In addition, the report had effectively cleared former Minister of Housing, Dr Keith Rowley, of any wrongdoing with respect to the Cleaver Heights Housing Project. Instead of McCaffrey’s report triggering a desire by the authorities to facilitate the further pursuit of the investigation, McCaffrey’s probe into a series of projects has been abruptly halted as the cancellation of his return flight meant that he was unable to continue his inquiries.
Even as we express concern for the as yet unexplained tacit halt to the investigations by McCaffrey we, nonetheless, frown on the reported moves by the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) to initiate a fund-raising drive to help pay for the expert’s return airfare to allow him to resume his search to establish the truth. Since the JCC has an interest in the proceedings, then any move to collect funds from the public to defray the cost of the airfare, however well intentioned, may be viewed by disinterested persons as, unwittingly, compromising McCaffrey’s position. While any seeking of money by the JCC outside of Government funding is conditional on any failure of the Chairman of the Inquiry, Professor John Uff to meet with President George Maxwell Richards on the matter, it would, nevertheless, be inappropriate and the JCC should withdraw its proposal.
The action by the Office of the Prime Minister in cancelling McCaffrey’s return flight to Trinidad and Tobago is disgraceful. Apparently, what the construction expert stated in his initial report did not gel with what the Office of the Prime Minister may have had in mind. Gilbert Peterson SC, one of the attorneys acting on behalf of Dr Keith Rowley bluntly stated: “There is some hand working behind the Commission undermining its independence. Some of the resources provided to the Inquiry Secretariat were less than adequate. If funding is insufficient or inadequate or has been wrongly withdrawn, then I think the Commission ought to say so openly.”
The cancellation of McCaffrey’s return flight to Trinidad and Tobago does not sit well and places the Government generally and the Office of the Prime Minister specifically in an uncomfortable light. It is somehow difficult to believe that there was someone in the Prime Minister’s Office who would have acted on his or her initiative and bypass the Prime Minister himself.
Already, two senior Cabinet ministers, Attorney General Bridgid Annisette and Energy Minister, Senator Conrad Enill have in essence distanced themselves from the cancellation of McCaffrey’s return flight. Not only did they plead a lack of knowledge as to why the flight was cancelled, but intimated that inquiries should be directed to the Office of the Prime Minister.
The situation has become even more puzzling with the statement by Attorney Peterson that “Udecott on March 3, instructed its staff not to cooperate with Mr McCaffrey. Subsequently, we are hearing that funding for McCaffrey has been terminated. Who in the Government is taking instructions from Udecott?”, Peterson asked.
In the meantime, Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry, Professor John Uff, choosing his words carefully and diplomatically, offered that the “Commissioners will be further assisted if Mr McCaffrey is authorised to finalise his report”. Indeed, his use of the words “is authorised to finalise his report” was a carefully packaged statement. In turn, his not making any reference to McCaffrey’s revelation that the Office of the Prime Minister cancelled his return flight in February, added just the right touch.