It was an imperative that Israel Khan should have recused himself from the Uff Commission of Inquiry into Udecott and the Construction Industry. The ten-page letter which he issued to Udecott’s attorneys some days ago appeared to pre-judge the personalities and the issues before the Commission. As a Commissioner, Mr Khan should not have been giving vent to such opinions prior to having them stated in the body of the eventual Commissioners’ Report.
Israel Khan’s appointment to the Commission was met with objections before the sittings began. MP Jack Warner wrote to President Maxwell Richards and to Professor Uff stating that Mr Khan was an open and admitted supporter of the governing PNM, and in the interest of justice “appearing to be done”, should not sit on a Government-appointed Inquiry. The President and Professor Uff both declared themselves in favour of retaining Mr Khan. Mr Khan vigorously proclaimed his integrity and his ability to be fair in the hearings.
Indeed, those who feared that Mr Khan may have been “soft” on the Government and on Udecott were soon surprised. The advocate attorney treated the Udecott witnesses, particularly Calder Hart, to searing cross-examination and even caustic comment. His action seemed to set the tone for other commissioners to join in these attacks. Cynics in our society may have wondered if these attacks — more suited to the attorneys for other interests in the Inquiry than the commissioners, who hold a quasi-judicial, rather than an advocate, role — were designed to allow the whole process to be nullified under a plea for Judicial review.
Given what had transpired earlier, we were not surprised to learn that Udecott was seeking to have all the commissioners replaced. Their letter in this regard was withdrawn, allegedly on the advice of the AG. This should have let the matter rest, even if only for the time being.
But it did not rest. Mr Khan issued his ten-page letter to Udecott’s attorneys and copied the media with it. Certainly, Mr Khan’s remarks and opinions expressed in that letter would have debarred him from continuing to sit in judgment of the issues surrounding Udecott and Mr Hart. However, the letter was received with what we can only admit was stunned silence! It must have been clear to most observers that the Commission had been torpedoed, but it seemed everyone was waiting to see what reaction would follow.
Into this vacuum, Israel Khan returned. He wrote to President Maxwell Richards, admitting that his letter may be construed by some as showing bias against the subjects of the Inquiry. This was an understatement from the man who boasts of his advocate tendencies and the need to be rough at times!
It is being suggested that Mr Khan withdrew on the advice, or at the instruction of the Attorney General. If this, like the withdrawal of the Udecott letter is true, then the AG appears to be playing a quiet but responsible role in bringing the Inquiry to a fair conclusion.
While we are assured that the Commission can continue its work with the three remaining Commissioners, we must wonder if its work has not already been compromised by the earlier comments, still on record, of Mr Khan.
Would Udecott, and Mr Hart, and therefore the Government, still have a case for Judicial Review of the whole process, bringing it to nothing, just like the UNC’s Deyalsingh Inquiry into Piarco Airport?
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