Thursday, April 2 2009
It seems that every expert testimony given so far to the Uff Commission of Inquiry has revealed mismanagement, technical incompetence and, perhaps, deep-rooted corruption.
The testimony given by engineer Arun Buch last Tuesday on the Tarouba Stadium project was especially damning. “I have never seen anything like this,” said Buch, who has more than 30 years experience in the construction industry. But he placed blame for the myriad faults at the feet of Turner Alpha Limited, who were responsible for the stadium’s design. Udecott, said Buch, was not culpable, since the corporation was not required to know about design issues.
We beg to differ, however. The preponderance of evidence before the Commission so far shows that Udecott’s board has been habitually lax in its management of the various projects under its purview. The corporation’s own board members have admitted to bypassing procurement procedures and, indeed, of not really having any. Moreover, even before the Inquiry commenced, the corporation failed to meet deadlines for submission of documents and even excised or blacked out sections of those documents that were submitted. It is only because of the no-nonsense attitude and the expertise of Commission chairman Professor John Uff that Udecott has not gotten away with its attempts to stymie the Inquiry.
In this context, it is interesting that the Tarouba Stadium is emerging as the poster child for corruption and waste by the present PNM regime, as did the Piarco Airport project for the UNC administration. After all, the Tarouba project was criticised by citizens from the moment it was announced. People rightly saw it as a waste of money, and even back then some well-informed individuals questioned the location for geological reasons. Mr Buch raised this very issue on Tuesday, saying the clay soil and the hilly terrain cost millions of extra dollars.
From the project’s inception, though, its prime defender was Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who argued that the sporting complex had to be completed for the Cricket World Cup or else Trinidad and Tobago would face severe penalties – Mr Manning’s implication, ironically, being that the $500 million sporting complex (now over $1 billion) would save the country money. But the stadium was never completed, and TT hosted the Brown Package anyway and, apparently, escaped the financial censure that had Mr Manning so worried. Nonetheless, he continued to defend the project, at one point even claiming that the stadium would double as a tsunami shelter. That was the first sign that the project was no longer defensible, if indeed it ever was.
The revelations that are emerging from the Commission have shown that Udecott’s apologists are either naive, blindly loyal, or disingenuous. Last May, when Udecott’s board had their first media conference, one member dismissed everyone making allegations about Udecott as motivated, not by concerns of accountability and integrity, but by self-interest. When calls for a CoI became widespread, one Minister rejected the idea, saying that an investigation would “slow down” Udecott’s work. Another Minister said that Udecott’s projects were problem-free and attempted to shift blame by saying that the same private sector contractors calling for scrutiny could not withstand a similar look into their own operations.
Now, as the revelations continue to come, the public must be asking why Udecott’s board members and related parties remain in their high-salaried posts. Is it because removing them would mean that the Government was acknowledging error? If so, does this mean that the Government believes that wrongdoing is less politically expensive than admitting it was wrong?