims by Hart’s attorneys and Udecott director, Michael Annisette, of Hart’s supposed imminent return to Trinidad, have so far not come to fruition, and the public might question Jeremie’s claims to know his whereabouts. Indeed, Jeremie’s recent claim that the police have not sought Hart for questioning contradicts what Newsday has repeatedly been told by the police who say they cannot contact him by phone.
Yesterday we would have welcomed some reassurance in this regard from Jeremie.
Secondly, he dwelt at length on the Cleaver Heights Project which many regard as a red herring thrown up in the middle of the sitting of the Commission to try to deflect attention from the obvious wrongdoing of Udecott and company, and to instead keep the heat on Diego Martin West MP, Dr Keith Rowley.
Cleaver Heights has been looked into by the Uff Commission and by independent forensic experts Bob Lindquist and Gerry Mc Caffrey, and now yesterday Jeremie has announced he would launch a forensic audit of this matter. We note that the Uff Report did not call for such a probe into Cleaver Heights, although it does appear that the Housing Development Corporation and contractor NH International have some questions to answer.
It seems to us that forensic audits also need to be done on the Waterfront Project and the Legal Affairs Tower, each costing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.
There are many other aspects of the Uff Report that need clarification beyond Jeremie’s statement. The population needs to know the Government’s plans for its models of doing business, for which the Uff Report gave suggestions.
For example, will they alter the special purpose State enterprise model which in Udecott’s case let Hart exercise vast powers that shocked the Uff Commission?
While the Government is entitled to try to put its own spin on the Uff Report, they must realise that the whole Udecott saga, which was comprehensively reported by all sections of the media, has cast the Government in a very bad light indeed, for which the dismissal of the Board is the first obvious step towards any possible redemption.