Wednesday, March 25 2009
There is clearly a link between the findings contained in the February 20 report presented by Gerry McCaffrey, construction expert hired by the Uff Commission of Inquiry that the structural steel work at the Brian Lara Stadium project “is effectively condemned” and the cancelling of his return flight to Trinidad on February 27 by the Office of the Prime Minister.
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 If funding is insufficient or inadequate or has been wrongly withdrawn, then I think the Commission ought to say so openly.”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.
Drop McCaffrey report
LAWYERS for Udecott and its executive chairman Calder Hart yesterday asked the commissioners to exclude the Gerry McCaffrey report from evidence in the inquiry, arguing the report can only be considered if McCaffrey takes the stand.
‘Spider web’ Academy
THE National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port-of-Spain was yesterday described as “a spider web” apparently able to only accommodate dancers who use “small Chinese steps”, by Commissioner Israel Khan SC, as questions were raised over Udecott’s management of the project, in the Uff Commission of Inquiry.
Why Canadian on Waterfront project?
COMMISSIONERS in the Uff Commission of Inquiry into Udecott yesterday asked why a provision in the contract for the $2.8 billion Waterfront Project stipulated that a member of the project’s design and build team include the president of a group known as the “Association of Engineers of Canada”.
No cost overrun in my time
Former chief executive officer of Udecott John Agard said yesterday that up to the time he was CEO, there were no cost overruns on the Waterfront Project.