?The handing over of the Commission of Enquiry report into the construction sector, the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) and Cleaver Heights by commission chairman Prof John Uff to President George Maxwell Richards is simply the end of the first part of the process.
As Prof Uff explained in a news release yesterday, the process began back in 2008 when Prime Minister Patrick Manning acquiesced to public demands and appointed a Commission of Enquiry to investigate the construction sector and Udecott. Before he appointed the commission, on May 23, Mr Manning had first contemplated a Joint Select Committee, but he was forced to withdraw that idea because of public outrage. And it was similar outrage that led the Prime Minister to withdraw the name of the first chairman of the commission, Gordon Deane, who had served as chairman of the Integrity Commission. Mr Deane, who said he withdrew because he had received threats, headed the Integrity Commission that referred a matter concerning estranged PNM MP, Dr Keith Rowley, to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) without first notifying Dr Rowley that he was the subject of an investigation. Some time later, the terms of reference of the commission were widened to include the Cleaver Heights housing development in Arima after the Prime Minister made allegations in Parliament about $10 million being missing. Those allegations targeted Dr Rowley and the construction firm, NH International, whose executive chairman is Emile Elias.
The Commission of Enquiry, therefore, is tied up with the internecine battle that has been waging within the ruling party for some years now. The country is quite fortunate to have reached this point. Either the failure to formally gazette the Commission of Enquiry, as is required by law, or strenuous attempts by lawyers acting on behalf of former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart and Udecott itself could have scuppered the process of discovery of wrongdoing and corruption in the construction sector that the Government undertook at huge expense and considerable time. The country owes a debt of gratitude, therefore, to Attorney General John Jeremie–for tabling the validating legislation which provided post-facto legitimacy to the process–and to High Court Judge Mira Dean-Armorer, who slapped down the Udecott attempts to have the report thrown out on the grounds of apparent bias earlier this month. For the process to be completed, and for the investment of time and money to be worthwhile, Prime Minister Manning must make the entire report public, except those parts of it which may prejudice the prosecution of those who the report indicates may be guilty of breaking the law. Aspects of the report that point directly or even indirectly to illegality or corruption must be sent to the DPP, who would be expected to add the suppositions or evidence in the report to other evidence he may have collected from police inquiries both here and overseas.
As the Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions: Let the chips fall where they may. But while the unearthing of illegality and corruption is extremely important to the task of moving the construction sector forward, Prof Uff noted yesterday that the report contains 91 recommendations.
It can be surmised that many of those recommendations would identify potential flaws (and possible improvements) in the way the Government and its main construction agent, Udecott, handled the construction boom that lasted from 2003 to 2008. It is hoped that the Government adopts a mature approach to these recommendations and makes every effort to right the wrongs in the construction sector for the long-term benefit of the country. It would be a huge tragedy, for which it would have to pay a dear political price, if the Government were to treat the construction recommendations in the way it treated the Commission of Enquiry into the health sector some years ago. It remains for us to extend our thanks and appreciation, on behalf of the nation, to all of the commissioners: chairman John Uff, Desmond Thornhill, Kenneth Sirju and Israel Khan for their perseverance and fortitude and to Prof Uff and Mr Thornhill, in particular, for completing the task of writing the report after their colleagues withdrew.